Cold War Against Russia—Without Debate

by Katrina vanden Heuvel & Stephen F. Cohen

Katrina vanden Heuvel is Editor and Publisher of The Nation.  Stephen F. Cohen  is professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and professor emeritus of politics at Princeton University. This editorial originally appeared in The Nation.

Future historians will note that in April 2014, nearly a quarter-century after the end of the Soviet Union, the White House declared a new Cold War on Russia—and that, in a grave failure of representative democracy, there was scarcely a public word of debate, much less opposition, from the American political or media establishment.

The Obama administration announced its Cold War indirectly, in a front-page New York Times story by Peter Baker on April 20. According to the report, President Obama has resolved, because of the Ukraine crisis, that he can “never have a constructive relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin and will instead “ignore the master of the Kremlin” and focus on “isolating…Russia by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world…effectively making it a pariah state.” In short, Baker reports, the White House has adopted “an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment.” He might have added, a very extreme version. The report has been neither denied nor qualified by the White House.

No modern precedent exists for the shameful complicity of the American political-media elite at this fateful turning point. Considerable congressional and mainstream media debate, even protest, were voiced, for example, during the run-up to the US wars in Vietnam and Iraq and, more recently, proposed wars against Iran and Syria. This Cold War—its epicenter on Russia’s borders; undertaken amid inflammatory American, Russian and Ukrainian media misinformation; and unfolding without the stabilizing practices that prevented disasters during the preceding Cold War—may be even more perilous. It will almost certainly result in a new nuclear arms race, a prospect made worse by Obama’s provocative public assertion that “our conventional forces are significantly superior to the Russians’,” and possibly an actual war with Russia triggered by Ukraine’s looming civil war. (NATO and Russian forces are already mobilizing on the country’s western and eastern borders, while the US-backed Kiev government is warning of a “third world war.”)

And yet, all this has come with the virtually unanimous, bipartisan support, or indifference, of the US political establishment, from left to right, Democrats and Republicans, progressives (whose domestic programs will be gravely endangered) and conservatives. It has also been supported by mainstream media that shape and reflect policy-making opinion, from the Times and The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal, from The New Republic to The Weekly Standard, from MSNBC to Fox News, from NPR to commercial radio news. (There are notable exceptions, including this magazine, but none close enough to the mainstream to be “authoritative” inside the Beltway.)

To be more specific, not one of the 535 members of Congress has publicly expressed doubts about the White House’s new “Cold War strategy of containment.” Nor have any of the former US presidents or presidential candidates who once advocated partnership with post-Soviet Russia. Before the Ukraine crisis deepened, a handful of unofficial dissenters did appear on mainstream television, radio and op-ed pages, but so few and fleetingly they seemed to be heretics awaiting banishment. Their voices have since been muted by legions of cold warriors.

Both sides in the confrontation, the West and Russia, have legitimate grievances. Does this mean, however, that the American establishment’s account of recent events should not be questioned? That it was imposed on the West by Putin’s “aggression,” and this because of his desire “to re-create as much of the old Soviet empire as he can” or merely to “maintain Putin’s domestic rating.” Does it mean there is nothing credible enough to discuss in Moscow’s side of the story? That twenty years of NATO’s eastward expansion has caused Russia to feel cornered. That the Ukraine crisis was instigated by the West’s attempt, last November, to smuggle the former Soviet republic into NATO. That the West’s jettisoning in February of its own agreement with then-President Viktor Yanukovych brought to power in Kiev an unelected regime so anti-Russian and so uncritically embraced by Washington that the Kremlin felt an urgent need to annex predominantly Russian Crimea, the home of its most cherished naval base. And, most recently, that Kiev’s sending of military units to suppress protests in pro-Russian eastern Ukraine is itself a violation of the April 17 agreement to de-escalate the crisis.

Future historians will certainly find some merit in Moscow’s arguments, and wonder why they are being widely debated in, for example, Germany, but not in America. It may already be too late for the democratic debate the US elite owes our nation. If so, the costs to American democracy are already clear.

4 responses to “Cold War Against Russia—Without Debate”

  1. Cincinnat says:

    The reason for this twenty years NATO expansion was the fear the former Soviet Republics and countries of Eastern Block had towards Russia. Nothing else. And it turns out this fear was not without ground. If Putin wanted to stop this expansion, by invading Ukraine and annexing part of it’s territory he achieved exactly the opposite. Now not only the eastern NATO countries are begging for more ground troops, some non-NATO countries like Sweden and Finland are seriously considering to join.

    The Kiev government is not “unelected regime” – The Supreme Rada, Ukrainian Parliament, was elected one and a half year ago. Mr. Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian Prime Minister, was appointed by Rada. The Rada also appointed interim president until the election set for May, 25.

    The army units were sent to suppress not protests in Easter Ukraine, but armed insurgents taking over every single government buildings and taking hostages. Armed people who take hostages are called “terrorists”, Mr. Cohen. And there is no surprise that the heads of these insurgents are Russians nationals and FSB operatives.

    And finally, Obama’s decision not to have constructive relationship with Putin is quite obviously based on the fact that Mr. Putin is lying through his teeth. It’s impossible to have a constructive relationship with a head of state who looks the whole world in the eye and says: “There is no Russian troops in Crimea. These are the local self-defence people who purchased the uniforms in a store.” Along with machine guns, grenade launchers, armored vehicles and such. In the same interview Mr. Putin stated loud and clear – “Russia has no intentions of annexing Crimea”. The next day Russian parliament is discussing a low on how to make it easier to accept a new subject into Russian Federation. The very next day! And make no mistake, unlike Ukrainian, Russian Duma is the puppet parliament. Putin has total control over legislative, as well as judiciary branches and also fully controls the Russian media. He totally fits the definition of a “dictator”.

    That’s why the constructive relationship are not possible. He was and still is the KGB officer – the member of the most criminal secret police of all times. There is no “former KGB men” according to his own words. For them, the ends justify the means – any means. And right now his means are waging this “hybrid war” on the Ukraine while being in total denial.

    So, why is Mr. Cohen is writing article after after article defending a dictator with intentions of conquer other countries and territories? Because – let’s face it, the general mood in Russia inspired by Putin TV is quite aggressive. They are aiming at Alaska – there was already a petition to annul the sales of this territory to the US. His ideologues, like Mr. Dugin – the professor at Joint Chiefs of Stuff Academy is arguing that Europe should become Russian protectorate. And Russia will protect Europe against the gay marriages, multiculturalism and tolerance. The whole attitude of the majority of Russians, inspired by Putin TV is based on rejection of Western values. Rejection of the principles of democracy, human rights, tolerance. So, again – why is Mr. Cohen defending him so vigorously? A mystery….

  2. StanChaz says:

    Aw. After Putin finishes gobbling up the rest of eastern Ukraine, perhaps he’ll come to the U.N. to complain about our lack of civility?

    Like his exalted predecessors, perhaps Vladimir will take off his shoe, and slam it on the podium, in righteous pride and anger! Ha.

    Then maybe Vladimir will get on his pony, bare chested of course, and do a quick “ukraine” –by visiting Brighton Beach Brooklyn across the river ….and “liberating” some of his Russian speaking brethren?

    Yeah Vlad, go spread that manure that you call soviet style democracy and justice!

    But, when their Russian oil runs out, this “world power” won’t even have shoes to their name….

    Well, at least you’ll still have Katrina vanden Heuvel and her part ownership of the Nation.

    Lack of debate about a “new cold war” you say Katrina?

    ‘Tis surely a shame Katrina, you should have lived in Eastern Europe and experienced how it was to live under a REAL totalitarian dictatorship sponsored by your beloved Russian comrades.
    Then you would have discovered a REAL lack of debate…

  3. Ian Probstein says:

    To begin with, it was Putin who cut off the communication with President Obama. Do not pervert the facts.I t was Putin who violated international and national laws. Those “peaceful polite ” people (a new Russian hymn) are virtually special task force aimed at invading and annexing Ukraine. If you lived in 1938, Mr. Cohen, you would have probably justified Hitler, Occupation of Chechoslovakia, Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and so forth. Future historians will most probably align Mr. Cohen with Ezra Pound who was claiming that Italy was for peace in the midst of Ethiopian war.

  4. SWK says:


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