The Wisdom of Dr. Stephen Cohen and Avoiding War With Russia

The late Stephen  F. Cohen’s final book, War with Russia?: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate, is prophetic and more relevant than ever. If you have not read it, buy it asap and devour it.

I cringe at the ignorance being spewed by U.S. politicians and pundits about Vladimir Putin. He is characterized as a new Hitler and/or a new Stalin. Garbage. Those making such claims expose themselves as uneducated fools who apparently studied history by watching Hollywood movies. The demonization of Putin has been underway since 2004. Dr. Cohen’s analysis of this is  salient:

“THE SPECTER OF AN EVIL-DOING VLADIMIR PUTIN HAS loomed over and undermined US thinking about Russia for at least a decade. Inescapably, it is therefore a theme that runs through this book. Henry Kissinger deserves credit for having warned, perhaps alone among prominent American political figures, against this badly distorted image of Russia’s leader since 2000: “The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for not having one.”. . .

“the demonization of Putin has its own history. When he first appeared on the world scene as Boris Yeltsin’s anointed successor, in 1999–2000, Putin was welcomed by leading representatives of the US political-media establishment. The New York Times’ chief Moscow correspondent and other verifiers reported that Russia’s new leader had an “emotional commitment to building a strong democracy.” Two years later, President George W. Bush lauded his summit with Putin and “the beginning of a very constructive relationship.”9

But the Putin-friendly narrative soon gave away to unrelenting Putin-bashing. In 2004, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof inadvertently explained why, at least partially. Kristof complained bitterly of having been “suckered by Mr. Putin. He is not a sober version of Boris Yeltsin.” By 2006, a Wall Street Journal editor, expressing the establishment’s revised opinion, declared it “time we start thinking of Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an enemy of the United States.”10,11”

Cohen outlines succinctly the myths and realities of Vladimir Putin:

  • “Putin is not the man who, after coming to power in 2000, “de-democratized” a Russian democracy established by President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s and restored a system akin to Soviet “totalitarianism.”
  • “Nor did Putin then make himself a Tsar or Soviet-like “autocrat,” which means a despot with absolute power to turn his will into policy.”
  • “Putin is not a Kremlin leader who “reveres Stalin” and whose “Russia is a gangster shadow of Stalin’s Soviet Union.”
  • “Nor did Putin create post–Soviet Russia’s “kleptocratic economic system,” with its oligarchic and other widespread corruption. This too took shape under Yeltsin during the Kremlin’s shock-therapy “privatization” schemes of the 1990s, when the “swindlers and thieves” still denounced by today’s opposition actually emerged.”
  • “Which brings us to the most sinister allegation against him: Putin, trained as “a KGB thug,” regularly orders the killing of inconvenient journalists and personal enemies, like a “mafia state boss.” This should be the easiest demonizing axiom to dismiss because there is no actual evidence, or barely any logic, to support it. And yet, it is ubiquitous. ”

I recently met an American who was living in Moscow since 1999 (he is the operations manager for a U.S. based law firm). He returned to Florida to care for his ailing mother and showed up at the local gun range to do some shooting. When I discovered where he had been  living for the last 20 years I asked him, “Have you seen any changes  in Russia?”

He responded by describing Russia in 2000 as a “shithole.” The kleptocrats had robbed the people and the natural wealth of Russia. But in the ensuing 22 years, there has been a dramatic turn  around.  New buildings,  a world-class public transportation system, safe streets, first class infrastructure, and freedom.

America, along with many in Western Europe, helped loot Russia in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Lobbyists in Washington, DC frantically signed up oligarch Russian clients starting in  1995. I know because one of those lobbyists hired me to work on the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

One of the reasons people in Washington are pissed at Putin is that he cracked down on the kleptocrats, which ended some lucrative retainers for power players on K  Street in DC. “The Guardian reported in 2008 that “‘oligarchs’ from the era of former president Boris Yeltsin have been purged by the Kremlin”.[22]

I believe another factor explaining the West’s loathing of Putin is that he is viewed as the emblem of  Russia’s strong condemnation of homosexuality:

Nearly three-quarters of Russians believe that homosexually is morally unacceptable, more than disapprove of other hot-button issues such as extramarital affairs, gambling and abortion.

The numbers come from newly released data from the Pew Research Center, which surveyed Russians on their moral attitudes in spring 2013. Russian attitudes toward homosexuality have been at the forefront given the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Just eight months before the games, Russia’s governmental body, the Duma, passed a law making it illegal to distribute homosexual “propaganda” to minors, which includes staging gay pride events and advocating for gay rights.

I realize by writing this article I am immediately accused of being a tool of the Russians. I have one response, пошел на хуй. (Look it up.) Address the substance of my argument. The current trajectory of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Russia is perilous and foolish. Our ability to bully and coerce Russia has passed. We should follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who treated the Russians as equals while standing firm on American principles.

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44 Responses to The Wisdom of Dr. Stephen Cohen and Avoiding War With Russia

  1. zmajcek says:

    Putin dropped the ball when he failed to prevent/reverse the 2014 coup. He also allowed Donbass to bleed and its people to suffer for years.

    He promised punishment for those responsible for the 2014 Odessa massacre. Does that mean he is going after Odessa (and Kharkov, Kherson, Zaporozhye, Dnipro) ? An extensive military invasion now would be very bloody. The old Putin was thoughtful and patient. The new Putin seems tired, and angry. I wonder what has changed.

    • TTG says:

      zmajcek,

      I agree Putin missed an opportunity in 2014. Ukraine was flat on her ass at that time with a military that sold off the best of its equipment and could barely muster 6,000 effectives. He could have stiffened Yanukovych’s spine with a contingent of bodyguards and made him stay in Kyiv rather than fleeing. That flight gave the Verkhovna Rada ample reason to out him. If he stayed, the Verkhovna Rada wouldn’t have had the votes to remove him. Putin should also have put Girkin in a hole before he ran amok in the Donbas and he could have went directly for the Pravy Sektor and other far right groups before they coalesced into armed militias bent on killing all the moskali in the east. Of course, this is easy to see in hindsight. Ukraine was absolute chaos at the time fueled by Nuland’s cookies and pallets of money.

      As things heated up in the Donbas, I was certain that Russian tanks would be rolling in to establish order, kill the nazis and leave. I said so on the old SST. Putin already took Crimea to safeguard Sevastopol. A further incursion at that time wouldn’t have drawn much more negative reaction from the West especially given that the West was instrumental in causing the chaos to begin with.

      Now, as you said, a military invasion will probably be bloody. The Ukrainian Army is much larger, better equipped, better trained and the whole country is motivated. Eight years of war in the Donbas has turned a 50-50 country into one largely soured on her Russian neighbor.

      You’re also right about the old Putin. He was thoughtful, patient and competent. What he’s done for Russia and the Russians over the last 20 years is a modern miracle. His actions in Syria have been masterful. His massing of forces around Ukraine is impressive and would have been a brilliant bluff. Unfortunately Ukraine and the West is calling that bluff. I would have thought Putin would have had a more elegant next move. Now the IO campaign meant to illicit a provocation or at least simulate one has been amateurish in execution. NATO is uncharacteristically united. That can’t be Putin’s desired end state. But who knows. Maybe he’ll surprise us all again with some elegant move. Invading across the border and/or line of contact is not that elegant move.

      • zmajcek says:

        Yes, it is very out of character for him to behave this way. It is like someone flipped a switch. If it is all a part of some elaborate bluff, it is not working. Russia’s enemies have smelled blood in the water and can hardly supress their glee.
        Zelensky on the other hand is starting to look like a younger version of Putin. Brave and composed in the face of great adversity. He knows well that no army will come to his aid if Russia goes for it.

        Like you said, after 20 years of steady and remarkable progress we’ve come to this. If it ends in wholesale butchery between Ukrainians and Russians and maybe even Belorusians it will be a tragedy.

      • ike says:

        again with the ‘bluffing’. This narrative of Russia being played by Biden and co is tiring.

        I told you in a previous post. Putin wasn’t bluffing. He wanted minsk agreemented implemented. He thought he could reason with Ukrainian government and/or the west into implementing him. He was wrong and now he has decided he has had enough.

        so here we are.

      • bwilli123 says:

        Thinking that this expedition will confirm to the Europeans that NATO is next to useless, and that they need their own independent force.
        The French want it. The Germans are making noises.
        If it comes about that has to be one great big rationale disappear for why the US is still in Europe.
        Would Putin mind a German force tempered by the French & Italians?

    • Lysias says:

      Those responsible for the Odessa massacre can be killed without any occupation of Odessa, Kiev, or Galicia. Think targeted assassinations by special forces operatives.

    • jim ticehurst says:

      I think what has changed With Putin..Has Surprised alot of People
      Who are Comparing the Pre Putin..with The Present…Putin..including
      Me..I made several Miscalculations So far since the Invasion Began..
      ..
      He Changed since He Made U His Mind..and He Has His Own
      Military Complex To Deal With Now..His Army has Flexed Its
      Muscles..Showed off the Variety and Power..of Its Vast Arsenal..
      and Its Impressive..

      Russians Military has been very Active,,all That R and D..For so Many
      Years..Off The Radar..and with Years of Production..Thay ARE very
      Good At It..Thier Indrustial/Military Complex Did Very Well,,Responding
      to Nazi Aggression..JT

  2. nardami says:

    Larry: Hahahaha (Edie na hoyee!) Vso budyet pravina! I have long held Dr. Cohen in the highest esteem…pity his voice was fastidiously excluded from the national dialogue.

  3. southpoint says:

    It sounds like you are saying Russians are actually people too.

    Sacrilege!

    I think any sane person with an unbiased view would chose Putin as President over Biden. There is a case ot be made for nationalism, and Putin has embraced it.

    meanwhile, China jumps onboard yesterday and threatens Taiwan and tis is Biden’s response today:

    The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it is ending its “China Initiative” program that was aimed at preventing spying by the Chinese Communist Party, and launching a new, “broader approach.”

    “Make no mistake, we will be relentless in defending our country from China,” Olsen said.

    DOJ had been conducting a review of the China Initiative and changes were expected. The DOJ was concerned that the old program stoked anti-Asian bias after receiving input from the Asian American community.

    Have we already eliminated the #1 threat of white homegrown terrorism per Garland?

    National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin – February 07 …
    [Search domain dhs.gov] https://www.dhs.gov › ntas › advisory › national-terrorism-advisory-system-bulletin-february-07-2022
    The primary terrorism-related threat to the United States continues to stem from lone offenders or small cells of individuals who are motivated by a range of foreign and/or domestic grievances often cultivated through the consumption of certain online content.

  4. nardami says:

    The 55 minute speech President Putin delivered was remarkable for the constrained anger/aggravation which seethed through his otherwise calm and focuses delivery. I watched it with my Ukrainian wife who shed the light on his invective…he is pissed with the antics and run-around which characterize the past 8 years and has crossed the Rubicon she fears. A illuminating take can be found on Helmer’s site; I highly recommend it.
    http://johnhelmer.org/the-body-language-of-the-speech-putin-has-repudiated-lenin-stalin-gorbachev-yeltsin-mobilized-russias-defence-against-us-attack-as-never-before/

  5. ISL says:

    Larry Johnson,

    Thanks for remembering Steven Cohen – the world lost too much when Steven Cohen died too soon, though his voice was overwhelmed.

    That said, the US is no longer the US of the 80s. Today the US “proudly” stands for torture, lockdowns, forcing experimental medical procedures on its population, imprisoning journalists, cancel culture, woke-ism, unsustainable debt, neo-liberalism, and support of jihadi’s (when convenient).

    Perhaps America needs to rediscover its principles and lead by example, rather than exhort hypocritically.

  6. Fourth and Long says:

    https://youtu.be/Nbj1AR_aAcE
    Very instructive interview with John J Mearsheimer on the situation in Ukraine vis a vis Russia. Taped on the 17th Feb, released yesterday.

  7. Rodney says:

    I remember it was 2014 when the top 3 weekly/monthly supermarket magazines (Newsweek, etc) all came out within 30 days of each other, covers with Putin and nuclear bombs going off. It reminded me of my first dive into State/MSM warmongering propaganda when I picked up a book about Saddam Hussein at the PEX right after I finished my stint at NAVSTA Great Lakes.
    I wonder what the weekly/monthly mags will have this week?

  8. Sean says:

    This whole USA/Russia never ending conflict is a shame, Russians actually remind me a lot of flyover Americans, and the country today in a weird way gives me 1980s America vibes. They are innocently themselves, just about zero woke stuff, open to the world but proudly Russian.

    Ever see that commercial on tv, “pork, the other white meat?” I think Russia should make an unofficial slogan if they end up isolated from the west and forced to engage more with China and the developing world, “Russia, the other Europe.” They might end up doing quite well, if forced to do things on their own by Western sanctions.

    • Lysias says:

      Tsarist Russia helped the Union win our civil war by sending two fleets to New York and San Francisco in 1863 and moving troops westward in Europe at the time (Poland was in revolt). They thus prevented Britain and France from intervening in our civil war. (The Confederacy supported the Polish rebels, for obvious reasons: The Poles wanted to secede.)

      • Leith says:

        Lysias –

        During the previous decade in 1853 Russia was attacked by Turks, Brits, French, and Italians. American doctors and medics went to the aid of wounded Russian soldiers there along with tons of medical supplies. New York shipyards built Russian warships. American engineers worked alongside Russians building railroads.

        We were friends once. We can be again, maybe after Putin is gone.

        • Marsh says:

          Putin was actually the chance from 2000 to maybe 2008. After this mess, the US will either get a globalist Oligarch in power at the worst, or Russia will go full out tsarist and create constitutional monarchy. I am rooting for the latter

      • Bill Roche says:

        Crazy Poles, wanting to secede from the Czar’s empire. I wonder, did you join up to get to be in the empire in the first place. Or did the Czar invite you? Or did the Poles voluntarily sign a contract w/some other slavic states to join up? I guess the answer is obvious; the South wanted out of their contract and freely and independently go their own way. The Poles wanted to get away from the Czar. I have never read that either Britain or France entertained any interest in helping the south gain its independence.

  9. Pete McSorley says:

    Stephen F. Cohen was a great man and a voice of sanity. Here’s another amazing voice of sanity, Vladimir Pozner. Below is the link to a talk he gave at Yale in 2018. It is worth the investment of time to watch the whole thing, including the Q & A.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8X7Ng75e5gQ

  10. I realize by writing this article I am immediately accused of being a tool of the Russians. I have one response, пошел на хуй.

    Larry, that was a nice touch)))) A very good piece. Late Stephen Cohen was one of a very few people in the US who could be called a proper Russian scholar.

  11. frankie p says:

    I will sign up to be labeled a “tool of the Russians”, a “Putin apologist”, and any of the names that the US establishment and media reserve for people who speak geopolitical truth after rational analysis. Dr. Stephen Cohen was also given this label, and of course he ignored it, as he preferred seeking the truth rather than the weak narrative coming from the West.

    This piece is an excellent summary of important facts that are far away from the consciousness of the US public. The “shock therapy” promoted and carried out by Chubais in his quest to privatize the industry of the USSR as quickly as possible resulted in the worst carrion crows appearing to enrich themselves without a thought for the people of their own nation: Russia. I realize that most of those vultures see themselves as members of a different “nation” of people, and it shows that more than one of the oligarchs have made aliyah and currently reside in Israel, safe haven for international criminals of the Jewish persuasion. Look at the names and understand why the US establishment was so upset about Putin cleaning house and divesting these oligarchs of their ill-gotten assets: Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky, Gusinsky, Abramovich, Potanin, Prokhorov.

    “He responded by describing Russia in 2000 as a “shithole.” The kleptocrats had robbed the people and the natural wealth of Russia.”
    “America, along with many in Western Europe, helped loot Russia in the wake of the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Lobbyists in Washington, DC frantically signed up oligarch Russian clients starting in 1995.”

    This two-part documentary is a must-watch to understand what happened in Russia between 1991 and 2000. If it were a Hollywood movie, nobody would believe it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2Cl8lSv9Is

    The only thing this article is missing is the picture of the cover of Time Magazine from
    1996 in which Time boasted about how the US interfered in the Russian election to help Yeltsin win. The US interference was real, but it didn’t really give Yeltsin the win; it was the huge money spent from the Russian Jewish oligarchs that turned the tide. Remember that Yeltsin had about 5% support before their money went into his campaign.

    Excellent piece, Larry Johnson

    • Lysias says:

      I remember being puzzled by an episode of the Batchelor/Alexander show that would have had us believe it was an outrage when the Russians arrested Khodorkovsky. I couldn’t understand why that should matter to Americans.

  12. Sam says:

    Just 26% of Americans say the U.S. should play a major role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict in a new AP-NORC poll. President Biden has argued that fundamental American values are at stake in Eastern Europe.

    https://twitter.com/ap/status/1496556468316872709?s=21

    Despite all the propaganda and IO by state media including AP, their poll says it all.

  13. MapleLeaf says:

    “Our ability to bully and coerce Russia has passed.”

    Very much agreed, but sadly this is the only approach that many in the establishment have learned and can practice.

    I have no clue what it will take for such ideas to be discarded, it might not be possible for these people. They may very well take it to their gave, hopefully they don’t take the rest of us along with them.

  14. exiled off mainstreet says:

    I think you are performing a service to Americans and the world in general by publishing this information, which people who have looked at the situation dispassionately know is the truth. The Russians in a way, who actually are a part of the ‘west’ are defending western civilization from the barbarism coming from the power structure in the rest of the ‘west’ which represents degeneracy and a desire to exert absolute power, often against the interests of the population it is supposed to be defending.

  15. morongobill says:

    I really enjoyed Prof. Cohen’s visits to the John Batchelor Show. We lost a great man too soon.

  16. Razumov says:

    The Russians I have been following on Telegram (who turned out to be correct so far) are saying this is Z HOUR and the war is GO.

    https://t.me/grey_zone/12417

  17. whoknows says:

    >>>He responded by describing Russia in 2000 as a “shithole.” The kleptocrats had robbed the people and the natural wealth of Russia. But in the ensuing 22 years, there has been a dramatic turn around.

    The last 10 years were critical. I did not recognize the country. People are different, the aggression completely disappeared. Russia looks very civilized, even in the provinces.

    I think the end of the oil windfall with all the easy crazy money, as well as the sanctions have helped.

  18. MapleLeaf says:

    Lots of Russian planes are diverting away from the border, within Russian airspace of course. They are keeping an extreme distance.

  19. Razumov says:

    “We decided to launch a special military action aimed at demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine”

    -Putin

  20. Fred says:

    Larry,

    Putin has forgotten that one important thing: he’s not dealing with Donald Trump any longer.

  21. Pundita says:

    Bravo Larry Give em hell

  22. aka says:

    Chinese must be very happy.

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