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Why Russians believe America has been attacking them for over 25 years (PODCAST)

Stephen Cohen joins John Batchelor for another in depth look at US-Russian relations

Stephen Cohen

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(TheNation) – Professor Emeritus of Politics and Russian Studies (at Princeton and NYU) Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)

Cohen’s subject is both contemporary and historical. The most central, ramifying, and dangerous allegation of Russiagate is that “Russian attacked American democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. After 18 months, there is still no credible evidence for this allegation. On the other hand, many Russians—in the policy elite, the educated middle class, and ordinary citizens—believe that “the United States has been at war with Russia” for 25 years, a perception regularly expressed in the Russian media. They believe this for understandable reasons.

American commentators attribute such views to “Kremlin propaganda.” It is true, Cohen points out, that Russians, like Americans, are strongly influenced by what appears in the media, especially on television, and that Russian television news reporting and commentary are no less politicized than their US counterparts. But elite and middle-class Russians are no less informed and critical-minded than American ones. Indeed, they have more access to daily American news and opinions—from cable and satellite TV, US-funded Russian-language broadcasts and Internet sites, and from Russian sites, such as inosmi.ru, that translate scores of American media articles into Russian daily—than most Americans have to Russian media. (The recent censoring steps taken by the Department of Justice against RT and Sputnik might be viewed in this context.) Generally, Cohen argues, many more Russians are much better informed about Washington politics than Americans are about Moscow politics.

Above all, Russians consider the history of US policy toward post-Soviet Russia since the early 1990s, enacted by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly major episodes that they perceive as warlike and as including acts of “betrayal and deceit” in the form of promises and assurances made to Moscow by Washington and subsequently violated. Cohen briefly itemizes the main examples:

§ Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush negotiated with the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, what they thought was the end of the Cold War on the shared and often expressed premise that it would end “with no losers, only winners.” (For this crucial mutual declaration, see two books by Jack F. Matlock Jr., both presidents’ ambassador to Moscow: Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended and Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray.) But in 1992, during his reelection campaign against Bill Clinton, Bush suddenly declared, “We won the Cold War,” paving the way to the triumphalism of the Clinton administration and the implication that post-Soviet Russia should be treated as a defeated adversary, as were Germany and Japan after World War II. For many knowledgeable Russians, certainly for Gorbachev himself, this was the first American betrayal.

§ For the next eight years, in the 1990s, the Clinton administration based its Russia policy on that triumphalist premise, with wanton disregard for how it was perceived in Russia or what it may portend. The catastrophic “shock therapy” economics imposed on Russia by President Boris Yeltsin was primarily his responsibility, but that draconian policy was emphatically insisted on and (meagerly) funded by Washington. The result was the near ruination of Russia—the worst economic depression in peacetime, the disintegration of the highly professionalized Soviet middle classes, mass poverty, plunging life expectancy, the fostering of an oligarchic financial elite, the plundering of Russia’s wealth, and more. There was also flagrant American “collusion” in Russian politics, particularly in Yeltsin’s 1996 reelection campaign. The Clinton administration bankrolled Yeltsin’s campaign with billions of dollars in loans through international agencies and sent a team of American experts to Moscow to advise and oversee Yeltsin’s initially failing reelection bid. That is, Washington “colluded” with Yeltsin against his presidential rivals. Later, Putin was, and continues to be, misquoted as saying that the end of the Soviet Union was “the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century.” What he actually said was that it was “one of the greatest catastrophes,” pointing to the fate of Russia in the 1990s. He was not wrong, as Cohen spelled out in articles in The Nation in the 1990s and in his book Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Russia (published in 2000 and in an expanded paperback edition in 2001). As American “advisers” encamped in Moscow and spread across the country in the 1990s, little wonder so many Russians felt they had been defeated, occupied, and plundered by a foreign power.

§ In 1999, Clinton made clear that the crusade was also a military one, beginning the still-ongoing eastward expansion of NATO, now directly on Russia’s borders in the three Baltic states, and today knocking on the doors of two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Ukraine. That so many Russians see NATO’s unrelenting creep from Berlin to within artillery range of St. Petersburg as “war on Russia” hardly needs any comment, especially given the living memory of the 27.5 million Soviet deaths in the war against the Nazi German invasion in 1941. But herein lies yet another “betrayal and deceit,” one that has never been forgotten. In 1990, in return for Gorbachev’s agreement that a reunited Germany would be a NATO member, all of the major powers involved, particularly the first Bush administration, promised that NATO “would not expand one inch to the east.” Many US participants later denied that such a promise had been made, or claimed that Gorbachev misunderstood. But documents recently published by the National Security Archive in Washington prove that the assurance was given on many occasions by many Western leaders, including the Americans. The only answer they can now give is that “Gorbachev should have gotten it in writing,” implying that American promises to Russia are nothing more than deceit in pursuit of domination. (In any event, Cohen thinks that Washington would have violated such a treaty agreement in pursuit of pushing NATO to Russia’s borders, just as it soon violated another crucial treaty.) Later in 1999, Clinton made clear that NATO expansion was not the non-military policy it was proposed to be. For three months, US-led NATO war planes bombed tiny Serbia, Russia’s traditional Slav ally, in effect annexing its province of Kosovo. Visiting Moscow at the time, Cohen heard widely expressed shock, dismay, anger, and perception of yet another betrayal, especially by young Russians, whose views of America were rapidly changing from benign well-wisher to warlike enemy. Meanwhile, also under Clinton, Washington began its still-ongoing campaign to diminish Moscow’s energy sales to Europe, thereby also belying US wishes for Russia’s economic recovery.

§ President Obama came to office promising a “new era of American diplomacy,” but his approach to Russia was no different, and was arguably even more militarized and intrusive than his predecessors’. During the short-lived “reset” of relations with the Kremlin, then under President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama’s vice president, Joseph Biden, told a Moscow public audience, and then Putin himself, that Putin should not return to the presidency. (In effect, Obama and Biden were trying to “collude”—however ineptly—with their imagined partner Medvedev against Putin.) In addition to other US “meddling” under way, the administration, particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stepped up “democracy promotion” by commenting critically on the Russian parliamentary and presidential elections that followed. By 2011, the administration felt free to betray its own chosen Russian partner, Medvedev, breaking its promise not to use a UN Security Council resolution in order to depose Libyan leader Gaddafi, who was tracked by US-NATO war planes and murdered in the streets. Meanwhile, Obama, like his predecessors, pushed NATO expansion ever closer to Russia, eventually to its borders.

§ Given this history, the fateful events in Kiev in 2014 seem almost inevitable. For the anti-Russian NATO expansionists in Washington, Ukraine had always been “the biggest prize” in the march from Berlin to Russia, as Carl Gershman, head of the official US regime-change institution, the National Endowment for Democracy, candidly stated, and indeed as was clear from American involvement in Ukraine’s earlier “Orange Revolution” in 2004–05. Though the European Union partnership agreement offered to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2013 is unfailingly presented as a purely economic and “civilizational” choice, it determinedly excluded Russia as a mutual trading partner while including “military and security” provisions binding Kiev to NATO policy. Yanukovych’s overthrow by what was essentially a planned street coup in February 2014, accompanied by a demonstrative US presence on Maidan Square, led to the highly militarized new Cold War that now so endangers American and international security. Here too there was a broken US promise. Obama assured Putin that he supported the truce between Yanukovych and the street protesters brokered by three EU foreign ministers. Within hours, the protesters headed toward Yanukovych’s official residence, and he fled, yielding to the US-backed ferociously anti-Russian regime now in power and to the US-Russian proxy war in Eastern Ukraine. Certainly, Obama did not prefer real diplomacy with Russia. Repeatedly he refused, or stepped back from, Moscow’s offers of cooperation against ISIS in Syria, until finally Putin acted on his own in September 2015. Typically, Obama left office by imposing new sanctions, essentially economic warfare, on Russia—this time for the alleged but unproved allegations of Russiagate. The sanctions included an unprecedented and reckless threat of covert cyber attacks on Russia. (Assuming this is what Michael Flynn asked the Kremlin, on President-elect Trump’s instructions, not to react to, both deserve our gratitude, not persecution.)

§ It’s through this 25-year history that so many Russians perceive the meaning of Russiagate, which is reported obsessively in their media. For them, an American presidential candidate, and then president, Donald Trump, suddenly appeared proposing to end the US war against Russia for the sake of “cooperation with Russia.” The fictions of Russiagate—Russians have seen multitudes of American “contacts” with their officials, oligarchs, politicians, wheeler-dealers, and ordinary citizens ever since the Soviet Union ended—are designed to prevent Trump from ending the long “war against Russia.” When influential American media outlets denounce as “treasonous” Trump’s diplomacy with Putin regarding Syria and terrorism, for example, Russians see confirmation of their perceptions.

§ Cohen concludes by letting Americans themselves decide whether this Russian perception of US policy is correct or not. Put another way, whether Putin really is the “aggressor” presented almost unanimously by the American political-media establishment or a Kremlin leader reacting to a decades-long “American war against Russia.” Perceptions are at the core of politics, and even if Russians misperceive American intentions, has Washington given them cause to do so? In any case, when a nation-state perceives itself to be under attack, especially a nation with Russia’s history, relations with it become ever more dangerous. There is, Cohen adds, one anomaly: Putin, almost alone among high Russian officials, rarely—if ever—speaks of an “American war against Russia.” Dare we call this statesmanship? Especially in the context of bellicose statements issued almost daily by the US Congress and mainstream media?

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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