Stephen F. Cohen has long been one of the leading scholars of Russia and the Soviet Union. He wrote a biography of the Bolshevik revolutionary Nikolai Bukharin and is a contributing editor at the Nation, which his wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, edits and publishes. In recent years, Cohen has emerged as a more ideologically dexterous figure, ripping those he thinks are pursuing a “new Cold War” with Russia and calling for President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to form “an alliance against international terrorism.” Cohen has gone so far as to describe the investigations into the Trump campaign and Russia “the No. 1 threat to the United States today.”
Cohen has been criticized by many people, myself included, for his defenses of Putin. (He once said the Ukraine crisis had been “imposed on [Putin] and he had no choice but to react.”) He scolded President Barack Obama for sending retired gay athletes to Sochi and recently went on Fox News to speak up for Trump’s war against leakers.
I spoke by phone with Cohen, who is also a professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at NYU and Princeton and the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. During the course of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed why Cohen won’t concede that the Democratic National Committee was hacked, whether it’s fair to call Putin a murderer, and why we may be entering an era much more dangerous than the Cold War.
I heard you recently on Fox News. You said that the “assault” on President Trump “was the No. 1 threat to the United States today.” What did you mean by that?
Threat. OK. Threat. That’s a good word. We’re in a moment when we need an American president and a Kremlin leader to act at the highest level of statesmanship. Whether they meet in summit or not is not of great importance, but we need intense negotiations to tamp down this new Cold War, particularly in Syria, but not only. Trump is being crippled by these charges, for which I can find no facts whatsoever.
Wait, which charges are we talking about?
That he is somehow in the thrall or complicity or control, under the influence of the Kremlin.