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Many of Russia’s official reactions are similar to those in the United States.
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Russia is on the front line of the coronavirus crisis in that it shares a very long territorial border with China/Asia. Nonetheless, many of its official reactions are similar to those in the United States.

Citizens are being told to self-isolate. New responsibilities, authority, and public prominence are being devolved to regional governors and mayors of large cities, particularly Sergei Sobyanian, the already accomplished and widely admired mayor of Moscow. And leaders at all levels are suddenly relying heavily on, and deferring to, the expert opinion of medical authorities and other specialists.

But at this moment in Russian history, something else is being tested: not only Vladimir Putin’s personal leadership but the efficacy of the political-administrative system he has created since 2000—the “vertical” stretching from the Kremlin to all of the regions and cities of the world’s largest territorial country. Though Putin and his evolving system have faced previous crises—in particular, the Chechen War—this is the most serious and ramifying.

The health crisis also comes amid a national discussion as to how—not if—Putin will remain the No. 1 leader after his constitutionally permitted two consecutive terms as president expire in 2024. Various solutions are being discussed, including constitutional changes that would eliminate such limits or create a new position for Putin and whether such changes would require a national referendum—and indeed whether one could be held given the health crisis.

Larger, long-term issues are also involved. How, for example, would further empowering Putin impact plans to democratize the political system by transferring more power from the Kremlin to the parliament (Duma). One proposal, apparently made with Putin’s support, had been to give the Duma the power to name Russia’s president. Whatever the outcome, it is notable that no public figures, including oppositionists, seem to be able to imagine an alternative to Putin himself at this time.

Nor is the role of the United States missing from the discussion. Increasingly, Russian public figures are drawing a parallel with the World War II US-Russian alliance against fascism and calling for such an anti-viral alliance today. But Even if President Trump understood this necessity and sought to act on it, as he should, it is not clear he would be permitted to do so in Washington.

Part One:

Part Two:

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Coronavirus, Russia, Vladimir Putin 
Putin’s quest for a transformed nation and his own legacy.
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The US media’s three-year obsession with the mostly fictitious allegations of “Russiagate” has all but obscured, even deleted, important, potentially historic, developments inside that nation itself, still the world’s largest territorial country. One of the most important is the Putin government’s decision to invest $300 to $400 billion of “rainy day” funds in the nation’s infrastructure, especially in its vast, underdeveloped provinces, and on “national projects” ranging from education to health care and family services to transportation and other technology. If successfully implemented, Russia would be substantially transformed and the lives of its people significantly improved.

Not surprisingly, however, the plan has aroused considerable controversy and public debate in Russia’s policy elite, primarily for two reasons. The funds were accumulated largely due to high world prices for Russia’s energy exports and the state’s budgetary austerity during the decade after Putin came to power in 2000, and they have been hoarded as a safeguard against Western economic sanctions and/or a global economic depression. (Russia’s economic collapse in the Yeltsin 1990s, perhaps the worst modern-day depression in peacetime, remains a vivid memory for policymakers and ordinary citizens alike.)

There is also the nation’s long, sometimes traumatic, history of “modernization from above,” as it is termed. In the late 19th century, the Tsarist regime’s program to industrialize the country, “to catch up” with other world powers, had unintended consequences that led, in the accounts of many historians, to the end of Tsarism in the 1917 revolution. And Stalin’s “revolution from above” of the 1930s, based on the forced collectivization of the peasantry, which at the time accounted for more than 80 percent of the population, along with very rapid industrialization, resulted in millions of deaths and economic distortions that burdened Soviet and post-Soviet Russia for decades.

Nor are Russia’s alternative experiences of modernization from below inspiring or at least instructive. In the 1920s, during the years known as the New Economic Policy, or NEP, the victorious Bolsheviks pursued evolutionary economic development through a semi-regulated market economy. It had mixed—and still disputed—results, and it was brutally abolished by Stalin in 1929. Decades later, Yeltsin’s “free-market reforms” were widely blamed for the ruination and widespread misery of the 1990s, which featured many aspects of actual de-modernization.

With all this “living history” in mind, Putin’s plan for such large-scale (and rapid) investment has generated the controversy in Moscow and resulted in three positions within the policy class. One fully supports the decision on the essentially Keynesian grounds that it will spur Russia’s annual economic growth, which has lagged below the global average for several years. Another opposes such massive expenditures, arguing that the funds must remain in state hands as a safeguard against the US-led “sanctions war” (and perhaps worse) against Russia. And, as usual in politics, there is a compromise position that less should be invested in civilian infrastructure and less quickly.

Running through the discussion is also Russia’s long history of thwarted implementation of good intentions. To paraphrase a prime minister during the 1990s, Viktor Chernomyrdin, “We wanted things to turn out for the best, but they turned out as usual.” In particular, it is often asked, what will be the consequences of putting so much money into the hands of regional and other local officials in provinces where corruption is endemic? How much will be stolen or otherwise misdirected?

Nonetheless, Putin seems to be resolute. He is also insistent that his ambitious plan to transform Russia requires a long period of international peace and stability. Here again is plain evidence that those in Washington who insist Putin’s primary goal is “to sow discord, divisions, and instability” in the world, especially in the West, where he hopes to find “modernizing partnerships,” do not care about or understand what is actually unfolding inside Russia—or Putin’s vision of his own historical role and legacy.

 
• Category: Economics, Foreign Policy • Tags: Russia, Vladimir Putin 
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As with its 40-year predecessor, the new US-Russian Cold War has characteristic features, including sharply conflicting historical memories. Some of them are absurdly inaccurate and politically dangerous. Consider a recent ramifying example.

On January 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Israel to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet (mostly Russian) army. Representatives of many other countries also attended the solemn events, including US Vice President Mike Pence, but according to the Times of Israel, Putin was “the most formidable and dominant presence.” The reason, widely acknowledged in Israel though scarcely in the United States today, is that the Soviet army, more than any other, saved the surviving Jews of Europe as it defeated Nazi Germany in route from Stalingrad to Berlin.

Ukrainians, most of them then Soviet citizens, played a large role in those historical events, both as Holocaust victims and as soldiers in the Soviet army. Nonetheless, at about the same time as the ceremonies in Israel were underway, the inveterate bipartisan anti-Russian lobby in Washington—notably at this moment Democratic Representative Adam Schiff and a predictable slew of other lawmakers and impeachment witnesses—were declaring Ukraine today’s front line against Russia’s “new aggression.” Among other things, this was not the peace with Russia promised, and indeed sought since his election, by Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky.

At the very moment when peace between Ukraine and Russia is within reach, and with it the possibility of saving many lives, warmongering—an ugly but appropriate word—intensifies in Washington. On December 4, for example, in a formulation rarely heard since the early 1950s, a pro-impeachment witness, not known for any Russia, Ukraine, or related expertise, told Congress that the United States must make “sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here.” By January 22, this had become a warfare mantra in Congress, with Democratic Representative Jason Crow, an impeachment manager, also assuring members that America must “fight Russia over there so we don’t have to fight Russia here.” Whatever the merits of the impeachment process, its legacy, as I have warned from the outset, is likely to be an ever-worsening new Cold War and thus conceivably something even more dire.

Yet these fateful issues cannot be candidly discussed in Washington because they are widely regarded, as NBC’s Chuck Todd mindlessly characterized them, as “Russian talking points” and “disinformation.” By implication, and sometimes in direct accusations, anyone who does raise them is a “Kremlin apologist.”

Such continues to be the state of American discourse about this new and more perilous Cold War. Will any of the current Democratic presidential candidates change the discourse­­—or be permitted to do so by “moderators” of their debates? Or must we rely almost entirely on President Trump’s continuing, and substantially thwarted, effort to implement his campaign promise to “cooperate with Russia”?

Looking ahead, Putin has invited Trump to join him on Red Square on May 9, Russia’s “Victory Day,” a sacred commemoration of immense importance to the Kremlin and for most of Russia’s people. Certainly, President Trump should accept, if only to honor the estimated 27 million Soviet citizens who died in World War II. But here, too, will Washington politics and media discourage him from doing so?

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Israel, Putin, Russia, Ukraine 
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US Congress heavyweights like Adam Schiff deeply misunderstand Russia but keep on bashing Moscow because it has become “politically advantageous” in Washington, Russia researcher Stephen Cohen said.

“Being highly-critical of Russia is good politics in the United States,” Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University, told the Grayzone’s Aaron Mate in an interview, uploaded online on Monday.

Nobody ever gets any points for saying anything good about Russia – and only rarely for advocating any kind of partnership with Russia.

Cohen said that “politically it’s advantageous to a lot of people to bash Russia,” and even some of the “progressive” Democratic Party candidates in the 2020 presidential race employ rhetoric, which is hostile toward Moscow.

It has become an American way of life to blame Russia when things go wrong. Of course, sometimes Russia is to blame, but not all the time. And yet that’s become part of our discourse.

The US Democratic Party’s lead impeachment manager, Representative Adam Schiff, has invoked Russia a lot during the trial in the Senate. Democrats want to oust President Donald Trump because they believe he briefly suspended military aid to Ukraine while trying to pressure Kiev into investigating the dealings of his chief 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Sending weapons to Ukraine serves America’s “abiding interest in stemming Russian expansionism,” Schiff argued.

Cohen, however, said that shipping weapons to Kiev would effectively amount to the US turning its back on Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts to resolve the conflict with Russia through peaceful means. Instead, he thinks Washington should focus on encouraging the neighbors to negotiate.

“If Zelensky had full American backing for his peace talks with Putin – that would help him a lot.”

Speaking on the Senate floor, Schiff accused Moscow of trying to undermine the faith in democracy and government institutions around the globe.

Cohen argued that the congressman misunderstands what Russian President Vladimir Putin actually “sees as his own historical mission,” and it is almost the opposite of what Schiff attributes to him.

According to the researcher, Putin’s chief ambition is “to rebuild Russia from the disaster into which it fell in the 1990s” after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The last thing Putin wants is instability. He’s trying to build economy at home and economic relations with countries abroad because he sees that as a way to modernize Russia.

The Russia researcher said that Moscow is currently focused on ties with China, but Putin would like to have good trade relations with Europe and the US as well.

“The notion that he wants to foster discord in the very countries, with which he wants what he calls ‘modernizing trade relations’ is just ignorance on the part of Adam Schiff. Because Schiff runs his mouth a lot about Russia, we get to hear the kind of ignorance… that dominates a large segment of policy-makers in Washington.”

 
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Podcast of John Batchelor Show

Summary of Broadcast Produced by Yvonne Lorenzo:

As the New Cold War gathers up speed and escalates, we are entering a “fact free world” as allegations are made that are proved not to be true are promoted; for example, the allegation that the DNC was hacked by Russia has been officially debunked—no one could name the seventeen intelligence agencies, the Coast Guard was one. The notion of the hacking was cooked up by two agencies: by the DNI’s head James Clapper and Brennan at the CIA. Nevertheless, recently News Anchor Chuck Todd of NBC (the most pro-Russiagate network, the ones who shamelessly accused presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard of being a Russian asset) took it one step further: ignoring the facts, Todd again stated that seventeen intelligence agencies agreed that the Russians not only interfered in the election but that they swung the election to Trump. While interference is one thing, no one has previously made that allegation. Consequently, we are now in a fact free discourse in America: no evidence is necessary to prove anything, falsehoods are taken up by the legacy media, what Professor Cohen would call a world of tabloid gossip media, except in their favor the tabloids, fearing lawsuits, will do some fact checking, which is conspicuous in its absence in the legacy media. And Professor Cohen noted that it’s hard to get traction and you can’t have a conversation with someone when you don’t agree upon the facts.

In conversation on a cruise with fellow liberals, Professor Cohen noted most take the view that where there is smoke there is fire and there is something to these allegations of Russiagate and Putin’s control over Trump; they state the media wouldn’t continue to promote these conspiracy theories, these allegations about Trump’s nefarious relations with the Kremlin, without reason and so there must be something to them. Yet while facts have become absolutely critical Cohen notes you can’t get people to focus on the facts; for that reason, he feels despair and observes that for the first time in his life in his public discussions of Russia there are no basic premises that people accept any more, for if you say “If there’s smoke, there’s fire,” that is just not a logical way of thinking: you either have the facts or you don’t.

Batchelor also points out in the impeachment charges there is a great deal of presumption; there are no facts regarding the president as well, and he cites Trump’s letter to Nancy Pelosi and poses this question: what does the Kremlin think about the impeachment?

Cohen answers that the Russian high policy class in the 1990s—the America worship period—they and not just the youth, strongly believed that Russia’s future was with the West and America in particular, and now what strikes Russians most is the role of Russian intelligence services in the Western allegations. Pro-America Russians thought that American intelligence services didn’t play the role that the Soviet ones did. In Russian history classes and as a staple of popular culture, the sinister role of the “secret police” goes back to the Czarist era but what distinguished America was that it didn’t have anything comparable in abuses by its intelligence services—or so it was believed. Consequently, for those who looked up to America, it’s a source of disillusion and shock to learn that the American special services “went off the reservation” for quite a long time, not unlike Russia’s, and so they have become disillusioned while for those who tried to get Russians to be more nationalistic, their perspective is to say with gratification, “We told you so. Now will you please grow up!”

Russians call the American agencies “the organs” perhaps not being clear on the difference between the CIA and the FBI and conflating them. For Russians, the role of such agencies is baked into the culture and this has resulted in rethinking not only about America but about their own special services. An Op-Ed piece in a Russian liberal newspaper the Russian liberal author wrote, after watching what’s unfolding in America, we used to beat up on our intelligence services for decades but now maybe we need them. Contrary to a “cult of the intelligence services,” Cohen thinks what must be determined is the role of the American intelligence services in creating Russiagate from the very beginning.

Yet what is critical is to know how Russiagate began in America, with the Barr-Durham probe into the origins of Russia and Russiagate will continue to be a major issue in the 2020 election. What struck Cohen about the letter from Trump to Pelosi—which was so eloquent he doubts Trump wrote it—was that he understands it will be an issue in the 2020 elections, and it was a campaign document. That aside, Trump is aware that Democrats are campaigning still on Russiagate; nothing has turned up that it factual. Therefore, despite the absence of facts, this will be a major issue. Ukraine has turned into a stand-in for Russia.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, once a quintessential conservative, published an article titled “Time to Call out and Remove Putin’s Propagandist in America.” While the article is slightly cagier than that headline, essentially she wants to shutdown and deprive access to media who aren’t espousing and promoting the Russiagate/Russophobic narratives. Cohen condemns that kind of behavior is that. On opposite side of Rubin, Cohen stated he himself has never advocated the silencing and removal of those who promote among other falsehoods the provably false Russiagate narrative. He asks where are things drifting and he answers discourse and relations are becoming ugly and awful.

Returning to the past, he notes there was an assumption that Russia under Yeltsin would emerge as a replica and junior partner of America; Cohen believes those who promote the Russiagate narrative and demonize Trump because their “impossible dream” failed—Russia is too old, too vast to ever be a replica of America. What took Professor Cohen aback in the testimony from Fiona Hill and others was how deep and wide the Russophobia runs in the Washington think tanks. Until she spoke and testified he had no idea how much she—and the other Russia experts—hate Russia.

Batchelor noted this is the language of civil war in Trump’s letter; Trump uses the term “Star Chamber of partisan persecution” and “coup” which are the language of a country torn in half and he asked the question whether the weakening of the civil contract to be an advantage to Putin and Russia. Cohen notes every newspaper and media source in America say Putin is delighted since it is his goal is to foment disarray in America.

 
An anti-neocon president appears to have been surrounded by neocons in his own administration.
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President Trump campaigned and was elected on an anti-neocon platform: he promised to reduce direct US involvement in areas where, he believed, America had no vital strategic interest, including in Ukraine. He also promised a new détente (“cooperation”) with Moscow.

And yet, as we have learned from their recent congressional testimony, key members of his own National Security Council did not share his views and indeed were opposed to them. Certainly, this was true of Fiona Hill and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. Both of them seemed prepared for a highly risky confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, though whether retroactively because of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea or for more general reasons was not entirely clear.

Similarly, Trump was slow in withdrawing Marie Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer appointed by President Obama as ambassador to Kiev, who had made clear, despite her official position in Kiev, that she did not share the new American president’s thinking about Ukraine or Russia. In short, the president was surrounded in his own administration, even in the White House, by opponents of his foreign policy and presumably not only in regard to Ukraine.

How did this unusual and dysfunctional situation come about? One possibility is that it was the doing and legacy of the neocon John Bolton, briefly Trump’s national security adviser. But this doesn’t explain why the president would accept or long tolerate such appointees.

A more plausible explanation is that Trump thought that by appointing such anti-Russian hard-liners he could lay to rest the Russiagate allegations that had hung over him for three years and still did: that for some secret nefarious reason he was and remained a “Kremlin puppet.” Despite the largely exculpatory Mueller report, Trump’s political enemies, mostly Democrats but not only, have kept the allegations alive.

The larger question is who should make American foreign policy: an elected president or Washington’s permanent foreign policy establishment? (It is scarcely a “deep” or “secret” state, since its representatives appear on CNN and MSNBC almost daily.) Today, Democrats seem to think that it should be the foreign policy establishment, not President Trump. But having heard the cold-war views of much of that establishment, how will they feel when a Democrat occupies the White House? After all, eventually Trump will leave power, but Washington’s foreign-policy “blob,” as even an Obama aide termed it, will remain.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, Neocons, Russia, Ukraine 
Historically and even today, Russia has much in common with Ukraine—the United States, almost nothing.
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For centuries and still today, Russia and large parts of Ukraine have had much in common—a long territorial border; a shared history; ethnic, linguistic, and other cultural affinities; intimate personal relations; substantial economic trade; and more. Even after the years of escalating conflict between Kiev and Moscow since 2014, many Russians and Ukrainians still think of themselves in familial ways. The United States has almost none of these commonalities with Ukraine.

Which is also to say that Ukraine is not “a vital US national interest,” as most leaders of both parties, Republican and Democrat alike, and much of the US media now declare. On the other hand, Ukraine is a vital Russian interest by any geopolitical or simply human reckoning.

Why, then, is Washington so deeply involved in Ukraine? (The proposed nearly $400 million in US military aid to Kiev would mean, of course, even more intrusive involvement.) And why is Ukraine so deeply involved in Washington, in a different way, that it has become a pretext for attempts to impeach President Donald Trump?

The short but essential answer is Washington’s decision, taken by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, to expand NATO eastward from Germany and eventually to Ukraine itself. Ever since, both Democrats and Republicans have insisted that Ukraine is a “vital US national interest.” Those of us who opposed that folly warned it would lead to dangerous conflicts with Moscow, conceivably even war. Imagine Washington’s reaction, we pointed out, if Russian military bases began to appear on Canada’s or Mexico’s borders with America. We were not wrong: An estimated 13,000 souls have already died in the Ukrainian-Russian war in the Donbass and some 2 million people have been displaced.

Things are likely to get worse. Democrats are sharply criticizing Trump for withholding large-scale military aid to Kiev (even though President Obama, despite strong pressure, wisely did so). Ukraine’s recently elected President Volodymyr Zelensky, having been drawn into the Washington scandal, is no longer as free to negotiate peace with Russian leader Vladimir Putin as he hoped and promised during his campaign. And candidates for the 2020 US Democratic presidential nomination, with the exception of Tulsi Gabbard, are likely to compete for the role of Kiev’s biggest military booster. Here, as generally in US-Russian relations, Democrats are becoming a war party.

Meanwhile, as I have reported before, Russian leader Vladimir Putin continues to be accused by hard-liners in Moscow of passivity in the face of “American aggression in Ukraine.” Is it irony or tragedy that the often-maligned Trump and Putin may stand between us and something much worse—between a fragile Cold War peace and the war parties in their respective countries?

 

 
Alarming things we have learned under Trump, but not always about him.
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Donald Trump hears questions from reporters following the release of a memo on the FBI’s role in the Russia inquiry in February 2018. (AP / Evan Vucci)
Donald Trump hears questions from reporters following the release of a memo on the FBI’s role in the Russia inquiry in February 2018. (AP / Evan Vucci)

Almost daily for three years, Democrats and their media have told us very bad things about Donald Trump’s life, character, and presidency. Some of them are true. But in the process, we have also learned some lamentable, even alarming, things about the Democratic Party establishment, including self-professed liberals. Consider the following:

  • The Democratic establishment is deeply and widely imbued with rancid Russophobic attitudes. Most telling was (and remains) a core “Russiagate” allegation that “Russia attacked American democracy during the 2016 presidential election” on Trump’s behalf—an “attack” so nefarious it has often been equated with Pearl Harbor. But there was no “attack” in 2016, only, as I have previously explained, ritualistic “meddling” of the kind that both Russia and America have undertaken in the other’s elections for decades. Little can be more phobic than the allegation or belief that one has been “attacked by a hostile” entity. And yet this myth and its false narrative persist in the Democratic Party’s discourse, campaigning, and fund-raising.
  • We have also learned that the heads of America’s intelligence agencies under President Obama, especially John Brennan of the CIA and James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, felt themselves entitled to try to undermine an American presidential candidacy and subsequent presidency, that of Donald Trump. Early on, I termed this operation “Intelgate,” and it has since been well documented by other writers, including Lee Smith in his new book. Intel officials did so in tacit alliance with certain leading, and equally Russophobic, members of the Democratic Party, which had once opposed such transgressions. This may be the most alarming revelation of the Trump years: Trump will leave power, but these self-aggrandizing intelligence agencies will remain.
  • We also learned that, contrary to Democratic dogma, the mainstream “free press” cannot be fully trusted to readily expose such abuses of power. Indeed, what the mainstream media—leading national newspapers and two cable news networks, in particular—chose to cover and report, and chose not to cover and report, made the abuses and consequences of Russiagate allegations possible. Even now, exceedingly influential publications such as The New York Times seem eager to delegitimize the investigation by Attorney General William Barr and his appointed special investigator John Durham into the origins of Russiagate. Barr’s critics accuse him of fabricating a “conspiracy theory” on behalf of Trump. But the real, or grandest, conspiracy theory was the Russiagate allegation of “collusion” between Trump and the Kremlin, an accusation that was—or should have been—discredited by the Robert Mueller report.
  • And we have learned, or should have learned, that for all the talk by Democrats about Trump as a danger to US national security, it is their Russiagate allegations that truly endanger it. Consider two examples. Russia’s new “hyper-sonic” missiles, which can elude US missile-defense systems, make new nuclear arms negotiations with Moscow imperative and urgent. If only for the sake of his legacy, Trump is likely to want to do so.But even if he is able to, will Trump be entrusted enough to conduct negotiations as successfully as did his predecessors in the White House, given the “Putin puppet” and “Kremlin stooge” accusations still being directed at him? Similarly, as I have asked repeatedly, if confronted with a US-Russian Cuban missile–like crisis—anywhere Washington and Moscow are currently eyeball-to-eyeball militarily, from the Baltic region and Ukraine to Syria—will Trump be as free politically as was President John F. Kennedy to resolve it without war? Here too there is an inconvenient truth: To the extent that Democrats any longer seriously discuss national security in the context of US-Russian relations, it mostly involves vilifying both Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin. (Recall also that previous presidents were free to negotiate with Russia’s Soviet communist leaders, even encouraged to do so, whereas the demonized Putin is an anti-communist, post-Soviet leader.)

The current state of US-Russian relations is unprecedentedly dangerous, not only due to reasons cited here—a new Cold War fraught with the possibility of hot war. Whether President Trump serves one or two terms, he must be fully empowered to cope with the multiple possibilities of a US-Russian military confrontation. That requires ridding him and our nation of Russiagate allegations—and that in turn requires learning how such allegations originated.

Opponents of Barr’s investigation into the origins of Russiagate say it is impermissible or unprecedented to “investigate the investigators.” But the bipartisan Church Committee, based in the US Senate, did so in the mid-1970s. It exposed many abuses by US intelligence agencies, particularly by the CIA, and adopted remedies that it believed would be permanent. Clearly, they have not been.

However well-intentioned Barr may be, he is Trump’s attorney general and therefore not fully credible. As I have also argued repeatedly, a new Church Committee is urgently needed. It’s time for honorable members of the Senate of both parties to do their duty.

 
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Cohen observes in his latest conversation with John Batchelor that the so-called Impeachment inquiry, whether formal or informal, will make the new Cold War even worse and more dangerous than it already is, noting that an inflection point has been reached, because at the core of these allegations—most of which are undocumented and a substantial number of which are untrue— revolving around Russiagate and now Ukrainegate is an underlying demonization of Russia. Relations between America and Russia will continue to deteriorate either due to the fact that the entire political spectrum is engaging in a frenzy of Russophobia or that President Trump, who ran and won on a platform of improving relations with Russia, is now completely shackled, thus it is inevitable that the new Cold War will continue to become more dangerous.

Regarding Attorney General Barr’s investigation into the origins of Russiagate, as Cohen noted previously, Barr has made it clear that he’s investigating not the FBI but the intelligence agencies, and Cohen is uncertain that even the Attorney General of the United States can be successful in that line of inquiry. For example, the young and politically inconsequential George Papadopolous, a young aid to the Trump campaign, got four or five visitors, every one of them tied to foreign intelligence, American or European, which makes it self-evident that the Intelligence Agencies were running an operation against the Trump campaign. Cohen says that even if Barr is a resolute man and says he wants to get to the bottom of this, Cohen is not confident that he will be able to do so.

Cohen notes that the Russian press, which follows American politics closely, has resulted in a consensus that all of this—Russiagate, Ukrainegate—was created to stop Trump from having better relations with Russia. Thus, it is important that Putin had been told the reason Trump cannot engage in détente is because of Trump being shackled.

Discussing the recent American mission against Abu Baker al-Baghdadi in Syria, Cohen stated Nancy Pelosi utterly disgraced herself when she complained Trump informed the Russians about the success of the mission and its initiation, considering the fact that this wing of Congress is so against Trump he had no guarantee that one of them would not have leaked the mission before it began. Russian intelligence in that part of the world is probably better than other nation’s, so Cohen assumes Russia knew about the mission and that they helped by providing information to America.

In addition, Cohen has noted Putin discussed a partnership with America against domestic terrorism starting with his approach to Obama and noted that even considering the September 11 terror attack, Russia has suffered more victims of domestic terrorism than America has. Obama thought about the proposal, hesitated, and it never happened. These recent events are a reminder that the United States and Russia are uniquely positioned to partner against international terrorism, but this may be slightly beyond the grasp of President Trump at the present time.

Cohen noted that expert opinion in Russia—which informs the Kremlin leadership, including Putin—has soured on the United States; the older generation of Russian America specialists who like America, who visit regularly and appreciate American culture, have become utterly disillusioned and cannot promote a Russian-American partnership given what has happened to Trump.

Regarding Ukraine, Cohen notes it shares a very large border with Russia, tens of millions of intermarriages, language, culture and history, and although the United States shares none of this with Ukraine, the United States has declared Ukraine is a strategic ally, and this would be equivalent to Russia stating that Mexico is its strategic ally, which is preposterous; the term “strategic” clearly has military implications.

Expanding on the topic of Ukraine, despite its size and natural resources, it is the poorest country in Europe. The new president, a comedian who starred in a TV show portraying the Ukranian president and thus life imitates art, ran as a peace candidate; that and his promise to fight corruption resulted in his victory. Part of his pledge was to meet with Putin to try to solve the conflicts; but he promised to end the hot war with Russia. American politics got in the way and people are still dying: at last count, there were approximately thirteen thousand dead, including women and children. And the peace candidate has been dragged into American politics and the commentary on Ukraine has a colonial tone. America speaking of Ukraine as a “strategic ally” is foolishness and warfare thinking. What should be the American policy is to encourage Zelensky to pursue these peace policies with Russia so the war doesn’t spread and the killing stops and that Ukraine, which is a potentially rich country, can recover. While Obama egged on the war policy, Trump seemed to have no policy, other than to encourage Zelensky in his peace initiative. What isn’t known in the conversation Trump had with Zelensky was whether he encouraged him in his peace initiative; the transcript is a fragment, redacted and edited so that it doesn’t mention the war but certainly it was discussed. The issue is whether the United States should give Ukraine’s government $400 million dollars in military equipment. Obama, who Cohen observes was not a good foreign policy president refused to do so but Cohen concludes that was a wise decision. All that providing weapons to Ukraine would accomplish is to incite the pro-war forces in Kiev against the anti-war forces led by Zelensky; the military advantage in any event lies with Russia.

Despite the fact Zelensky is an actor, he did run on a program of peace and Cohen believes that he is sincere; Cohen notes the problem is not Russia, but the armed Nationalists who are opposed to peace—approximately 30,000—who have publicly threatened Zelensky. Cohen notes Putin wants to end the war with Ukraine and he has made efforts to help Zelensky, such as the recent prisoner release, although he included people Russians consider terrorists. Thus, Zelensky doesn’t have a lot of political power. While there are bad nationalist actors—the Azov battalion, which threatened Zelensky with either removal or death—nevertheless Cohen has asked where the regular army stands: will it back him, will it be loyal? That answer now is unknown.

Cohen concluded to most Ukrainians Zelensky represented hope, hope in the war against corruption and hope against the war. The Kremlin wants to end the war; Zelensky has a chance, he’s supported by Germany and France, Putin is helping, but the United States is not a party of the Minsk Agreement peace acccord. Trump has intruded in his own unusual way but can be a factor for good. If Cohen were advising President Trump, he’d tell him if he favored the negotiations for Russian and Ukrainian peace, this would favor his historical reputation.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy, Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Russia, Russiagate, Ukraine 
Is US national security being trumped by loathing for Trump?
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The transcript of President Trump’s July 25 telephone conversation with Ukraine’s recently elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has ignited the usual anti-Trump bashing in American political-media circles, even more calls for impeachment, with little, if any, regard for the national security issues involved. Leave aside that Trump should not have been compelled to make the transcript public and ask: Which, if any, foreign leaders will now feel free to conduct personal telephone diplomacy with an American president directly or indirectly, of the kind that helped end the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, knowing that his or her comments might become known to domestic political opponents? Consider instead only the following undiscussed issues:

§ Even if former vice president Joseph Biden, who figured prominently in the Trump-Zelensky conversation, is not the Democratic nominee, Ukraine is now likely to be a contested, and poisonous, issue in the 2020 US presidential election. How did the United States become so involved in Ukraine’s torturous and famously corrupt politics? The short answer is NATO expansion, as some of us who opposed that folly back in the 1990s warned would be the case, and not only in Ukraine. The Washington-led attempt to fast-track Ukraine into NATO in 2013–14 resulted in the Maidan crisis, the overthrow of the country’s constitutionally elected president Viktor Yanukovych, and to the still ongoing proxy civil war in Donbass. All those fateful events infused the Trump-Zelensky talk, if only between the lines.

§ Russia shares centuries of substantial civilizational values, language, culture, geography, and intimate family relations with Ukraine. America does not. Why, then, is it routinely asserted in the US political-media establishment that Ukraine is a “vital US national interest” and not a vital zone of Russian national security, as by all geopolitical reckoning it would seem to be? The standard American establishment answer is: because of “Russian aggression against Ukraine.” But the “aggression” cited is Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for anti-Kiev fighters in the Donbass civil war, both of which came after, not before, the Maidan crisis, and indeed were a direct result of it. That is, in Moscow’s eyes, it was reacting, not unreasonably, to US-led “aggression.” In any event, as opponents of eastward expansion also warned in the 1990s, NATO has increased no one’s security, only diminished security throughout the region bordering Russia.

§ Which brings us back to the Trump-Zelensky telephone conversation. President Zelensky ran and won overwhelmingly as a peace-with-Moscow candidate, which is why the roughly $400 million in US military aid to Ukraine, authorized by Congress, figured anomalously in the conversation. Trump is being sharply criticized for withholding that aid or threatening to do so, including by Obama partisans. Forgotten, it seems, is that President Obama, despite considerable bipartisan pressure, steadfastly refused to authorize such military assistance to Kiev, presumably because it might escalate the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (and Russia, with its long border with Ukraine, had every escalatory advantage). Instead of baiting Trump on this issue, we should hope he encourages the new peace talks that Zelensky has undertaken in recent days with Moscow, which could end the killing in Donbass. (For this, Zelensky is being threatened by well-armed extreme Ukrainian nationalists, even quasi-fascists. Strong American support for his negotiations with Moscow may not deter them, but it might.)

§ Finally, but not surprisingly, the shadow of Russiagate is now morphing into Ukrainegate. Trump is also being sharply criticized for asking Zelensky to cooperate with Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into the origins of Russiagate, even though the role of Ukrainian-Americans and Ukraine itself in Russiagate allegations against Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton in 2016 is now well-documented.

We need to know fully the origins of Russiagate, arguably the worst presidential scandal in American history, and if Ukrainian authorities can contribute to that understanding, they should be encouraged to do so. As I’ve argued repeatedly, fervent anti-Trumpers must decide whether they loathe him more than they care about American and international security. Imaging, for example, a Cuban missile–like crisis somewhere in the world today where Washington and Moscow are militarily eyeball-to-eyeball, directly or through proxies, from the Baltic and the Black Seas to Syria and Ukraine. Will Trump’s presidential legitimacy be sufficient for him to resolve such an existential crisis peacefully, as President John F. Kennedy did in 1962?

Stephen F. Cohen is a professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. A Nation contributing editor, his most recent book War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate is available in paperback and in an ebook edition. His weekly conversations with the host of The John Batchelor Show, now in their sixth year, are available at www.thenation.com.

 
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