‘Obama has a bee in the bonnet about Putin’ – Stephen Cohen to RT’s Ed Schultz

U.S. President Barack Obama © Jonathan Ernst
President Obama has a bee in his bonnet about Putin and he keeps denying the reality, Professor Stephen F. Cohen, who wrote The Nation article ‘The Obama administration recklessly escalates confrontation with Russia’, told RT’s Ed Schultz.

US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, said at a Democratic debate that Russia is putting “constant pressure” on US allies in Europe, “trying to move the boundaries of the post-World War II Europe,” and, also, “set European countries against one another.”

Is the latest escalation between the US and Russia, including NATO’s planned eastward build-up, a beginning of a new Cold War? RT asked Stephen Cohen, Professor of Russian Studies, History and Politics.  

‘What Russia wants is a stabilized EU’

RT: You recently wrote a piece in ‘The Nation’ saying that “this military move is unprecedented in modern time.” Put that in perspective for us. What do you mean by that?

Stephen F. Cohen: NATO – and this means Washington and the Obama administration – has decided to quadruple its military forces on Russia’s borders or near Russia’s borders. ..Best I can remember, the last time there was this kind of Western hostile military force on Russia’s borders is when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941. There has never been anything like this. During the 40-year Cold War there was this vast buffer zone that ran from the Soviet borders all the way to Berlin. There were no NATO or American troops there. This is a very radical departure on the part of the Administration. I have to say… what Mrs. Clinton said is entirely factually wrong. Russia is not threatening any country on its border and is not turning European countries against each other. What Russia wants is a stabilized European Union.

© Ints Kalnins

‘We’re in new Cold War’

RT: How dangerous is this and what, do you think, the Russian reaction is going to be?

SC: We are in a new Cold War. We have been in the new Cold War at least since the Ukrainian crisis began in 2013. I would date it back even earlier – at least to the proxy American-Russian war in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008. But we know the Russian reaction. My kids know the reaction. This is a tit-for-tat as we lived through during the last Cold War – the Russians are moving their heavy equipment to the western border, and more alarming - this includes tactical nuclear weapons, because the Russian doctrine is - this grows out of their weakness after the end of the Soviet Union – that if their state is threatened by overwhelming conventional force, they will use tactical nuclear weapons. So, this is a very dangerous and reckless thing to do. And another point, which is just as important, there is no discussion of this in the United States. I don’t know anybody who’s had a discussion on American television as we are having tonight. They certainly don’t have it at these Democratic and Republican debates.

RT: You also mentioned in your piece that this would “undermine ongoing negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the Ukrainian and Syrian crises.” Tell us about that, please.

SC: There are two Cold Wars that could be two hot war fronts unfolding between America and Russia today. One, of course, is in Ukraine, the other is in Syria. There has been a plan to negotiate an end of the Ukrainian civil war, put forward by the French and by the Germans. Secretary Kerry backed that and worked very hard to get that to come to the negotiating table. He has not gotten there yet – there is a lot of resistance. The same is true regarding Syria. There is a proposal, which came forward after the terrorism in Paris by Francois Hollande, the President of France, saying that there should be a grand coalition, which would include Russia, against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Kerry has been negotiating that with Lavrov. But, I don’t share the position that we can be sure that President Obama is the dove in this case, because I assume that President Obama controls NATO and Department of Defense. NATO and the Department of Defense have, basically, stabbed Kerry in the back. Every time he gets five feet closer to bringing about these negotiations, we end up with what we’ve just discussed – moving weapons to Russia’s borders.

RT: What are your thoughts about President Obama’s statement at the US-ASEAN summit that Russian involvement in Syria isn’t actually helping the situation?

SC: You got two points of view here. Russia and the US are not going to put combat troops on the ground in Syria. You can’t finish off Islamic State in Syria - no matter how much bombing the Russians and the Americans do - without ground forces. There is one ground force capable of doing that and that’s the Syrian Army. This is not my opinion. General [Martin Edward] Dempsey, who is the former Chief of Staff, told Obama that he, Dempsey, agreed with Putin that you had to protect the Syrian Army. The retired head of the British General Staff said two days ago “Putin is right, we’ve got to protect, bolster the Syrian Army.” President Obama has a bee in his bonnet about Putin and he keeps denying this reality.

RT: Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Kirill said in an exclusive interview with RT that “we need to do everything possible to avert war; this is our number one priority – for the Americans, Russians, and many other people.” Do you think the Russian people are nervous about what is going on?

SC: They are very nervous. ..Let me also emphasize that you probably already know that the Russian Orthodox Church headed by Kirill is very important in Russia and not just in the spiritual world, in the political world. One of the axioms of the Russian church is that it is the duty of the Church in the Russian state to protect Christians everywhere. They have long seen [Bashar] Assad, the despised, at least in America, President of Syria, as the protector of the Syrian Christians. Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian church, and the Roman Catholic Pope Francis discussed that, as you know. This is an alliance of two churches, the two branches of Christianity on behalf of protecting Christians against Islamic State. I will leave you with a question: If the two religious leaders, who had a spiritual civil war, Cold War, for 1,000 years – that was a historic meeting – can meet, why can’t Obama go meet Putin and sort this out on our terms, militarily, against Islamic State.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.