Web Letters | The Nation

Distorting Russia > Letters

The US & Russia: a missed chance and cynicism

At the time Gorbachev was talking about new chances for humanity, I and many of my compatriots really believed him. You must be aware of what Soviet people were like. They were inspired to make a difference. They were innocent about greed and corruption. Yet talented, smart and hard-working—the best people to deal with if you Americans wanted to really make a difference. What Cohen missed pointing out in his article is the fact that what America did or, better said, did not do is a major contribution to the kind of people you probably see in Russia today. Still talented and smart, but now very cynical.

We believed in friendship. We believed that the tension between our nations was finally over. So deep disappointment followed, when all of us saw that America did not really mean to use this chance to start to perceive Russia in a new way. The USA still does not, and the chance is gone. We performed the steps that were agreed upon, and we were all disappointed that you did not.

As Cohen correctly says in his article, there was still a chance for the United States to stop demonizing Russia as the enemy.

We could still have forgiven the missed opportunities from the United States after perestroika. Even though we became very cynical as a nation, we still value love and mercy.

But humanity has made a step backward as this opportunity is lost. It is sad to see people in my country became cynical. This is regression not only here but over the whole planet.

Mikhail Koustov


Mar 13 2014 - 11:19am

Recommended reading

Thanks to Professor Cohen for his piece of media distortion vis-à-vis Russia. I find Heinrich Mann’s Der Untertan (Underling or Subject) the most fitting to understand the particulars of being a mainstream foreign policy journalist these days.

I don’t know if you have read the book, but there is a great 1951 film of it, which I am not sure was ever subtitled, though it can be understood from behaviourism and tone of voice. Just as there is “pre-emptive war”, there is “pre-emptive obedience”.

Another hero to call to your cause of educating our public would be Barbara Tuchman, in The Proud Tower, where she masterfully depicts the general national mentality of hurrah-patriotism that led everyone quite obliviously into World War I. You may find the chapter on the Dreyfuss case in France especially instructive, to give your readers an example to which they have enough emotional distance, to fathom how belligerent madness can be entirely orchestrated, without any conspiracy—simply, pre-emptive obedience, a natural byproduct of fear, ergo ignorance.

I hope you are surviving the vilifications you must be experiencing for speaking out for rational dialogue so boldly! Keep your head high, your articles will be judged kindly by history if we manage to rescue civilization from a new world war, which could be the last if fought.

Daniel Grasenack-Tente

Copenhagen, DENMARK

Mar 5 2014 - 4:17pm

Terrible article

Given the events at Sochi, such as the beating of the Pussy Riot activists, and the way the crisis in Ukraine has played out, I truly believe that you owe your readers an apology. This was one of the worst articles I have ever read in your magazine, and does, in fact, make me question my subscription. Though the whole article was troubling, the notion that Putin has “virtually saved Obama’s presidency” by his role in Syria is just offensive. I don’t believe Putin is interested in saving any presidencies other than his own, and the puppets he controls in the surrounding former “republics” of the Soviet Union. Again, I believe you owe your readers an apology for this “cover story,” which I think it truly was, in as much as it was an attempt to provide Putin cover and justifications for his actions, so reminiscent of Georgia. Just very offensive.

Dean Sinclair


Mar 3 2014 - 12:13pm

A Sensible, Balanced view

Cohen’s article is the most sensible and fair discussion of Russia I’ve seen so far. In fact, it’s the only sensible and fair discussion of Russia I’ve seen.

It seems that almost everybody, right and left, has a mental image, or a system of categories set in stone, for viewing Russia. These categories were formed years ago, and never re-examined. Putin can’t get a break from either side.

When a bunch of disruptive, vaguely threatening juvenile delinquents invade a church to take over the service for their own purposes, they end up in prison; and it’s all Putin’s fault. When they’re released, it’s a deception, a provocation, an optical illusion.

Russia has had close ties with Ukraine in the past; I would almost be inclined to say, Ukraine is in Russia’s “sphere of influence.” Yet when a street mob overthrows the duly elected government of Ukraine, we’re supposed to side with the protesters. Well, not me.

During the Cold War, pundits were fond of saying, “Our enemy is not the Russian people; it’s the Communist system.” But then when communism collapsed, there was no rapprochement—quite the reverse. We might have become friends then, but we missed the boat; and now people just seem to go along, by habit, thinking of Russia as the enemy. It’s lazy and stupid.

Larry E.

Bloomington, IN

Mar 3 2014 - 3:39am

My efforts to post at NYTimes.com, recommending Cohen’s clarifying perspectives

I will just copy below, my own comments, that I tried to post as a comment to the em>New York Times’s op ed, by Romano Prodi on February 20. Though I read other comments essentially in sympathy with my note, which was not published by the Times, I offer my remarks here, in respect to Stephen Cohen, for his insights and grounding in present Ukrainian history matters.

Firstly, for the spirit of a free press, and secondly as an alarm to us all—that we should be careful what ‘history’ we accept as truth—in the case of current events of Ukraine, I mention Stephen Cohen, scholar and student of soviet history. His assessments are worth hearing. See his recent Democracy Now! interview—that concerns the various partisan sides currently raging and burning in Ukraine. Also note his explanation of the geopolitical power politics that have for years been at work behind the ‘popular media’ curtains—an explanation that shows the orchestration of EU and USA (and IMF!) in a ‘mutual’ agenda—to gobble Ukraine into their own orbit, against Russia. A version of a resurgent ‘cold war’ that plausibly is under way?

Further perspectives on this present-day history from Cohen are available at The Nation magazine. A succinct summary that characterizes the East vs. West activities and their divisive agendas is here, at Between the Lines. A free press allows pertinent ‘comments’ or commentary. At least as a figurehead, one understands this column—Comments, by name—to have a not disingenuous concern to protect such discourse, and argument and discussion. here’s hoping!

They did not publish this comment, for one reason or another!

Michael Waddell

Austin, TX

Feb 20 2014 - 9:26pm

US media demonize Russia

Cohen hits the nail on the nail. US media coverage is atrocious. Was the case back in 1917 when we invaded the country, didn’t like the Bolsheviks, to today, stray dogs, gays. God, we have our problems with stray dogs and gays in this country. We run a military imperium, and Russia is a threat, as is China; there are geostrategic considerations involved. But there is no need to demonize other countries. The fact is, we are a pretty inept world’s policemen. More cooperation is what’s needed. Peace in the world or the world in pieces.

Howard Kaplan

Belmont, MA

Feb 13 2014 - 8:42pm

Dissatisfied customer

S.F. Cohen’s lonely and unsupported article ensures my rejection of subscribing to your magazine, and I would appreciate not receiving any further e-mail communications or solicitations. I do subscribe to The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek, as well as Newsweek online.

Roger Allison

(somewhere in the United States)

Feb 13 2014 - 4:09pm