Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments are at Recalling last week’s reckless decision by the Obama administration to quadruple the budget for US/NATO forces on or near Russia’s borders, Cohen points out that Moscow has already begun to build up its own forces in its Western territories, further militarizing the new Cold War and its inherent dangers. Indeed, Cohen emphasizes, the Obama administration has officially declared Russia to be the number-one threat to—enemy of—the United States, inexplicably more so than China, North Korea, and international terrorism. All this threatens to terminate promising negotiations to reduce conflict on several Cold War fronts, as evidenced by US-backed Kiev’s abrupt announcement that it will not implement the Minsk Accords to end the Ukrainian civil (and proxy) war; Washington-inspired media charges that Russia’s air war in Syria against ISIS and its terrorist allies has disrupted the Geneva negotiations in search of a political solution in that war-torn country; and NATO member Turkey’s stepped-up efforts to embroil NATO in a war against Russia. Cohen notes that all these alarming developments are accompanied by perhaps unprecedented anti-Russian, particularly anti-Putin, propaganda, much of it in the American mainstream stream, and much of it distortions of events and other facts. (Yes, he adds, there is also Russian propaganda, but the US/NATO version today is especially virulent.) He wonders if U.S. policy has become a kind of jihad against the demonized Putin personally instead of a pursuit of actual American national interests.

The discussion then turns to the impact of these developments—political and economic—on Putin’s leadership position at home. The topics include: Is Putin’s power really “autocratic”; criticism of him in the Russian mainstream media; and whether economic hardships caused by falling world oil prices and Western economic sanctions will cause the Kremlin to bend to Western demands, and the Russian tradition in this regard.