The Friends and Foes of Détente With Russia

The Friends and Foes of Détente With Russia

The Friends and Foes of Détente With Russia

Events from Turkey, Washington, Moscow, and Syria to Cleveland affect the Obama-Putin attempted rapprochement.


Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments are at In recent weeks, Cohen reported a behind-the-scenes diplomacy on behalf of full US-Russian military cooperation against the Islamic State in Syria. With Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Moscow last week, the proposal became public. Understanding that a mini-detente in Syria could spread to US-Russian conflicts elsewhere—particularly to the NATO buildup on Russia’s border, the conflict over Ukraine and nuclear-weapons policies—political forces in the American establishment escalated their opposition, further demonizing Putin, charging Obama with “appeasement,” and threatening to ban Russia from the upcoming Olympic games.

The failed coup in Turkey may be an important factor in this struggle, though Cohen warns that, as with the failed coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev 25 years ago, in August 1991, we may not learn the full story for some time. Nonetheless, Turkish President Erdoğan, increasingly alienated from the EU and even fellow members of NATO, is likely now to resume his previous close relationship with Moscow. If so, he will end his obstruction of the proposed alliance against the Islamic State in Syria. At the same time, Obama’s formal condemnation of the coup has unnerved the US-backed government in Kiev, which came to power in 2014 by overthrowing a president who had also been popularly elected. In response, there is some evidence that Ukraine’s current president, Petro Poroshenko, is escalating his military attacks on rebel Donbass, presumably to revive his fading political support in the West.

Meanwhile, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Trump representatives rejected an attempt by cold warriors to write into the party platform a promise to increased US military aid to Kiev, reinforcing earlier statements by Trump that he, unlike Hillary Clinton, is pro-détente. In response, cold warriors confirmed that there is indeed a new Cold War by echoing an ugly feature of the preceding one—McCarthyism. They accused the Trump campaign of being in cahoots with Putin, even having received money from Moscow. Cohen, who has argued for more than 10 years that Washington policy was leading to a renewed Cold War with Moscow, points out that the return of Cold-War Olympic politics and McCarthy-like slurs scarcely leave any doubt about the nature of today’s US-Russian relations and the vital importance of a new détente.

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