Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, continue their weekly discussion of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen begins by expressing to the Russian people and government profound sympathy and sorrow for the death of scores of Russians, most of them young children, who perished in the fire at a Kemerovo shopping and entertainment complex. He does so on his own behalf but also, he hopes, on behalf of most Americans.
Cohen then discusses several subjects related to his long, often-stated belief that the new US-Russian Cold War is more dangerous than was its 40-year predecessor, including the possibility of nuclear war. Having previously discussed other factors (see his postings at TheNation.com), he turns to current developments:
1. “Russiagate” and the attempted killing of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK have two aspects in common. Both blame Putin personally. And no actual facts have yet been made public.
§ Having discussed the fallacies of “Russiagate” often and at length, Cohen focuses on the Skripal affair. Putin had no conceivable motive, especially considering the upcoming World Cup Games in Russia, which both the government and the people consider to be very prestigious and thus important for the nation. No forensic or other evidence has yet been presented as to the nature of the purported nerve agent used or whether Russia still possesses it; or, even if so, whether Russia really is the only state whose agents did so; or when, where, and how it was inflicted on Skripal and his daughter; or why they and many others said to have been affected by this “lethal” agent are still alive. Nonetheless, even before the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has issued its obligatory tests, and while refusing to give the Russian government a required sample to test, the British leaders declared that it was “highly likely” Putin’s Kremlin had ordered the attack.
§ Nonetheless, on this flimsy basis, Western governments, led by the UK and reluctantly by the Trump administration, rushed to expel 100 or more Russian diplomats—the greatest number ever in this long history of such episodes.
§ It should be noted, however, that not all European governments did so, and a few others in only a token way, thereby again revealing European divisions over Russia policy.
2. This episode increases the risk of nuclear war between the United States and Russia.
§ Ever since the onset of the Atomic Age, the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction has kept the nuclear peace. This may have changed in 2002. when the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew from, thereby abrogating, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Since then, the United States and NATO have developed 30 or more anti-missile defense installments on land and sea, several very close to Russia. For Moscow, this was an American attempt to obtain a first-strike capability without mutual destruction. The Kremlin made this concern known to Moscow many times since 2002, proposing instead a mutual US-Russian developed anti-missile system, but was repeatedly rebuffed.