Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Moscow and Washington have conflicting narratives, expressed in their respective mass media and periodic “diplomacy,” regarding the history, causes, and nature of the new Cold War. Not surprisingly, both narratives are often self-serving and unbalanced. But, Cohen argues, the near-consensual version presented in the mainstream media of the American establishment particularly lacks balance—adherence to the media’s professed standard—and ought to be of grave concern to all Americans. This lack of balance is illustrated—even exemplified—by an array of double standards. Cohen identifies several of them, which he and Batchelor discuss.
§ Moscow is repeatedly condemned for wanting a sphere of security, or absence of Western military bases, near Russia’s borders. Meanwhile, since the late 1990s, the US-led NATO military alliance has expanded from Germany to countries directly on and very near Russia’s borders. With NATO comes not only military but also US political, economic, and cultural influence. In short, NATO expansion eastward represents the greatest expansion of a sphere of influence in modern peacetime history. (Imagine such a Russian-Chinese “sphere” on US borders, in Canada and Mexico.)
§ NATO’s ongoing military buildup near Russia—on land, sea, and in the air—is frequently justified by Russian leader “Putin’s lies and deceits.” Whatever the merits of that allegation, the Kremlin’s complaints about American “lies and deceit” can hardly be challenged. They include a 1990 promise—in return for Soviet leader Gorbachev’s acceptance of a united Germany in NATO—that NATO would “not expand one inch to the east”; repeated subsequent promises that NATO expansion would involve no forward-based military forces; and the Obama administration’s pledge in 2011 that the UN Security Council resolution permitting use of force against Libya would not seek to remove its leader Gaddafi, who instead was tracked down and assassinated.
§ US media accounts of the Georgian-Russian war in 2008 and the Ukrainian crisis that erupted in 2014 invariably blame “Putin’s aggression.” But a European investigation found that Georgia, then a US ally, initiated the war. And indisputably, the Kremlin’s reaction in Ukraine after the overthrow of the country’s elected president in 2014 was shaped by its reasonable perception that NATO (that is, Washington) had Ukraine on its client agenda. In any balanced account, who was “aggressive” in these instances? Or in Moscow’s perception when it considers the reported 800 US military bases abroad as compared with Russia’s very few, significantly only in Syria (depending on whether Crimea is considered “abroad”)?