Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments are at TheNation.com.) Tonight’s main focus is on Syria, the crisis in Ukraine, and Russia’s parliamentary elections. Cohen discusses the following issues:
§ The preceding 40-year Cold War witnessed many instances of high-level attempts to sabotage détente policies of US and Soviet leaders. Considering that US warplanes knew the area very well and that the Department of Defense, headed by Ashton Carter, had openly expressed opposition to the Obama-Putin plan for a US-Russian alliance against terrorist forces in Syria, the American attack on Syrian Army forces, which blatantly violated preconditions of the agreement, may not have been “accidental,” as DOD claims and as US media similarly reports. If the attack was intentional, we are reminded of the power of the American war party, which is based not only in DOD but in segments of the State Department, in Congress, and in the mainstream media, notably The Washington Post. Judging by Ambassador Samantha Power’s tirade against Russia at the UN, not even Obama’s own team fully supports his overtures to Moscow, undertaken, no doubt, to enhance his desultory foreign policy legacy.
§ Why is the war party so adamantly opposed to any cooperation with Russia anywhere in the world when it is so manifestly in US interests, as in Syria? Several considerations play a role. Among them, of major foreign leaders, only Russian President Putin has opposed the neocon/liberal interventionist aspiration of a new US-dominated “world order.” Hence their incessant demonizing of Putin as a suitable American partner. Still more, Russia’s return as an international great power, 20 years after the end of the Soviet Union, contradicts and offends the ideological premises of this aspiration. Another but-little-noted example is Moscow’s recent plan to mediate the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is based on increasingly warm relations between Putin’s government and Israel. Any cooperation with Moscow would therefore validate the “resurgent Russia” phenomenon so resented by the American war party.
§ This might apply above all to Ukraine, still the political epicenter of the new Cold War. European governments that once unconditionally backed the Kiev government, particularly Germany and France, have plainly grown weary of Ukrainian President Poroshenko’s failure to implement the peace accords they drafted and he agreed to nearly two years ago. Increasingly discredited and unpopular in his own country, Poroshenko is in desperate political circumstances, unwilling or unable to legislate degrees of home rule for rebel Donbass called for in the accords. But the “Ukrainian Project” to sever Ukraine’s centuries-long ties to Russia originated in Washington, and it is there we witness a last attempt to salvage the project and Poroshenko. Hence, while in the United States for the UN assembly session, Poroshenko is being honored by a speaking engagement at the Council on Foreign Relations, a private meeting with Hillary Clinton—a surrogate for Vice President Biden, who is in charge of the “Ukrainian Project”—and probably other honorific meetings. But as Ukraine descends deeper into social, political, and economic crisis, saving Poroshenko may no longer be possible. Indeed, he seems to think his salvation is a renewed war by Kiev against the rebel provinces, one that might regain him Western support but also lead to all-out war with Russia.
§ Several little-noted results of the September Russian parliamentary (Duma) elections are worth emphasizing. The elections were relatively “free and fair,” but going back to the “democratic” Yeltsin years, the Kremlin has regularly redistributed some 5 to 10 percent of the votes to its own party or to other parties it wished to play a minority role in the Duma. This time those votes probably were taken from the only real opposition party, the Communist Party, which probably received closer to 20 percent of the votes than the just over 13 percent registered, and given to the Kremlin party and a minority party that, unlike the Communists, habitually votes for the Kremlin’s economic and social legislation. Indeed, contrary to most pre-election polling, the Kremlin party got 54 percent, a “constitutional majority,” as it is called, suggesting that the Kremlin may be planning major policy changes at home in the near future. One other result should be emphasized. The several “liberal,” pro-Western parties, without any help or harm by the Kremlin, garnered a total of barely 4 percent of the national vote. This may be the most authentic result of the election: There is no longer any electoral base for such politics in Russia. Most American commentators blame the outcome on Putin’s repression, but a larger factor has been US Cold War policies toward Russia, which are deeply resented by a large majority of Russians. Indeed, a number of independent Russian commentators concluded that the electoral results were a reaffirmation of popular support for Putin and against US-led assaults on his leadership and reputation.