Professor Emeritus of Politics and Russian Studies (at Princeton and NYU) Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their (usually) weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen’s subject is both contemporary and historical. The most central, ramifying, and dangerous allegation of Russiagate is that “Russian attacked American democracy” during the 2016 presidential election. After 18 months, there is still no credible evidence for this allegation. On the other hand, many Russians—in the policy elite, the educated middle class, and ordinary citizens—believe that “the United States has been at war with Russia” for 25 years, a perception regularly expressed in the Russian media. They believe this for understandable reasons.
American commentators attribute such views to “Kremlin propaganda.” It is true, Cohen points out, that Russians, like Americans, are strongly influenced by what appears in the media, especially on television, and that Russian television news reporting and commentary are no less politicized than their US counterparts. But elite and middle-class Russians are no less informed and critical-minded than American ones. Indeed, they have more access to daily American news and opinions—from cable and satellite TV, US-funded Russian-language broadcasts and Internet sites, and from Russian sites, such as inosmi.ru, that translate scores of American media articles into Russian daily—than most Americans have to Russian media. (The recent censoring steps taken by the Department of Justice against RT and Sputnik might be viewed in this context.) Generally, Cohen argues, many more Russians are much better informed about Washington politics than Americans are about Moscow politics.
Above all, Russians consider the history of US policy toward post-Soviet Russia since the early 1990s, enacted by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly major episodes that they perceive as warlike and as including acts of “betrayal and deceit” in the form of promises and assurances made to Moscow by Washington and subsequently violated. Cohen briefly itemizes the main examples:
§ Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush negotiated with the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, what they thought was the end of the Cold War on the shared and often expressed premise that it would end “with no losers, only winners.” (For this crucial mutual declaration, see two books by Jack F. Matlock Jr., both presidents’ ambassador to Moscow: Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended and Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray.) But in 1992, during his reelection campaign against Bill Clinton, Bush suddenly declared, “We won the Cold War,” paving the way to the triumphalism of the Clinton administration and the implication that post-Soviet Russia should be treated as a defeated adversary, as were Germany and Japan after World War II. For many knowledgeable Russians, certainly for Gorbachev himself, this was the first American betrayal.