Posted 3 weeks ago on Feb. 23, 2014, 8:28 a.m. EST by flip
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To talk more about the latest in Ukraine, we’re joined by Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University. His most recent book, Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, is now out in paperback. His latest piece in The Nation is called "Distorting Russia: How the American Media Misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine."
So, talk about the latest, Professor Cohen.
STEPHEN COHEN: Where do you want me to begin? I mean, we are watching history being made, but history of the worst kind. That’s what I’m telling my grandchildren: Watch this. What’s happening there, let’s take the big picture, then we can go to the small picture. The big picture is, people are dying in the streets every day. The number 50 is certainly too few. They’re still finding bodies. Ukraine is splitting apart down the middle, because Ukraine is not one country, contrary to what the American media, which speaks about the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Historically, ethnically, religiously, culturally, politically, economically, it’s two countries. One half wants to stay close to Russia; the other wants to go West. We now have reliable reports that the anti-government forces in the streets—and there are some very nasty people among them—are seizing weapons in western Ukrainian military bases. So we have clearly the possibility of a civil war.
And the longer-term outcome may be—and I want to emphasize this, because nobody in the United States seems to want to pay attention to it—the outcome may be the construction, the emergence of a new Cold War divide between West and East, not this time, as it was for our generation, in faraway Berlin, but right on the borders of Russia, right through the heart of Slavic civilization. And if that happens, if that’s the new Cold War divide, it’s permanent instability and permanent potential for real war for decades to come. That’s what’s at stake.
One last point, also something that nobody in this country wants to talk about: The Western authorities, who bear some responsibility for what’s happened, and who therefore also have blood on their hands, are taking no responsibility. They’re uttering utterly banal statements, which, because of their vacuous nature, are encouraging and rationalizing the people in Ukraine who are throwing Molotov cocktails, now have weapons, are shooting at police. We wouldn’t permit that in any Western capital, no matter how righteous the cause, but it’s being condoned by the European Union and Washington as events unfold.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you say the Western countries who bear some responsibility, in what sense do they bear responsibility? I mean, clearly, there’s been an effort by the United States and Europe ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union to pull the former Soviet states into their economic sphere, but is that what you’re talking about?
STEPHEN COHEN: I mean that. I mean that Moscow—look at it through Moscow’s eyes. Since the Clinton administration in the 1990s, the U.S.-led West has been on a steady march toward post-Soviet Russia, began with the expansion of NATO in the 1990s under Clinton. Bush then further expanded NATO all the way to Russia’s borders. Then came the funding of what are euphemistically called NGOs, but they are political action groups, funded by the West, operating inside Russia. Then came the decision to build missile defense installations along Russia’s borders, allegedly against Iran, a country which has neither nuclear weapons nor any missiles to deliver them with. Then comes American military outpost in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which led to the war of 2008, and now the West is at the gates of Ukraine. So, that’s the picture as Moscow sees it. And it’s rational. It’s reasonable. It’s hard to deny.
But as for the immediate crisis, let’s ask ourselves this: Who precipitated this crisis? The American media says it was Putin and the very bad, though democratically elected, president of Ukraine, Yanukovych. But it was the European Union, backed by Washington, that said in November to the democratically elected president of a profoundly divided country, Ukraine, "You must choose between Europe and Russia." That was an ultimatum to Yanukovych. Remember—wasn’t reported here—at that moment, what did the much-despised Putin say? He said, "Why? Why does Ukraine have to choose? We are prepared to help Ukraine avoid economic collapse, along with you, the West. Let’s make it a tripartite package to Ukraine." And it was rejected in Washington and in Brussels. That precipitated the protests in the streets.
And since then, the dynamic that any of us who have ever witnessed these kinds of struggles in the streets unfolded, as extremists have taken control of the movement from the so-called moderate Ukrainian leaders. I mean, the moderate Ukrainian leaders, with whom the Western foreign ministers are traveling to Kiev to talk, they’ve lost control of the situation. By the way, people ask—excuse me—is it a revolution? Is it a revolution? A much abused word, but one sign of a revolution is the first victims of revolution are the moderates. And then it becomes a struggle between the extreme forces on either side. And that’s what we’re witnessing. AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to President Obama. He’s in Mexico for the big Mexico-Canada-U.S. summit talking about Ukraine.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With regard to Ukraine, along with our European partners, we will continue to engage all sides. And we continue to stress to President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government that they have the primary responsibility to prevent the kind of terrible violence that we’ve seen, to withdraw riot police, to work with the opposition to restore security and human dignity, and move the country forward. And this includes progress towards a multi-party, technical government that can work with the international community on a support package and adopt reforms necessary for free and fair elections next year. Ukrainians are a proud and resilient people who have overcome extraordinary challenges in their history, and that’s a pride and strength that I hope they draw on now.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama in Mexico, Professor Cohen.
STEPHEN COHEN: What are you asking me to comment on?
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to his response.
STEPHEN COHEN: To what he just said? Shame. Shame. He is saying that the responsibility for restoring peace is on the Ukrainian government, and it should withdraw its security forces from the streets. But let me ask you, if in Washington people throwing Molotov cocktails are marching on Congress—and these people are headed for the Ukrainian Congress—if these people have barricaded entrance to the White House and are throwing rocks at the White House security guard, would President Obama withdraw his security forces? This is—this is—and do you know what this does? And let’s escape partisanship here. I mean, lives are at stake. This incites, these kinds of statement that Obama made. It rationalizes what the killers in the streets are doing. It gives them Western license, because he’s not saying to the people in the streets, "Stop this, stop shooting policemen, stop attacking government buildings, sit down and talk." And the guy you had on just before, a so-called moderate leader, what did he just tell you? "We have lost control of the situation." That’s what I just told you. He just confirmed that.
So what Obama needs to say is, "We deplore what the people in the streets are doing when they attack the police, the law enforcement official. And we also don’t like the people who are writing on buildings 'Jews live here,'" because these forces, these quasi-fascist forces—let’s address this issue, because the last time I was on your broadcast, you found some guy somewhere who said there was none of this there. All right. What percent are the quasi-fascists of the opposition? Let’s say they’re 5 percent. I think they’re more, but let’s give them the break, 5 percent. But we know from history that when the moderates lose control of the situation, they don’t know what to do. The country descends in chaos. Five percent of a population that’s tough, resolute, ruthless, armed, well funded, and knows what it wants, can make history. We’ve seen it through Europe. We’ve seen it through Asia. This is reality. And where Washington and Brussels are on this issue, they won’t step up and take the responsibility.