December 30, 2012
Tit-for-tat moves between Russia and the US are plunging the two nations into a new Cold War, says Russia expert Stephen Cohen. Washington’s longtime policy towards Moscow is to blame for the growing tensions.
The ‘reset’ in relations between the United States and Russia is dead, as the Obama administration has never truly cooperated with Moscow, instead pushing the same policy Washington has been imposing on Russia for the past 20 years, Stephen F. Cohen professor of Russian Studies and History at New York University and Princeton University told RT.“That policy is advancing NATO toward Russia’s borders, building missile defense on Russia’s borders, interfering in Russia’s internal politics.”
RT: After the US Senate passed the controversial [Magnitsky] bill, Russia accused Washington of engaging in 'Cold War tactics'. Now that Moscow has retaliated, how would you describe the two countries' relations?
Stephen Cohen: Increasingly we are plunging into a new Cold War. But it’s not a surprise. The story of the orphans doesn’t begin with the Magnitsky Bill. Number of us in the United States have been warning since the 1990s nearly 20 years that unless Washington changed its policy, its kind of winner-take-all policy after the Cold War policy toward Moscow, that we would drift toward Cold War, not toward the partnership we all hoped for 20 years ago. This is just the last stage I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable. But even though the tragedy of those orphans already adopted in effect who now will not be able to join their families in America is foremost in our minds especially on the Christmas Eve and the eve of the New Year.
RT: How much is this dispute actually just political saber-rattling and how will it actually impact the children?
SC: There is an old Russian saying “Words are also deeds.” A lot of people in Moscow and in Washington- when they passed the Magnitsky Act and now the ban on adoption in Moscow may have thought that they were just talking, showing off, playing grandstanding. But these words have consequences. They have backed, they have fueled this new Cold War atmosphere which is enveloping the relationship between our two countries. Each going to affect American relations with Russia regarding Afghanistan, regarding missile defense, regarding Syria, regarding Iran these are very serious matters. The angrier people get, the more resentment people have on both sides, the worse is the situation.
For example, anti-Putin feeling in America is irrational, completely irrational. There has been a kind of demonization of Putin in America. Some of us tried to counter it by beginning a rational discourse about Putin as a leader. We are not pro-Putin, we just see him as a national leader who needs to be understood. But these events the Magnitsky and the orphan act are going to make it impossible to have a discourse in America about Putin’s leadership in a way that would lead to any cooperation between Obama and Putin.
RT: With the US and Russia exchanging tit-for-tat actions, what possible further moves can we expect?
SC: There was some surprise in America because our legislature does not think about the consequences of what it does. Many people thought that the Russian reaction to the Magnitsky Bill would be for Moscow to start selling its dollars, for example, and try to harm the American economy or perhaps that Moscow would reduce its cooperation with the United States in supplying NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. So many people were surprised that the orphan issue became the retaliation.
But there are two issues here that are interesting: In the beginning President Putin did not seem to favor the ban on American adoptions, but he signed the bill after it turned out that almost every member of this parliament favored it. It is also said that President Obama did not favor the Magnitsky Bill, but he signed it when it turned out that almost every member of Congress favored it. So it may be that we are exaggerating the power both of Putin and Obama.
RT: The reset button was pressed in 2009 but how much has really changed in ties between Washington and Moscow?
SC: I see Obama’s reset is what we the older generation used to call when we were in a Cold War a ‘detente’ meaning an attempt to reduce Cold War conflict by replacing it with cooperation. I think there was a lost opportunity. When Obama and then President Medvedev entered into the reset, Moscow wanted certain things from Washington and Washington wanted certain things from Moscow. Without going into the detail Washington got everything from Moscow it wanted and Moscow got nothing. So the reset has been dead for several months, maybe a year.
RT: During the US Presidential elections, Barack Obama had been accused by his Republican counterpart of being soft on Russia. Could the latest decision mean he's changing his stance?
SC: The Republicans said that because they were prepared to say anything negative they could think about Obama in order to defeat him. But he reality is that Obama has continued the policy toward Moscow begun by President Clinton, a Democrat, and continued by PresidentBush, a Republican. That policy is advancing NATO toward Russia’s borders, building missile defense on Russia’s borders, interfering in Russia’s internal politics, most recently the street demonstrations. This is the same policy that began 20 year ago with the Soviet Union.
The fundamental American policy toward Russia has not changed. So it’s ridiculous to call Obama ‘soft’ on Moscow. Just because two leaders get together as they always do and say ‘we are friends’ it doesn’t mean anything. The reality is that the partnership we need between Washington and Moscow to make the world safer for all of us has not existed since the Soviet Union ended. And we may be farther from it today as a result partially of this orphan act than we have been in 20 years.