Vladimir Putin’s Favorite Puppet

Stephen Cohen

I have written in the past about Stephen Cohen and his habit of writing apologias on behalf of the Putin regime. Comes now this piece to shed further light on Cohen’s habit of using whatever intellectual and moral credibility he has left–and it ain’t much–to characterize even the worst Putinesque behavior in the best possible light:

On a recent Friday evening, the prominent Russia historian Stephen Cohen took the mic before an audience of 3,000 in Toronto to debate Western policy toward Russia in light of the Ukraine conflict.

Over the next 90 minutes, the man renowned for his pioneering scholarship on the Soviet Union accused the West of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin with NATO expansion, stoking potential war with Moscow, and failing to acknowledge its responsibility for what has happened in Ukraine in the last 15 months.

For those who have followed Cohen’s commentary, it was hardly surprising that many of his arguments dovetailed with a narrative pushed by the Kremlin, which portrays its seizure of Crimea as a response to Western meddling in Ukraine.

[. . .]

Widely seen as one of the preeminent scholars in the generation of Sovietologists who rose to prominence in the 1970s, Cohen these days is routinely derided as Putin’s “toady” and “useful idiot.”

Even respected Russia specialists who, like Cohen, advocate for a U.S.-Russian relationship based on realism say Cohen is essentially defending the Kremlin’s agenda in the West.

“There are experts, and I put myself in this group, that understand why Putin did this and what his goals are, but I think most of those people would also not justify them,” Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown University, told The Huffington Post last year. “The difference is what Steve Cohen does is not only understand him, but he says Putin is right.”

[. . .]

Cohen has also echoed theories promoted by the Russian government and widely rejected by Western officials and analysts, such as the possibility that a fighter jet may have downed a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

Western officials say evidence suggests the passenger jet was struck by a BUK missile fired from separatist-controlled territory. Cohen said he may have misspoken and that he did not intend to give the impression that he believes a fighter plane shot down the airliner. He leaves open the possibility — often suggested by Russian media — that Ukrainian forces were responsible.

“The information that’s come out is that in all likelihood it was a BUK,” Cohen said. “But in whose hands, we do not know.”

Links to Cohen’s commentary are regularly disseminated by Russia’s diplomatic corps on social media and embraced by state-owned Russian media like the global news network RT, where he is frequently brought on to pillory Washington and Brussels.

[. . .]

In an open letter to Cohen in February, historian Joshua Sanborn accused him of deploying straw men and portraying the ouster of the Kremlin’s ally, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014 as primarily the work of “semi-fascist” protesters on Kyiv’s Independence Square — the Maidan — while giving Yanukovych’s riot police a free pass.

“Of course, not all protesters on Maidan were peaceful, but is there really no space to mention that police fired into the crowds, killing many, and that these killings made Yanukovych’s further tenure as president deeply problematic, perhaps even impossible?” wrote Sandborn, head of the history department at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

Sanborn is among the more than 130 members of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES), who signed a letter supporting Cohen in a scandal that erupted over a dissertation prize that was to bear Cohen’s name.

Cohen and his wife, the American magazine publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel, pulled their offer of several hundred thousand dollars for the grant after members of the U.S.-based organization objected to having his name attached to the prize.

[. . .]

“Stephen Cohen has been a mouthpiece for a mass murderer and the ASEEES does not have my support if it reverses its earlier decision and allows for the creation of any fellowship in his name,” wrote Lynn Lubamersky, an associate professor of history at Boise State University.

And of course, it ought to go without saying that Katrina vandal Heuvel is equally complicit in the effort to warp and distort as much analysis as possible regarding Russia and its actions in Ukraine. The pro-Russia bias at The Nation is so blatant, in fact, that . . . well . . . behold. I am guessing that if you want to work at vandal Heuvel’s propaganda outlet magazine, you are not allowed to suggest the possibility that Russia ruined its own Victory Day celebrations by invading Ukraine and alienating the civilized world in the process.

(Photo Credit.)

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