Russ Read, DCNF
The U.S. and Russia are engaged in a ‘new Cold War’ and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, in conjunction with much of the U.S. media, is misinterpreting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s view on the escalating situation, according to one of America’s top experts on Russia.
“That reckless branding of Trump as a Russian agent, most of it is coming from the Clinton campaign,” said Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at NYU and Princeton, on CNN’s Smerconish Saturday.
Cohen alleged that the Clinton campaign is intentionally misinterpreting Trump’s views on U.S. policy towards Russia in an attempt to brand him as a Russian “Manchurian Candidate.” Trump has argued that as president he would seek a easing of hostilities with Russia, as opposed to Clinton who would escalate tensions with an already aggressive Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has even gone as far as to suggest that he would consider allowing Crimea, which was forcibly and illegally seized by Russia in 2014, to remain under Putin’s control.
“I’m going to take a look at it,” Trump told CNN’s George Stephanopoulos during an interview Sunday. “But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also … just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration.”
Cohen has been referred to by Newsday columnist Cathy Young as Putin’s “best friend” in U.S. media. Cohen was also a “long-time friend” of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader, and is married to Katrina vanden Heuvel, part owner of The Nation magazine and noted Kremlin friend in the West. In his own work, Cohen has certainly developed a reputation for reframing what appears to other experts as Kremlin aggression.
Cohen claimed that Trump is simply offering a differing point of view on the U.S. relationship with Russia, one that stands in stark contrast with that he says is the aggressive status quo.
“We’re approaching a Cuban Missile Crisis level nuclear confrontation with Russia,” he noted. “And there is absolutely no discussion, no debate, about this in the American media.”
Cohen cited Trump’s comments questioning what NATO’s mission is post-Soviet Union as an example of Clinton’s supposed smear campaign.
“That’s a legitimate question — but we don’t debate it. We don’t ask it. We just say, oh, Trump wants to abandon NATO,” said Cohen.
Trump has argued that NATO member countries are not paying their fair share regarding military spending, and are instead unfairly relying on U.S. military capability to protect them. According to the most recent NATO statistics, only five of the 28 full NATO members will meet the required two percent of GDP spending on defense in 2016. The U.S. currently spends around 3.62 percent of GDP on defense, the next highest spender being Greece, which spends around 2.46 percent.
“Vladimir Putin wants to end the ‘New Cold War — and so do I,” said Cohen at the beginning of the interview.
Since the start of the Syrian civil war — arguably the closest the US has been in direct proxy war with Russia in decades — Putin has illegally annexed Crimea, continues to breach Ukrainian sovereignty by supporting Russian insurgents, fosters anti-American sentiment across Europe and has made thinly-veiled threats to use nuclear weapons in potential conflicts with NATO. Russia has also markedly increased harassment of U.S and NATO military aircraft and ships across various theaters.
Nevertheless, the Princeton professor asserted, “That Putin wants to end the independence in Baltic states. There is no evidence for that. None whatsoever,” said Cohen. U.S. experts tend to disagree, citing the Baltics as a top Kremlin priority and potential future target.
Estonia was memorably the victim of a destructive series of cyber attacks in April 2007 that effectively shut down websites belonging to the Estonian parliament, banks, ministries, and media outlets. The attack came shortly after a disagreement with Russia regarding the relocation of a Soviet-era statue located in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.
Russia never admitted to being responsible for the attacks, but the high level of sophistication led the Estonian government to conclude that Russia must have at least had a supporting role.
“I don’t defend Trump,” said Cohen, concluding his interview. “Trump raises questions. And instead of giving answer to the substance of the question, we denounce him as some kind of Kremlin agent.”
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