Not surprising: following the passage of the Magnitsky Act — which penalizes Russians who were involved with the brutal torture and murder of a human rights attorney — supporters of Vladimir Putin’s KGB dictatorship criticized Americans for supporting American values in Russia.
But would you be surprised to learn that one of those minions is not just an American citizen, but a professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton?
Professor Stephen F. Cohen — husband of Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of ultra-liberal The Nation – has been speaking up for the interests of Putin and Russia’s KGB. Writing at The Nation itself, he called the Magnitsky Act a “sanctimonious blacklist without due process” supported by a “feckless foreign policy elite”. (Do note: the Act was adopted by both houses of Congress in landslide votes with virtually no opposition.) Cohen claimed that Russia is far more democratic that the U.S. because “the Russian media were filled with heated controversy over the adoption ban,” while there was no such controversy over Magnitsky. (Putin’s response to the Act was to ban American adoptions of Russian children.) Cohen called American journalists “cheerleaders for a new cold war.”
This is not new behavior for him — Cohen has been bashing the U.S. media for reporting on Putin’s neo-Soviet crackdown for years now.
Politics truly makes odd bedfellows: Cohen and his wife’s publication are aligned with the likes of Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan on this issue — two of Putin’s strongest supporters in the U.S. But Cohen’s take was truly neo-Soviet: he trashed the Clinton administration for giving birth to the new cold war, and he stated that Obama has “surrounded himself with Russia advisers, including Hillary Clinton, wedded to the twenty-year-long approach” that calls for cold war.
Cohen then directly wrote for the Kremlin itself, on its Voice of Russia website where he maintains a blog and is also routinely the subject of the Kremlin’s “journalism.” Any American parent thinking of sending their children to Princeton or NYU ought to find this worrisome: NYU itself got into the act, publishing his article on its website.
Following the Soviet and Nazi models, the falsehoods in Cohen’s analysis are difficult to document simply because there are so many, and his delivery is so propagandistic and shameless. Cohen does not give one example — not one — of Russian mainstream media (all national TV stations and all major circulation newspapers are Kremlin-controlled) challenging the Kremlin’s adoption ban, as he claims they did. Of course, none of them actually did challenge Putin’s decision to bar American parents from adopting in Russia, and polls show that the Russian people overwhelmingly supported that move.
He does give an example of “selective” reporting by U.S. media, saying it failed to report a student strike at an obscure Russian college:
If their protest spreads to other universities, Russia could experience its first large-scale student strike in many decades, with major political consequences.
He claimed the protest was not reported because these students didn’t have U.S. reporters in their pockets the way earlier protesters did, and because the students did not criticize Putin but rather focused their ire on Obama “favorite” Dmitri Medvedev.
Cohen mentioned that the students were protesting the ouster of their rector Sergei Baburin, but didn’t tell his readers a thing further about Baburin, who is one of the most delusional figures in Russian politics. In 2007, he proposed paying each Russian citizen the tidy sum of four million rubles (Russian-language link) to compensate them for the ills imposed upon them by the fall of the USSR. That’s about $150,000 a head, enough to bankrupt not just Russia. Baburin is also a radical nationalist who vigorously opposed Boris Yeltsin, siding with those who wanted to preserve Soviet repression. How he represents some type of progressive future for Russia, only Cohen can say.
Cohen believes that the U.S. should have given Russia “most-favored nation” trading status in an unconditional manner, allowing Putin carte blanche authority to decimate Russian civil society so as to avoid a “haughty American intrusion into its political and legal affairs.” His dishonesty is quite breathtaking: Cohen did not tell his readers that Russian polls clearly show the people of Russia supported the Magnitsky Act, or that the bill was even more enthusiastically supported by the leaders of Russia’s democracy movement.
The only ones who didn’t support the measure were Vladimir Putin and … Barack Obama, who opposed it tooth and nail until his own party overwhelmingly approved it in Congress.
Cohen’s portrait of Obama as a new type of cold warrior — one not nearly fair, much less generous towards Russia — is equally deluded. He ignores that Obama handed Putin a nuclear missile treaty under which only the U.S., not Russia, had to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. He ignores that Obama unilaterally cancelled the Bush plan for missile defense in Eastern Europe. And he cannot point to one single instance in which Obama spoke out for human rights in Russia throughout his entire first term. He ignores Obama’s hot-mic moment with Dmitri Medvedev last year in which he promised to heap more largesse on Putin as soon as he had his reelection in the bag. Cohen called Obama’s reset policy “détente”; the only accurate term for it is “appeasement.”
What Cohen apparently means: Obama isn’t yet as far in the Putin camp as he believes he can be pushed. Just like Putin, Cohen sees Obama’s weakness as a basis to leverage even more one-sided gains for Russia. He feels Obama should have vetoed Magnitsky, committing political suicide to stand up for KGB values. Cohen calls for “movement towards partnership” on the part of the United States, without ever once recognizing a fault on the part of Putin, or acknowledging that Putin’s status as a proud KGB spy hardly makes him a viable candidate for partnership.
On innumerable occasions in the past, Cohen has painted Putin as the innocent victim of American bullying. He has trashed the Russian opposition and mercilessly attacked U.S. efforts to support democracy and American values.
He even sided with Putin on the murder of dissidents like Alexander Litvinenko.
Speaking with Fareed Zakaria on CNN in 2010, Cohen didn’t speak for 30 seconds in response to a question about Putin’s KGB government before he began attacking the U.S. for alleged acts of foreign aggression. Such classic neo-Soviet “whataboutism” reminds of a Soviet joke: An American in Moscow, displeased with the wretched services offered by his hotel, complains to the manager, who retorts: “Yes, but you lynch blacks.” It’s traditional Soviet strategy to change the subject and smear the critic. Cohen did the same thing in March of last year when speaking about Putin’s rigged return to power: when asked whether Putin had legitimately taken power, he stated:
I don’t know what the word ‘legitimately’ means. I know people who think that the second President Bush didn’t become president legitimately after Florida.
On the question of whether Putin became “president for life”:
It’s none of our business.
But it certainly is Cohen’s business when he’d like it to be: in an extended interview with Dan Rather, Cohen vigorously defended the merits of a Putin return to power.
As Cohen continued with Zakaria, he bizarrely said the U.S. got along just fine with the USSR, so there’s no reason it can’t continue doing the same with Russia. He launched a stream of insults against both Zakaria and a Wall Street Journal reporter, angrily declaring “this is not a serious discussion.” Then he blamed Yeltin and greater democracy for the nation’s pandemic problems of murder and corruption.
We can speculate whether Cohen is simply making himself a niche as a TV presence (with so few willing to defend Putin, the networks are bound to come calling), or if he actually sides with Putin on perverse moral grounds. Yet clearly, Cohen — NYU and Princeton Professor Cohen — is serving the interests of the Kremlin against his own country, undermining American values and alienating American allies. And he offers no greater factual basis for his positions than did the old Soviet politburo.