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Monday, November 4, 2019

Russia, Ukraine, and Donald Trump, by Stephen F. Cohen - The Unz Review


Cohen observes in his latest conversation with John Batchelor that the so-called Impeachment inquiry, whether formal or informal, will make the new Cold War even worse and more dangerous than it already is, noting that an inflection point has been reached, because at the core of these allegations—most of which are undocumented and a substantial number of which are untrue— revolving around Russiagate and now Ukrainegate is an underlying demonization of Russia. Relations between America and Russia will continue to deteriorate either due to the fact that the entire political spectrum is engaging in a frenzy of Russophobia or that President Trump, who ran and won on a platform of improving relations with Russia, is now completely shackled, thus it is inevitable that the new Cold War will continue to become more dangerous.
Regarding Attorney General Barr’s investigation into the origins of Russiagate, as Cohen noted previously, Barr has made it clear that he’s investigating not the FBI but the intelligence agencies, and Cohen is uncertain that even the Attorney General of the United States can be successful in that line of inquiry. For example, the young and politically inconsequential George Papadopolous, a young aid to the Trump campaign, got four or five visitors, every one of them tied to foreign intelligence, American or European, which makes it self-evident that the Intelligence Agencies were running an operation against the Trump campaign. Cohen says that even if Barr is a resolute man and says he wants to get to the bottom of this, Cohen is not confident that he will be able to do so.
Cohen notes that the Russian press, which follows American politics closely, has resulted in a consensus that all of this—Russiagate, Ukrainegate—was created to stop Trump from having better relations with Russia. Thus, it is important that Putin had been told the reason Trump cannot engage in d├ętente is because of Trump being shackled.
Discussing the recent American mission against Abu Baker al-Baghdadi in Syria, Cohen stated Nancy Pelosi utterly disgraced herself when she complained Trump informed the Russians about the success of the mission and its initiation, considering the fact that this wing of Congress is so against Trump he had no guarantee that one of them would not have leaked the mission before it began. Russian intelligence in that part of the world is probably better than other nation’s, so Cohen assumes Russia knew about the mission and that they helped by providing information to America.
In addition, Cohen has noted Putin discussed a partnership with America against domestic terrorism starting with his approach to Obama and noted that even considering the September 11 terror attack, Russia has suffered more victims of domestic terrorism than America has. Obama thought about the proposal, hesitated, and it never happened. These recent events are a reminder that the United States and Russia are uniquely positioned to partner against international terrorism, but this may be slightly beyond the grasp of President Trump at the present time.
Cohen noted that expert opinion in Russia—which informs the Kremlin leadership, including Putin—has soured on the United States; the older generation of Russian America specialists who like America, who visit regularly and appreciate American culture, have become utterly disillusioned and cannot promote a Russian-American partnership given what has happened to Trump.
Regarding Ukraine, Cohen notes it shares a very large border with Russia, tens of millions of intermarriages, language, culture and history, and although the United States shares none of this with Ukraine, the United States has declared Ukraine is a strategic ally, and this would be equivalent to Russia stating that Mexico is its strategic ally, which is preposterous; the term “strategic” clearly has military implications.
Expanding on the topic of Ukraine, despite its size and natural resources, it is the poorest country in Europe. The new president, a comedian who starred in a TV show portraying the Ukranian president and thus life imitates art, ran as a peace candidate; that and his promise to fight corruption resulted in his victory. Part of his pledge was to meet with Putin to try to solve the conflicts; but he promised to end the hot war with Russia. American politics got in the way and people are still dying: at last count, there were approximately thirteen thousand dead, including women and children. And the peace candidate has been dragged into American politics and the commentary on Ukraine has a colonial tone. America speaking of Ukraine as a “strategic ally” is foolishness and warfare thinking. What should be the American policy is to encourage Zelensky to pursue these peace policies with Russia so the war doesn’t spread and the killing stops and that Ukraine, which is a potentially rich country, can recover. While Obama egged on the war policy, Trump seemed to have no policy, other than to encourage Zelensky in his peace initiative. What isn’t known in the conversation Trump had with Zelensky was whether he encouraged him in his peace initiative; the transcript is a fragment, redacted and edited so that it doesn’t mention the war but certainly it was discussed. The issue is whether the United States should give Ukraine’s government $400 million dollars in military equipment. Obama, who Cohen observes was not a good foreign policy president refused to do so but Cohen concludes that was a wise decision. All that providing weapons to Ukraine would accomplish is to incite the pro-war forces in Kiev against the anti-war forces led by Zelensky; the military advantage in any event lies with Russia.
Despite the fact Zelensky is an actor, he did run on a program of peace and Cohen believes that he is sincere; Cohen notes the problem is not Russia, but the armed Nationalists who are opposed to peace—approximately 30,000—who have publicly threatened Zelensky. Cohen notes Putin wants to end the war with Ukraine and he has made efforts to help Zelensky, such as the recent prisoner release, although he included people Russians consider terrorists. Thus, Zelensky doesn’t have a lot of political power. While there are bad nationalist actors—the Azov battalion, which threatened Zelensky with either removal or death—nevertheless Cohen has asked where the regular army stands: will it back him, will it be loyal? That answer now is unknown.
Cohen concluded to most Ukrainians Zelensky represented hope, hope in the war against corruption and hope against the war. The Kremlin wants to end the war; Zelensky has a chance, he’s supported by Germany and France, Putin is helping, but the United States is not a party of the Minsk Agreement peace acccord. Trump has intruded in his own unusual way but can be a factor for good. If Cohen were advising President Trump, he’d tell him if he favored the negotiations for Russian and Ukrainian peace, this would favor his historical reputation.