U.S. hoped Putin would be a ‘sober Yeltsin’ – RAI with Stephen Cohen (3/5)

After the fall of the Soviet Union, a dysfunctional and pro-American Russian President Yeltsin presided over the chaos of the 1990’s; when Putin came to power, the West was very disappointed at the independent and nationalist character of the Putin led state and the demonization began –  Stephen Cohen joins Paul Jay on Reality Asserts Itself

PAUL JAY Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And we’re continuing our discussions with Stephen Cohen about Russia and the United States, Trump and Putin. Thanks for joining us again.

STEPHEN COHEN Thank you. For Steven’s bio, just look under the video player. Watch the earlier segments. But I’ll plug your book. People should read this book. It’s important. It’s called War with Russia? From Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate. And let me say, while in the last segment I am arguing with you about how to characterize Trump–and I don’t know, maybe we’ll argue again–I think your contribution on this issue is extremely important. I know you’ve been under incredible pressure and getting isolated on this point. And I think it’s brave of you to take the stance you do.

OK, let’s just move on. In the early years of Putin’s presidency the West quite liked him. I guess they thought he would be a continuation of Yeltsin. I think they had expectations that he would help facilitate an American–I don’t know what the word–‘takeover’ is too strong–but allowing American mining companies and energy companies and finance to come in. And instead what emerged was a state with real laws. And an oligarchy emerged, which I think at some point the Russian people will have to deal with, because I don’t think it’s good for them, but it’s up to them. That being said, America didn’t get a free-for-all.

But as this relationship with the West became more and more tense–and I think to a large extent for these reasons. The Americans didn’t get everything they wanted out of Russia. I don’t understand why Putin didn’t take more of the Chinese stance, which is avoid direct confrontation as much as you can and build up your strength. And I don’t get Crimea. Crimea was–and you suggest in your book–wasn’t there an alternative to the annexation? There wasn’t, like, an immediate threat. I know there was a right-wing takeover, a far-right takeover of Ukraine. The Americans certainly facilitated and helped engineer it. It is a kind of strategic threat. I mean, I think that’s clear, and you’ve made the case very eloquently. But still, why poke Europe and the United States in the eye and kind of make the case of the anti-detente forces? Oh, look, you know, Russia’s on the move. It starts with Crimea, and Georgia will be next, and then it will be the whole of Ukraine.

STEPHEN COHEN Of course they didn’t with Crimea, and that’s just the argument that people who don’t wish to understand the Russian point of view make. It didn’t start with Crimea. It began with the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders.

PAUL JAY No doubt.

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