The Geopolitics of the Crisis in Ukraine

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Soldiers who were among several hundred that took up positions around a Ukrainian military base walk towards their parked vehicles in Crimea on March 2, 2014 in Perevalne, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty)

Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus at NYU and Princeton, contributing editor to The Nation and author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War, explains the political forces in the U.S., E.U. and Russia that are driving the crisis in Ukraine - and the possibilities for how it might end.


Stephen F. Cohen

Comments [42]

Alina Irma from Argentina

Prof.Cohen's remarks is what I expected from a left-wing Jewish arrogant so called historian. Unfortunately, for him,Ukrainians and Europe countries ( including european immigrants in south america ) did not forget when the Jewish people joined Poland to overthrow Ukraine and they did not forget when Stalin forced to take Ukrainians farm land and subdivided and take their crops-go ask any Ukrainian immigrant from the 30's in Paraguay,Argentina and Brazil-My grandfather's village was torn and yet with all that turmoil , Ukrainians in that era were scared of Stalin.The village held on to its culture and language. Held on tight. Dr. Cohen, you are not very well informed. You need to research just a little bit more.For the pro-russians, I understand, you've been educated in a Soviet-Russian culture, it is now in your veins...not 100 years ago.

Mar. 07 2014 10:01 AM
Black Grass from New York City

Whoever wins in Ukraine will inherit a disappearing country. High mortality rate, soaring death rate from alcoholism, low birth rate, high emigration rate, high congenital deformity rate, high HIV/AIDS rate, and that still-seething cauldron called Chernoble...leads to only one conclusion -- the nation is in a state of entropy and will wind up like a dark star, dead yet sucking the energy from its neighbors.

Mar. 07 2014 09:45 AM
Victor from Bridgewater, NJ

Let's be a little bit less serious now.
I found it hilarious how Prof. Cohen tried to convince the audience that he is an American patriot. By saying that he grew up in Kentuky and he has bourbon in his blood! I guess he thinks that being a liberal professor at NYU is not good enough to be a patriot. What if he is right? Funny.

Mar. 07 2014 09:02 AM
stanchaz from Brooklandia

Not befitting Brian Lehrer's show.
You should be talking about the media's demonization of President Obama instead.

Mar. 07 2014 07:41 AM

Nothing highlights the extremism of the media now than the fact that even this host somehow felt the need to pushback and put Prof. Cohen in his place just because he was offering an counter-narrative to the hysteria that now grips America. Prof. Cohen who by his years of study and work has earned him his insight and understanding lacking in the talking heads and many who comment here. He should have added to his tea party example the fact that nothing that Russia is doing is any different from what US & UK have done and do--or do we forget US intervention in Cuba & South America and that it continues to hold onto Guantanamo-the American Crimea or does the UK forget it role in Ireland and that it still has kept N. Ireland in its grips. Do we forget the failed states created by Obama in Libya, Iraq, Syria by US intervention. No, Putin has done nothing the US has not already done. It is American and Obama and Not Putin who created this confrontation. You Americans think you can live without history--yours or the history of others. American knows best--it is always correct--only it has interests or rights. This is what we mean by American Hegemony. This host like the American media lives inside his propaganda bubble in which the notion that America is the cause of conflict in the world is never posed. There is this Orwellian double-think in America which states you have free expression as long as you repeat the same lies that the rest of us accept as truth---there can be no counter-narrative to the great myth that America is never wrong--that it is a force of good in the world. Like the novel "1984" you have your perpetual war and your Hate Week--hate is what America needs to keep itself in the illusion it is always right--that there are no views other than its views. There can be no progress as long as America continues to existence in its present state--in time America will be made to disappear--and you Americans are doing a fine job yourselves at it that the world will just have to wait. Who or what does America look up to other than its own ideology and itself?

This week the world has had a clear view of American warmongering and hypocrisy. It is clear now, if it was not before, that America seeks war and conflict and world hegemony. No nation has more blood on its hands than this nation and White House. And you think the world will forget but the rest of us do not have the gift that you have of ignoring facts and history.

Though one may acknowledge that there are some Americans like Prof. Cohen who can still seek to counter the media propaganda and warmongering--there are clearly too few and what is most sad is that most of you fail to see it.

Mar. 06 2014 08:32 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Victor from New Jersey

Some good points. Also, the obvious truth which seems to be ignored is that the government of Ukraine and Ukraine are not synonymous. Even if you buy Putin's line that the legit government was overthrown how does that justify dismembering Ukraine itself? It doesn't follow logically. The Crimea may choose to recognize the Ukrainian government in exile in the person of Yanukovich, Putin may protect him and they may even accept him back if they wish and start calling themselves "Ukraine" if they like but they cannot legally secede to the Russian Federation. Annexing the Crimea to the Russian Federation is an act of war against Ukraine, a violation of the Budapest Memo and a legitimate strategic threat to NATO and therefore the United States. This is basic Realpolitik move for which we were woefully unprepared and the political fall out will be devastating for US prestige. China is no doubt watching closely and taking notes. They certainly seem to have cozied up the Russians on this one and expect reciprocity. Geee I wonder what they're thinking...

Mar. 06 2014 03:38 PM
Victor from New Jersey

I wonder where Mr. Cohen got some of the information he used in his comments this morning, i.e., references to thugs and neonazis. This is entirely inconsistent with the reports of everyone else, except, of course, the Russian media, which is largely controlled by their government. (See Liz Wahl's comments regarding RT) Fact checking is in order.
Also, I am disappointed about your seeming agreement with Cohen's posit that the new government in Ukraine should not be recognized because it did not come into power through a democratic process. Unfortunately, democracy was suppressed by the Yanukovych regime and that was the main reason for the protests. Change was not coming as long as he was in power. Pursuant to Cohen's logic, the Russian and US governments should be considered invalid as they rose from unsanctioned rebellions against then existing rule.

Mar. 06 2014 03:02 PM
Victor from Bridgewater, NJ

I should thank Brian Lehrer for bringing professor S. Cohen to the show. It was very illuminating.
I do not need to attend professor Cohen lectures to learn Soviet and Russian history. I have lived there 45 years and know it by my heart and skin.
Professor, in his apologetic reasoning, did a great job of picking the pieces he needed without great distortion of history and today' events. For example, focusing on bunch of "extremists" and anti-Semites who took control of Maidan and Ukrainian politics. Yes, they do exist, but they do not define much of the Ukrainian events. And Kiev did not and does not harass or threaten Russians in Crimea. Professor, along with Mr. Putin, wants to believe this canard. Russian occupation of Crimea was not provoked. And the Ukraine was not offered a NATO membership either.
Based on Mr. Cohen' parallel between Tea Party taking over Federal government in Washington and a change of government in Kiev, perceived by Putin as an action of Ukrainian extremists, I sense Mr. Cohen left bias.
As a historian, he might tell us stories how some on the left loved and sympathized the Soviets.
Regarding the parallels, there are some. Between Sudetenland situation in 1938 and Crimea in 2014. Both areas required "protection from extremists". What about this straight line, 1956 (Hungary) - 1968 (Czechoslovakia) - 1979 (Afghanistan) - 1982 (Poland, but no troops were sent in addition to the based there) - 2008 (Georgia) - 2014 (Ukraine/Crimea). Every time - "to protect".
I guess, next time Mr. Cohen will celebrate his birthday in Kremlin, with Putin drinking to his health and deep understanding of Russia. "Novaya gazeta" might not exist by that time.


Mar. 06 2014 02:17 PM
Alex L. from Middlesex county, NJ

I am disappointed at the low quality of information prof. Cohen was presenting on the show (but probably I should not be surprised)
1. "Putin is the softest Russian leader outside Gorbachev and Yeltsin" - 1st placing the two in the same part of the equation smells of incompetence here - under Yeltsin the Russian parliament was actually shot at by tank and other military armor carrier, there were dozens dead in those days in Moscow (1993) - now to Putin back - you would also say that Putin is "Softer" than Nichlas II-nd - the last Russia emperor? One should be of very limited knowledge or very biased to say that...

2. "Kiev is part of Western Ukraine" - wrong - to anybody who knows at least a little bit about Ukraine history. When was it part of Western Ukraine, prof. Cohen??? (I am from Ukraine, of Russian ethnicity - as all my family, work and studied in Kiev State University, was in all: western (Lviv, Ivano-Frankovsk) eastern (Donetsk, Luhansk - I was born in that region), and the central/middle part of Ukraine (Kiev, Cherkassy, Kirovograd), NOTE: that is about 30-50% Russian speaking depending on the city/town - the central Ukraine is.

3. "Masked people in Kiev occupied parlament and that organ is illegitimate." - rubbish. The protesters never went into the parliament. BUT the Russian forces (masked and without insignia) went into the Crimean parliament in Simferopol and forced the *minority* of representative to vote for installing a pro-Putin head of Crimean autonomy.

4. "The anti-Yanukovitch protesters in Kiev mostly represent a reactionary and antisemitic population of Ukraine" - that's as rubbish as you can say. Part of my wife's family is in Ukraine - in January there was this anecdote in Kiev: If a masked man with a shield and ski helmet walks into a Kiev bar, you can bet that he has two upper educations and knows at least 3 languages. Of course there are extremists on both pro- and anti-Yanukovitch part of the upheaval - but one of the group on Maidan is called "Evrejskaya sotnja" ("Jewish hundred" - loosely translated.

I am sorry I would wrote more on the history of Yanucovitch's handling of the initially peaceful protests, and how the portion of protester ended up protesting themselves with the makeshift gear, but I have no more time at this point.

Mar. 06 2014 11:58 AM
Bob h from Nj

If this were 1938, Professor Cohen would be explaining in the same irritating tones that the Czechs had crossed Hitler's "red line", and that he had "no choice".

Mar. 06 2014 11:19 AM
vladimir shpigel

And what, would you say, is this “better” that humans deserves?
Iraq? Afghanistan? Libya?.....


Ah yes, the argument for authoritarianism. Also highly effective for zoo animals.

Most humans deserve better, despite Stalin and Mao's protests to the contrary.

(Original comment)
Kiev and other cities are burnt and trashed.
100 killed and thousand injured.
Thanks to EU and US.
Crimea is peaceful and quite. No shots. No one killed.
Thanks to Russia and leadership of Mr. Putin.>

Mar. 06 2014 11:15 AM
oscar from ny

..the Ukraine gets tugged different directions..if treated like a prostitute than act like one and demand from both or all..

Mar. 06 2014 11:09 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ mick from NYC

I don't know when you were born, last night or the one before but let's get some things straight, just for the record:

1.)The borders of ALL countries/states are artificial and an accident of history. Bought, sold, stolen or conquered, clay is clay, and who owns what is a matter of law and record. That is not some "technical" point. Just because there is a Russian majority in Crimea does not mean they can secede to the Russian Federation. What if in future AZ or CA have a Mexican majority population, may they then secede to Mexico? What about Alaska to Russia (we only bought it) or practically the entire nation to the Native Americans...? This is pure Russian aggression, they have decided to play by "American" rules and now WE can sit back and watch as our strategic security is compromised by an invader who proffers specious arguments and manufactured "evidence" for justifying it's territorial self aggrandizement.

Mar. 06 2014 11:07 AM

Ah yes, the argument for authoritarianism. Also highly effective for zoo animals.

Most humans deserve better, despite Stalin and Mao's protests to the contrary.

(Original comment)
Kiev and other cities are burnt and trashed.
100 killed and thousand injured.
Thanks to EU and US.
Crimea is peaceful and quite. No shots. No one killed.
Thanks to Russia and leadership of Mr. Putin.>

Mar. 06 2014 11:02 AM
Rich from Ridgewood, nj

The arguments follow a stream clearly illustrated in Frankel's "Revenge of Geography". History and geography count a lot here.

Mar. 06 2014 10:57 AM
J M from UWS

The only one distorting Russia is Stephen Cohen.

Mar. 06 2014 10:56 AM
Greg from Hell's Kitchen

USAID supports upheaval and coups across the world, read Counterpunch to learn more about reality

Mar. 06 2014 10:53 AM
mick from NYC

Like the borders in Africa, the borders of the Ukraine are artificial and an accident of history. The only reason the east part of the country is not still part of Russia is that 60 years ago the Soviet Union "gave" the area to the Ukrainian bureaucracy for internal political reasons that no longer exist and should no longer apply. If the people there want to redraw their borders they should be able to. But that could only happen after a process that includes all of the Ukrainian people and their democratically elected representatives who were thrown out of parliament by a group of armed thugs. The start of that process would have been the elections that were scheduled for next year.

Mar. 06 2014 10:52 AM
Xtina from e. Village

LOL @ Vladimir Spiegel. What a ridiculous comment.

Mar. 06 2014 10:51 AM
vladimir shpigel

Kiev and other cities are burnt and trashed.
100 killed and thousand injured.
Thanks to EU and US.

Crimea is peaceful and quite. No shots. No one killed.
Thanks to Russia and leadership of Mr. Putin.

Thank you Mr.Cohen for your voice of reason.

Mar. 06 2014 10:50 AM
tom from Astoria

A Ukrainian friend of mine told me that all the wealthy elite of Ukraine -- AND RUSSIA -- want to have access to Western cities, the high life in London and Paris,etc. (and our i-pads) and do not want to lose it due to this crisis. This --the FUTURE and modern life, is our overwhelming power. We invented it. Shouldn't Putin and other neo-autocratic rulers get with the modern ideas that come with our modern devices and culture.

Mar. 06 2014 10:48 AM
Xtina from E. Village

Great comment Mr. Bad from NYC

Mar. 06 2014 10:48 AM
vladimir shpigel

Kiev and other cities are burnt and trashed.
100 killed and thousand injured.
Thanks to EU and US.

Crimea is peaceful and quite. No shots. No one killed.
Thanks to Russia and leadership of Mr. Putin.

Thank you Mr.Cohen for your voice of reason.

Mar. 06 2014 10:48 AM
ANN from westchester

FInally I hear Mr. Cohen explain the true story. I have listened to the radio, I have seen him interviewed by TV. It is scary to hear only one person to be sane about this Ukraine crisis. I am not found of Putin but it is refreshing to hear a neutral and fact based, history based interview. I am not proud of Hillary and Kerry calling Mr.Putin, Hitler. This is fueling fire. I know some of the history of Russia. We should stay out of this crisis, Crimea and the Ukraine should stay independent, do trade with the west as well as the east. We do so, why not them.
Thank you Mr. Cohen, you clarify things that people should know, instead of watching FOX news, watch too much reality show and should learn more about their history. I am a liberal, a grandmother with modest income, have no connection with the Ukraine, am not jewish, but love history of politics, economics etc..

Mar. 06 2014 10:47 AM
Jerry from NYC

Russians said that Yanukovic invited their military to invade Crimea

Mar. 06 2014 10:45 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Putin is not a madman and he's played this pretty much perfectly. Obama and Kerry really screwed up by not sending a NATO QRF into Ukraine as soon as the plan to annex Crimea became clear and now it's way too late to back Putin off. Isn't it interesting how the western media has started to lube up the public for the Crimean annexation by referring to it as "the autonomous area/state of crimea" as opposed to simply "Crimea" when this started? Ukraine is a unitary state, they don't even have a federal (two soverigns) political system like we do. The "Crimean Autonomous Republic" has no sovereign or other powers delimited under the Ukranian constitution different from any other Ukranian oblast other than some honorific titles and positions. This is no different than California seceding to Mexico, i.e. a casus belli in the purest form.

However we have exhausted our military strength, political capital and lost the moral high ground in pointless military adventurism in the middle east. Putin called our bluff at just the right time. He's no madman, he's a very smart chess player and when the CIA fumbled the revolution ball Putin picked it up and ran it into the end zone for a TD. Obama/Kerry are deer in the headlights...

Mar. 06 2014 10:44 AM

"Oust Obama and install Cruz."

Sounds like an idea.

Mar. 06 2014 10:44 AM

Finally! Someone who is not fooled by US media constantly telling us how evil Russia is. Educate yourselves people. It's a VERY complicated issue. Brian should stick with his specialty: NY politics.

Mar. 06 2014 10:43 AM
eXtina from e. Village

Can you please get this self-important jackass Steve Cohen off the air? Maybe the United States should split up into five or more countries as well, because there are different types of people with different competing interets, too.

Mar. 06 2014 10:43 AM
Jerry from NYC

this guy can explain everything away that whatever's working for him is a ok

Mar. 06 2014 10:42 AM
Robert from NYC

Professor Cohen's ideas I think are no longer very relevant much anymore on these issues. What is his actually PRESENT connection to what is going on in Russia and it's former satellites!? How dare he speak to Ukrainians and their culture. All states are artificial states. Pheh, let's get to the next segment please.

Mar. 06 2014 10:41 AM

Hmm... So he's saying Putin is less autocratic than Stalin. Not a very high bar.

Mar. 06 2014 10:41 AM
Anastasiya from Manhattan

I'm Russian and I want to thank Mr. Cohen for trying to understand Russia and its complexities. It does not happen often.

Mar. 06 2014 10:40 AM
Randy L from brooklyn

really enjoyable guest. loved his remarks on "Pussy Riot", who are nothing more than chronic, self-importent complainers of questionable moral standing. and Putin is indeed a soft autocrat. hard to believe i'm saying this, but the USSA could use a leader like Putin.

Mar. 06 2014 10:40 AM
Vic Livingston from Suburban Philadelphia

Mr. Cohen: Please comment on speculation that western covert military intelligence ops played a key role in the overthrow of Ukraine government, perhaps to advance the interests of western energy corporations.

Mar. 06 2014 10:40 AM
john from office

This guy is why Americans hate intellectuals, especailly Jewish left wing intellectuals.

Talking down to the less educated and stupid, or in other words, everyone else.

Mar. 06 2014 10:38 AM
blacksocialist from BKbaby

i love it when the simplemindedness of lehrer is higlighted. he always takes the mainstream position and when challenged for his lack of knowledge on a subject he proves that he is a hack. the king of false equivalency....

Mar. 06 2014 10:36 AM
Danielle from Chelsea

embarrassing how little Brian knows on some things.

also have you looked at the crackdowns, so to speak, here in america on any dissent? I was literally cracked down on with a baton while walking on a sidewalk near occupy wall street.

compare and contrast the record of usa and tolerating dissent.

also check out the pussy riot museum videos, that is the group expanding concepts

Mar. 06 2014 10:36 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Putin is indeed an autocrat.

Mar. 06 2014 10:31 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Putin may be a Zsar but he is not a madman. Invading a sovereign country is always a serious thing but all this fake Western "outrage" is just politics.

In the 90's, while Russia stumbled and fell asleep under that drunk - Yeltsin, NATO sneaked up from the German frontier, all the way up to Russia's doorsteps, gobbling up former Warsaw Pact states like Pacman.

The West's dream has always been to negate what's left of Russia's hyper-power status. Don't blame the Zsar because he saw it coming.

Mar. 06 2014 10:11 AM

Putin is a madman. Who really cares about the ranting of a madman

Mar. 06 2014 07:38 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

BRIAN - Please ask Professor Cohen (uber-Lefty and Katrina van den Heuvel’s husband) to explain his EAR-POPPING statement about OBAMA Tuesday night on the John Batchelor Show – (link to podcast below) – verbatim:

“Putin doesn’t trust Obama.”
“He thinks he is irresolute.” (translation: wimpy, week-kneed or indecisive for those who graduated from NYC public schools)
“He doesn’t keep his word.” (He lies.)
“He has a very short attention span.”

LOL, thanks, Stephen - this is what his critics have long been saying (and labeled “racists” by the Obama media).
(Tues 3/4/14 Hr 2 JBS Eli Lake, Daily Beast; Fred Burton,; Steve Cohen, NYU. March 4, 2014 11:31 PM – at 30:05 in the podcast)

Mar. 06 2014 07:01 AM

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