nato Stephen F. Cohen Video

VIDEO: The Late Stephen F. Cohen Provides Clarity on NATO Expansion and Russia, More Than 10 Years Ago

NATO's broken promise to Russia provides context to the current state of affairs.
NATO Summit 2021. Влада на Република Северна Македонија, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In this clip from an event held by the Carnegie Council called, “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War,” on May 19, 2010, Stephen Cohen examines the history between NATO and Russia, detailing how NATO has consistently broken their word and expanded further closer to Russia. Cohen’s analysis is especially topical following the war in Ukraine and the unfolding current state of foreign affairs involving NATO, Russia and the rest of the world.

The late Stephen F. Cohen was a professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University as well as a contributing editor to The Nation magazine. He was one of the leading experts on contemporary Russia and the Soviet Union, writing 10 books and often speaking with many intellectuals and Russian and Communist Party government leaders including, most notably, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Below is a transcript of the video clip. If you’d like to watch the entire talk, you can find it here.


NATO expansion is not over for the Russians. It’s a reality. NATO is sitting on its borders. It’s not about future NATO expansion; it’s about current.

NATO expansion represents the following to Russia: It represents a profoundly broken promise to Russia, made by the first Bush, that in return for a united Germany in NATO, NATO would not expand eastward. This is beyond any dispute.

People say they never signed a treaty. But a deal is a deal. If the United States gives its word—unless we’re shysters, and if you don’t get it in writing, we’ll cheat you—we broke our word. When both Putin and Medvedev say publicly, to Madeleine Albright and others, “We, Russia, feel deceived and betrayed,” that’s what they are talking about.

So NATO represents on the part of Russia a lack of trust: You break your words to us. To what extent can we trust you?

Secondly, it represents military encirclement. If you sit in the Kremlin and you look out at where NATO is and where they want to go, it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere on Russia’s borders.

But there’s something even more profound that is a taboo in the United States. NATO expansion represents for the Russians American hypocrisy and a dual standard. They see it this way, and I can’t think of any way to deny their argument.

The expansion of NATO is the expansion of the American sphere of influence, plain and simple. Where NATO goes, our military force goes. Where NATO goes, our arms munitions go, because they have to buy American weapons. Where NATO goes, Western soldiers go, who date their women, who bring along their habits, and all the other things. It’s clearly, undebatably, indisputably an expansion of America’s sphere of influence.

So there has been a tremendous expansion of America’s sphere of influence since the mid-1990s, right plunk on Russia’s borders, with all the while, every American administration saying to Russia, including the Obama Administration, “You cannot have a sphere of influence because that’s old thinking.”

The Russians may be cruel, but they’re not stupid. In other words, what they say [America is saying] is, “We can now have the biggest sphere of influence the world has ever seen, and you don’t get any, not even on your own border. In fact, we’re taking what used to be your traditional sphere of influence, along with the energy and all the rest. It’s ours now”—again, this idea of a winner-take-all policy.

This is the enormous resentment in Russia. The relationship will never become a stable, cooperative relationship until we deal with this problem.

Does it mean Russia is entitled to a sphere of influence? I don’t want to think for Jack Matlock, but Jack thinks yes, depending on what you mean by “sphere of influence.” They can’t occupy countries. We had a Monroe Doctrine. But the point is that until this is worked out, the relationship will never truly be post-Cold War.

The problem is, it’s taboo in America to talk about this issue of who has a sphere of influence, who is entitled to it. I think there are solutions, but you can’t even get the question asked.

29 comments

  1. When the Maidan Coup happened in 2014, I began an intense study of the geopolitics of the area. This led me to Professor Cohen, whose great clarity and insight helped me understand the reality of Eastern Europe and NATO. I followed his speeches and podcasts and read his books– hardly all of them as his book ‘American Perceptions and Soviet Realities’ sits on my bookshelf high on the queue of books to be read, a seminal work that informs how America thinks of Russia today.
    Stephen F Cohen’s voice is sorely missed in this era of jingoism and Russophobia.

    1. Mr. Cohen was required reading for my International Relations degree 30+ years ago. He was indeed, steady and clear with profound insight. It is not surprising that his last book was titled: War with Russia?

  2. Professor Cohen unfortunately passed away but not before making so many of us aware of the path to Armageddon that the west led by the United States has chosen. Peaceful coexistence is the only way this world can endure and yet we have meticulously constructed circumstances which have made this rapidly spreading conflict a reality. As Professor Cohen stated many times, once Russia views Ukraine as an existential threat, it will never back down. Faced with defeat, Russian leadership may decide “no Russia, no world”. The U.S. politicians and technocrats that have so boldly put all of us in the crosshairs of an attack that we have no capability of stopping will be safe in bunkers to ride out such an attack and inherit a world that their arrogance eliminated us from. Several years ago I was involved in an accident that left me near death and I was here one minute gone the next and then back. I think (I know) when those who have talked so boldly are actually faced with their end, they are going to be very very disappointed with the experience compounded by the last minute realization that everything that they knew, built and passed on will be erased from human history forever.

    1. I wonder if Russia would not have given up Ukraine if the U.S. Corporate State had not schemed so diligently to deny Russia the Nord Stream lines. And others. It seems to me the idea of is not to contain Russia, but to take what they want from it. Such foolish greed and delusion.

  3. Exc! Where is Stephen when we need him – but even when he was here, nobody listened to him …

    It’s interesting – in a country obsessed with telling the history of one group of people (POC) being mistreated by another group (Whites), we don’t want to tell the history of one nation (Russia) being threatened by another (US) …

    And then there is ever present necessity of a “good guy, bad guy” motif in any story – in the former the POC are the good guys and Whites are the bad guys – in the latter, the US et,al. are the good guys and the Russians are the bad guys – it gets a bit more messy when China is the bad guy, or when it comes to immigration …., it seems the roles are reversed …

    In the meantime while we are squabbling with, villifying, and even shooting at each other, Mother Nature is, by turns, desiccating, burning and drowning people of all colors, regions, etc. – we haven’t listened to Her, either, for decades …

    In the same meantime, we have just given a Nobel Prize to scientists who are unraveling the mysteries of quantum mechanics re the concept of “entanglement” on the particle level whereby particles, though separated by considerable (vast?) distances are instantly connected to, “entangled” with, each other (perhaps because they were never disconnected in the first place?).. but here on earth we deny, refute, or oppose the idea that on a macro level we are all connected to, “entangled” with, each other …. so how did we ever come to being called Homo Sapiens ….

  4. Nothing will justify what Russia has done, or is doing, in this ferocious war. You can’t prettify this pig.

    1. Correction. Nothing will justify what the United States has done. Nothing. The greatest ugly pig on the planet is the United States government. I speak as an American who is appalled and ashamed of what the United States has been doing to other countries since at least the time of the Spanish American War. You are trying to prettify the American pig. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    2. You have been exposed to too much establishment propaganda ! Remember Cuba ?

    3. false steiner–everything Russia is doing is moral justified and cannot be challenged by American fascists

    4. Nothing will justify what the US/NATO has done to provoke this war. For one example, nothing will justify the 2019 US-army/Rand Corporation scheme to “overextend”, “unbalance” and “stress” Russia’s armed forces, polity, economy and prestige. Cost-Imposing Options proposed by RAND include:

      • “Providing lethal aid to Ukraine would exploit Russia’s greatest point of “vulnerabilities”.
      • “Expanding US energy production would “stress” Russia’s economy,..” and “increasing Europe’s ability to import gas from suppliers other than Russia could economically “extend” Russia..”
      • “Re-posturing bombers within easy striking range of key Russian targets has a high likelihood of success and would certainly get Moscow’s attention and “raise” Russian “anxieties.”
      • “Re-posturing fighters so that they are closer to their targets.. ..would likely “concern” Moscow even more..”
      • “Increasing U.S. and allied naval force and presence in Russia’s operating areas..”
      • “Increasing US forces in Europe, increasing NATO member ground capabilities, and deploying a large number of NATO forces on the Russian border..” –
      • “Hold exercises on Russia’s borders”
      • “Deploying additional tactical nuclear weapons to Europe and Asia could “heighten” Russia’s “anxiety”…”

      Clearly, the US/NATO nuclear-military alliance consciously set out to provoke Russia. According to the RAND brief:
      • “Most of the options discussed..” “..are in some sense escalatory and most would prompt some Russian counter-escalation.”
      • “.. there is additional risk attached to a generally intensified competition with a nuclear-armed adversary to consider.”

      One can’t prettify this pig. Nothing will justify what the US/NATO have done to provoke this war.. or to prolong it.

      https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB10014.html

  5. The late Professor Cohen may have an expert in the early stages of the Soviet Union, but he was also generally considered very pro Putin, which I expect is the reason this 2010 video clip resurfaces here.
    I am a little surprised that Prof. Cohen who was close to Gorbachev did not feel necessary to mention that he denied that the West undertook not to expand NATO in the Eastern and/or ex USSR countries (as opposed in accepting limitations regarding NATO presence in East Germany) or the 1997 NATO Russia Founding Act which confirmed that there are no limitations on the right of any party to add other countries to its military alliance.
    Prof. Cohen presentation is also deficient in a few other key points:
    Quote “Secondly, it represents military encirclement. If you sit in the Kremlin and you look out at where NATO is and where they want to go, it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere on Russia’s borders.”
    The facts are that NATO ( in 2010) had 3 members with common borders with Russia :Norway ( 200 Km) Estonia (320 Km), Latvia (270 Km). Even adding the Kaliningrad enclave there 2 additional countries with less than 500 Km. This out of a total of 20000 Km of borders!! Hardly encirclement!!
    Quote : “The expansion of NATO is the expansion of the American sphere of influence, plain and simple. Where NATO goes, our military force goes. Where NATO goes, our arms munitions go, because they have to buy American weapons. Where NATO goes, Western soldiers go, who date their women, who bring along their habits, and all the other things”.
    First of all the ex USSR/Warsaw Pact countries wanted to be part of the West, that’s why insisted joining NATO, the EU and any other organization identified as part of the West sphere of influence, both for the evident economic benefits , but mainly out of distrust and even hatred against Russia ( as heir to the USSR). A joke in most East European countries during the China USSR conflict was that their more ardent wish is to be invaded by China, not out of love for Mao, but for what they are going to do to the Russians on the way).
    Nobody in NATO has to buy American weapons .NATO and its allies include some of the biggest arms exporters, such as France, Britain, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Spain which compete with US firms for every dollar.
    NATO members have made significant purchases also from outside NATO ( Israel, and even Russia).
    The number of US troops in the “new” NATO members and their impact is risible, especially when compared with the “hordes” of tourists invading each year ( 1900 in Poland, 1100 in Romania, 55 in Estonia, 22 in Bulgaria, 18 in Lithuania, 14 in Latvia – before Ukraine war when they slightly increased).
    Quote : “The Russians may be cruel, but they’re not stupid. In other words, what they say [America is saying] is, “We can now have the biggest sphere of influence the world has ever seen, and you don’t get any, not even on your own border. ”
    Russia has a significant sphere of influence, with various degrees of fealty with Russia. Furthermost are the CSTO countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan), but also Venezuela, Cuba, India (Russia has been its main arms supplier),Syria, Serbia. That there are not so many is not due to some nefarious NATO plot but a combination of intense dislike (mainly in Europe), intense competition with the West and China, and diminished economic clout (before the Ukraine war and the afferent energy and commodities crisis) .
    As the saying goes “de mortuis nil nisi bonum”. I believe that the clip represents Prof. Cohen sincerely held beliefs (even if the facts are so and so), but what is the point in publishing it now and not perform even a minimum of fact checking? Is there any kind of editorial oversight on what is published or ideology trumps all?

    1. I believe you’ve got the definition of encirclement in this context wrong. No matter how many kilometers of the total RF borders are edged by NATO countries, the ones that do represent a major offensive threat in that they are able to send missiles to Moscow rather quickly due to the short distances.

      If Russia had an offensive military alliance that added just Mexico, would that represent encirclement to you or would it also have to involve Canada and thus every single inch of the US border?

      1. I believe in using words in accordance with their meaning. Encirclement means what it means indifferently if we talk about Russia or USA.
        In any case, NATO committed not to station nuclear weapons on the territory of the new NATO members and to the best of my knowledge nobody argued the contrary. Also land based missile sites are sitting ducks and of limited value compared with airborne or submarine weapons which can be placed practically everywhere.

    2. again altey lies—US imposes sanctions on NATO nations that purchase Russian weapons–Turkey ….EU nations have been required to join NATO or face sanctions

      1. The “sanctions” were refusal to sell advanced weapons systems like F 35 which can be compromised as a result.

    3. On the issue of whether the USA and NATO promised to not expand, the world expert is Mary Elise Sarotte. Her Not One Inch: America, Russia & the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate- Yale (2021) covers the issues and the references you mention at book length. She agrees with Cohen and considers the opposed interpretations “untenable”. The Soviets were made promises. They were broken.

  6. Even though Putin has used the excuse that NATO is threatening them, He said long ago “Russia statehood, in which Ukraine was an INseparable organ of the virginal Russian Body. I want to repeat again, we are one people”. He believes that Ukraine is part of the “Russian World”. He has from the very beginning , to make Ukraine a part of the Russian World.
    He, “the Redemer” would fight to destroy the “evil West”, the US included!!

    1. Vladimir Putin does not consider Ukraine part of Russia, as commentators such as Tim Snyder at Yale, John Feffer, and others claim.

      In the first third or so of the paper linked to below that he wrote in July, 2021, Mr. Putin explains the historical unity of — meaning shared history and familial and cultural ties between — the Russian and Ukrainian people.

      Then, beginning with the paragraph that ends with the word “Respect!”, Putin explains his view of the political and economic relationship between the Russian and Ukrainian states, which emphatically is not that Ukraine is part of Russia.

      He ends the article with a recounting of the history of the 8-year Donbas civil war, which began in 2014 with the violent U.S.-backed coup that drove Ukraine’s democratically elected president from office and out of the country, followed by a violent attack in Odessa by Ukrainian ultranationalist extremists, killing dozens, on Russian-speaking Ukrainians peacefully protesting the stated intention of the right-wing coup government to repeal a regional language law that granted the Russian language official status in regions of Ukraine where Russian-speakers disproportionately live, most notably the Donbas — similar to accommodations in countries like Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, and others, where the language rights of linguistic minorities are protected.

      All of the events in the history Mr. Putin recounts in this paper, including agreeing the Minsk accords with France, Germany, and Ukraine and subsequent diplomatic efforts by the Russian state to end the Donbas civil war, are easily verifiable by anyone who knows how to use Google to find articles that reported them in mainstream news outlets at the time that they occurred.
      http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/66181

      1. @Bill Appledorf

        Not giving the Russian language due recognition was a stupid and mean thing to do, but is not a casus belli under the UN Charter.

  7. One has to ask oneself what type of people would persecute other people to the extent, the degree it is being carried out by the American establishment against the people of Russia. It is their exercising of power over others, evidencing that their will contrary to any other consideration will have priority.

    To cut to the chase and putting it realistically the implications of communism were the death knell for capitalism. The thought of losing out on shameless profiteering shocked them into action. Uncle Sam was not going to miss out on “the fast buck mentality”.

    By some means, any means the advance of communism had to be stopped. And it had to be done in a way that it had to be played out to the populace that it was evil. To consider it any other way would be tantamount to being against the values that America stood for (whatever that meant). To discuss it public ally was as near treason as you could get. Times change and socialism, its little cousin, could be controlled and made harmless.

    And so, a system of real government by the people was driven into the backwaters of the western world, waiting, wondering when, if at all, will its time come for its fruition.

    After all, like Christianity it has its ethos, its ethic and, bar for whatever qualifies as a God, communism has a basic decency about it. Human beings just cannot live up, measure up to, what they appear to wish to aspire to. Both systems of thought in their different ways are facing the problem of individual self -fulfillment at the expense of the community. It would take time, but the march of secularism has increasingly produced a hollowed- out Christ – an emptiness at the heart of Christianity.

    Let me be quite clear what I really mean. What I object to is that the Christian message has not been updated to what it is really trying to say through the inadequacy of man’s thought to express the interpretation that man is attempting to put forward as the raison d’etre of his existence. The best they could do at the time was to invent a historical Jesus, half man, half god, invested with both a capacity to perform miracles and possess profound wisdom.

    The problem was of course the miracles were never believed by the ruling class of that time period and naturally with the passage of time less and less people believed in them. Christianity had a profound truth, intuitively understood but wrongly expressed. It could not satisfy the wishes of the educated classes. If Christianity is to survive in depth and meaning it must update the original Gospel and express it in terms fitting a scientific age.

    Every time I hear about the separation of Church and State, I am reminded about the apocryphal remark that George Washington was purported to have made when asked this question. It was to the effect that he believed it was the right thing to do. Bearing this in mind and in the light of our high -sounding words like core values, ethics, and the humanities I wrote the following short historical fantasy for my amusement and with a view to explaining the political climate that we have today.

    The gloomy Halls of Hell, normally still and foreboding were resounding with a gathering excitation not usually found among the demons of Lucifer’s Kingdom but the Master himself seemed strangely mooted with his dark thoughts of overcoming his arch enemy.

    His personal assistant of the demon hoard with trepidation slowly entered the magnificent chamber within which the Master poured forth His commands. With a baleful glare He regarded the small demon quivering before him and said with a booming voice, reverberating through His Kingdom,
    “What is your purpose here? I did not ask or demand your presence. Go, before you regret having interrupted my train of thought”. Summoning up what courage he had left the demon answered.
    “But master it has just been reported to us that the British colony called America has just declared its independence and its Constitution separates Church from State”.
    Lucifer was puzzled and asked his servant to repeat what he had just said.
    The demon repeated it. A deafening silence filled the chamber. Whispering to himself the Devil said, “This is momentous news – far greater than anything even I could have wished for”.
    Hesitating, Lucifer rose from his throne to reveal a bodily stature of such beauty and symmetry that it belied the evil within it. Raising his right fist to the heaven of his enemy and in a stentorian manner He
    exclaimed with a mixture of victory, derision and contempt.

    “At last, I have them,” He laughed uproariously.

    “If all goes well whether in a hundred years or more, no matter, all their souls will be mine. How ironic that I should be the benefactor of their unintended folly”.

    1. @eedipus

      Quote: “communism has a basic decency about it. ”

      Tell that to the victims of Mao Cultural Revolution, USSR Goulag , Holodomor and the rest the (estimated) 94 million victims of communism. Perhaps the ideal of communism had a basic decency, but everywhere the implementation fell very far from it.
      The same with Christianity who implemented its ideals by way of Inquisition, religious wars, crusades, saving the souls by killing the bodies ( Tuez les tous et Dieu reconnaitra les siens – Kill everybody and let God recognize his)

      1. Any idea about how many have died under Capitalism both in the past and in the present? It is greed formalized into a system which is put into effect – but hopefully not in the future.

        All religions are about a rightness, a goodness, a fairness, towards each other. We are not only the victims of our past, but we have the possibilities in the present to salvage religions from their immaturity and place them in the context of new spheres of knowledge.

        Again, we must measure up to what they were attempting to communicate to their time, but they were unable to translate its abstraction because of the lack of knowledge.

  8. Quite tellingly Cohen’s participation on a AJC panel discussion about Russia was not posted on his East-West Accord website because parts of it are embarrassing ( instead a link is provided to a heavily edited version). In Cohen’s later years he could be reliably counted on to defend Putin’s Russia or at least insist that no judgment should be made until ‘more was known’…From the MH-17 to the Skripals to Ukraine. A man with these characteristics can only be described as a hack.

  9. Cohen is irrelevant—the immoral imperialist Americans no longer matter—ukraine will be denazified and 30% is not permanently RF….the anglosphere and NATO colonies are isolated from the civilized world….EU is fragmenting and crumbling. sanctions have benefitted Russia devastated EU…already 60% Italians oppose sanctions vs Russia….as deprivation unemployment energy etc becomes unaffordable EU instability will produce more upheavals. Russia will simply reduce trade and sell commodities for more to the 130 nations that refuse to sanction Russia

  10. Nations have “deals”, “spheres of influence” and above all interests: it is the clash of interests that bring states to war. History shows that. It’s also shows that every empire eventually faces the war it is trying to avoid. Today the whole of humanity is facing WW3.
    https://patternofhistory.wordpress.com/

  11. Banderite maniacs travelled from Kiev to Odessa on May 2, 2014, and violently attacked an encampment of Russian-speaking Ukrainians peacefully protesting the coup government’s threat to repeal Ukraine’s regional language law (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/02/ukraine-dead-odessa-building-fire). Protesters took refuge in Odessa’s trade union building, which their attackers set alight, killing more than 30 people.

    “Not giving the Russian language due recognition,” is rather a strange choice of words to describe this event, which marks the beginning of 8 years of shelling of the Donbas by ultranationalist Ukrainian fanatics bent on cleansing Ukraine of the Russian language, Russian speakers, Russians, and all things Russian.

    On Sept. 5, 2014, a ceasefire agreement that quickly broke down was signed in Minsk, Belarus by the Ukrainian government and so-called “separatist” Donbas leaders. According to the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/05/ukraine-ceasefire-east-minsk-peace-talks): “The UK prime minister David Cameron, attending the summit of Nato leaders at Celtic Manor in south Wales, welcomed the ceasefire announcement, but said fresh sanctions against Russia would still go ahead.”

    On Feb. 12, 2015, a second Minsk agreement, this one signed by France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, was announced, the terms of which are reported here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31436513. Shelling of the Donbas, supported politically and materially by the U,S. and U.K., continued unabated despite this agreement, killing at least 14,000 Russian-speaking Ukrainians by Feb. 24, 2022.

    On April 22, 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine in a landslide victory (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48007487). He told reporters he would “reboot” peace talks with the separatists fighting Ukrainian forces and volunteers in the east. “I think that we will have personnel changes. In any case we will continue in the direction of the Minsk [peace] talks and head towards concluding a ceasefire,” he said.

    No ceasefire would ensue, and every effort by Zelensky to negotiate an end to the fighting has been thwarted by the U.S. and U.K. The U.S., rather, has steadily escalated violence in Ukraine by pouring more, and more sophisticated, weapons into its proxy war on Russia’s border, training Ukrainian fighters, and providing Ukraine intelligence with the aim stated on numerous occasions of weaking Russia, crippling Russia’s economy, and removing Russia’s president from office. Justifying these activities with captious legalisms entirely misses the point that the U.S. is exploiting and escalating a violent Ukrainian domestic conflict to wage proxy war on Russia to the last Ukrainian.

  12. Obama’s “..vice president, Joseph Biden, was a longtime zealous proponent of triumphalist policy, including NATO expansion and the U.S. projects in Georgia and Ukraine and of direct “confrontation” with the Kremlin. Accepting his nomination, Biden rededicated himself to those pursuits.”
    [Stephen F. Cohen, page 197, ‘Soviet Fates And Lost Alternatives’, paperback edition]

    Stephen F. Cohen’s profound challenges to mainstream orthodoxy on Russian/American relations, such as the chapter titled: “Who Lost The Post-Soviet Peace?” in ‘Soviet Fates And Lost Alternatives’, opened my eyes. I have not read anything more convincing.

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