Various television programs and Web sites have been looking to Stephen Cohen, the author of Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the the New Cold War to provide perspectives on Obama’s recent trip to Russia and U.S.-Russian relations. (Click here for other recent radio and TV appearances by Cohen.)
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Cohen suggests that the success of Obama’s trip to Russia was “extremely modest.” While Obama was able to work out agreements with Russia regarding a new nuclear arms inspection and reduction treaty as well as access to Russian air space to supply U.S. troops in Afghanistan, tensions, many of them potentially explosive, still exist between the two countries.
Cohen identifies three “ticking bombs”: NATO expansionism, missile defense, and the sense among the Russian political class that Russia has been willing to make concessions but the United States has not. Obama should, Cohen argues, end NATO expansion. However, it is unclear that he is willing to do so particularly since he has surrounded himself with former Clinton advisers whom Cohen sees as having created a failed policy toward Russia by breaking promises made by the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and treating Russia as a “defeated power.”
The stakes for improving relations with Russia could not be higher. If relations continue to worsen there is a risk of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and heroin flowing out of Afghanistan via Russia. However, there is also the possibility of a new cold war developing in which proxy wars similar to the one in Georgia where countries like the Ukraine would become new battlegrounds, from the interview:
“This would be a permanent crisis right on Russia’s border, a division between the new Cold War adversaries. It would be so destabilizing because Russia would keep its weapons on high alert, risking accidents. We would move our nukes closer to Ukraine, probably on battleships. It would be the worst imaginable situation.”
As mentioned above, Cohen was also recently on Charlie Rose where he was joined by Richard Lugar; Thomas Pickering, Chrystia Freeland, and Claire Shipman to talk about Russia.