Remembering Stephen Cohen – OpEd


Two prominent Americans Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Frand Cohen lost to cancer on the same day (September 18) is a great downer – at least for me. Of the two, Justice Ginsburg’s stature, relative to the US Supreme Court and her prior background, has understandably received the greater media coverage. Notwithstanding, Dr. Cohen’s relevance to the coverage of Russia in the US and his scholarly pursuits are nothing to gloss over. 

An accomplished academic, Cohen was the leading English language mass media TV talking head on Russia. Over the past several months, I suspected that something ominous was up with him. He wasn’t appearing anywhere, as news items like the situation in Belarus and Alexei Navalny’s health cropped up. Belarusian presidential election. 

I first became aware of Cohen in the 1980s, via his Nation articles and appearances on New York Pacifica Foundation affiliate WBAI.  In the pre-internet era, I had the pleasure of corresponding with him. He was the first person who cautioned me on how Russia was restructuring during the Yeltsin era. In more recent times, Cohen and yours truly communicated via email on some Russia related media and historical areas of interest. 

The US establishment’s treatment of Cohen’s death has been mixed. Johnson’s Russia List and The New York Times have provided a detailed and respectful accounting. Mind you, that these are two venues which I’ve been reasonably critical of. I’m willing to give credit where it’s due. The same can’t be said of some others, which concerns why the coverage of Russia (and for that matter other issues) has been lacking from what it otherwise could be. 

It’s not surprising to see that the anti-Russian leaning and largely US government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) ignored Cohen’s death, unlike its coverage of Richard Pipes’ passingwhich I commented on as well. A colleague of Cohen’s, Gilbert Doctorow, noted that Cohen wasn’t well liked among anti-Russian elements with a central and east European origin. Without a doubt, that grouping has had the upper hand at RFE/RL

Former New York Times editor, Carla Robbins, who is now involved with the Council on Foreign Relations and the City University of New York, matched the RFE/RL route in ignoring Cohen’s passing. At her Twitter account, Robbins regretfully noted the passing of Brent Scowcroft and wished Julia Ioffe a get well from a Covid-19 bout. Concerning this comparative matter, it’s somewhat surprising to see The National Interest (as of this writing) take the same stance as RFE/RL and Robbins. Like RFE/RLThe National Interest ran a piece relating to Pipes’ death.

Via Aaron Mate’s Twitter account, I became aware of tributes to Cohen from media hosts John Batchelor and Chris Hayes. The respectful honoring of Cohen from Batchelor and Hayes should be followed up on. As an MSNBC host, one senses that Hayes has restrictions on who he can comfortably (from the vantage point of his position) have on. Keep that thought in mind when the subject of Russia comes up on his show. Batchelor seems like he has more leeway on who he can have on his show. 

A recent Mate exchange with Fred Weir expressed a view that I’ve previously noted. On matters pertaining to Russia’s relations with the West, post-Soviet Russia (Putin era included) sees greater media diversity than US mass media, which has slid into a very restricted coverage of Russia.  

This observation very well relates to the “New Cold War” term, utilized by Cohen and some others. Concisely put, the neocon-neolib, to flat out anti-Russian view is quite flawed. There’s no reason for the mainstream Russian position to feel intellectually threatened by it. 

The issues at hand aren’t always so east to accurately categorize. I generally tended to agree more with Cohen than Pipes. In some instances, I found myself more in agreement with Pipes than Cohen. The eclectic mindset is different from the five minute and under TV and radio segments, given to some guests who’ve stated questionable to out rightly false statements, with little and at times no challenge. 

The goal for a mutually beneficial improved US-Russian relationship lives on. This desire continues to face an uphill battle. Pro-American sentiment in Russia has declined. To a considerable extent, this occurrence has been the result of faulty biases against Russia, which continue to get an upper hand in Anglo-American mass media and body politic, as well as those venues influenced by them. Frustrating as it has been, the only viable option is to continue communicating as effectively as possible. Throwing in the towel is a win for the neocons, neolibs and flat out Russia haters. 

Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media criticThis article first appeared at the Strategic Culture Foundation on September 21.

Michael Averko

Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. He has appeared as a guest commentator on the BBC, RT and WABC talk radio, in addition to having been a panelist at the World Russia Forum, Russia Forum New York and Experts' Panel. Besides Averko's Eurasia Review column -, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Global Research, History News Network, InoSMI.Ru, Johnson's Russia List, Journal of Turkish Weekly, Kyiv Post, Oriental Review, Penza News, Pravda.Ru, Pravoslavie.Ru, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russia Insider, Sputnik News, Strategic Culture Foundation, The Duran, The Huffington Post, Valdai Discussion Club, Yonkers Tribune and WikiLeaks, are among the numerous venues where his articles have either appeared or been referenced. The American Institute in Ukraine and the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, have referenced some of Averko's articles, along with academic white papers prepared for NATO Watch, Ohio State University, Problems of Post-Communism and the Royal College of Defence Studies. He has been referenced in the Council on Foreign Relations, Defense One and The New York Times. Averko is source referenced in Richard Sakwa's book "Frontline Ukraine". His Eurasia Review article on Pavlo Skoropadsky, provides the first full online English language transcript of Skoropadsky's edict calling for an "All-Russian Federation", inclusive of Russia and Ukraine. Among other issues, that article explains the relationships among the major combatants in the Russian Civil War. He can be reached via [email protected]

3 thoughts on “Remembering Stephen Cohen – OpEd

  • September 23, 2020 at 3:02 am

    Traditional Russian imperialism has raised anew its ugly head under Putin. One does not have to be a “Russia hater” to hate Russian imperialism as demonstrated under Putin. Michael Averko seems to have trouble understanding the difference between the two, as did Steven Cohen.

    • September 24, 2020 at 2:26 am

      likewise, one does not need to be a “Russia lover” to abhor the simplistic neo– cold warriors’ sliming of intellectual giants like Stephen Cohen.

  • October 6, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    On account of its simplistic inaccuracies, I’m not fond of the anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist views which you (over the course of time) exhibit Roman Serbyn.


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