That's Josh Marshall, purveyor of liberal link-bait at Talking Points Memo, but also a serious journalist with an historian's education and a sharp eye for world trends.
The combination of the Sochi Olympics, Russia's escalating crack down on dissenters and its gay people, and the upheaval in Ukraine that inherently involves its huge neighbor has awakened contrary voices seeking to overcome the US media's dismissive attitude toward Russia. Most prominently on the loosely left, publishing in the Nation magazine, has been Stephen F. Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University.
The first two paragraphs above seem to me a necessary corrective to US arrogance toward Russia, as does Cohen's contention that President Putin rescued Obama from starting his very own dumb war in Syria last fall. But that bit about the US Sochi delegation -- it smacks of the left's historic admonition to women and people of color and gays to postpone their self-assertion while the white boys get on with the important things …
Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War and see where he was coming from. I found a lot to ponder. Cohen writes about a series of turning points when different choices might have resulted in a different Russia, beginning with Buhkarin's alternative path to that set for communism by Stalin, through Khrushchev's incomplete "thaw" of the 1950s and 60s, and on into the Gorbachev reforms of the late 1980s and the subsequent break-up of the Soviet Union into its component states.
Cohen doesn't want any of us to forget how much Russians suffered from the break up of the Soviet system and its replacement by an oligarchic kleptocracy while US and European elites applauded.
It is not surprising that a people so traumatized didn't know where to turn. Cohen maintains that Russian experience, not only during the 20th century but also much older, has left its population open to looking to authoritarianism for stability.
Meanwhile, "the West" -- meaning Bill Clinton and successor US leaders -- has in Cohen's telling engaged in a foolish triumphalism that has helped ensure that Russia's evolution has been toward an authoritarian internal system and a xenophobic posture.
That last item certainly catches what Moscow has been saying about Ukraine over this eventful weekend.
So what? Does Russia still matter? Cohen answers an emphatic "yes," for reasons of US security as well as out of humane concern for what happens to Russians.
Is Cohen right and Marshall wrong? I certainly don't have the answer.
But as the excitement of watching people rise up in Ukraine and apparently chasing out a kleptocrat grips us (wonder if the departed President Yanukovych was BFF with Jamie Dimon?) it would behoove us to have a somewhat more sophisticated picture of the region. Professor Cohen provides one set of nuances.
There are others -- for example this article by Yale professor Timothy Snyder which offers a passionate description of the breadth of the Ukrainian protest and insists it represents a native Ukrainian turn away from Russian domination.
As the author of the magisterial history of the area in 20th century --Bloodlands-- Snyder undoubtedly knows the terrain and the languages. But his sanguine picture of the Ukrainian uprising -- will he be correct? or will Ukraine turn out more like what Cohen fears?
Guess the Ukrainians and Russians will have to work that out -- presumably with massive meddling from Europe and the U.S. if this declining empire still has the capacity. One thing I am sure of: people in the United States are much more eager to spend the nation's resources on improving life at home than on Russia's frontiers, whatever lingering resentment and fear we carry from the Cold War era.