Once the audience quieted down, Stephen Cohen began: “Well, I suppose 90 percent of you are here to celebrate the Russian Program and the other 10 percent of you are here to heckle me.”

This past Thursday, Feb. 5, Fairfield celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies (RECAS) program by inviting Stephen F. Cohen, PhD. to present a keynote lecture on the Ukrainian crisis.

Known for his provocative beliefs, Cohen delivered a speech presenting his controversial viewpoint regarding the Ukrainian crisis, evenly distributing blame between the U.S. and Russia.

According to Cohen, Western media has wrongly portrayed Russia as being the sole center of the crisis due to their deep historical ties in the country.

“America is going to war without any public discussion about it,” Cohen said. He added that the United States shares some of the blame for the conflict and that it is “far more serious” than news outlets are leading the public to believe.

The talk raised vocal controversy among audience members, including prompting members of Maidan United, a nonprofit foundation for Ukrainians, to attend the lecture and present counter arguments.

“We are an organization to defend the truth and protect Ukraine. Dr. Cohen presents an alternate reality – the naked truth is nothing like it,” said member Myron Melnyk.

Irene Komarynsky, mother of a former Fairfield student, said, “I was so angry to hear they were bringing him to celebrate the Russian studies program; at least they should have made this a debate representing both sides of the issue.”

According to Vox.com, the Ukrainian crisis began in November 2013 as a result of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject the European Union’s integration deal. This led to massive protests.

Russia supported Yanukovych while the U.S. and Europe sided with the protesters, resulting in internal conflict in Ukraine as its population continues struggling to decide whether it will identify with Russia or become a part of the European Union, explained Vox.

Since then, protests have run Yanukovych out of office; Russia has invaded Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine and rebels are thought to have shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over the summer. These events have resulted in high tension between Russia and the West, according to BBC News.

Cohen said that the tension is far worse than most think and that the U.S. is heading towards a Cold War that is potentially more dangerous than the last. “Our lives – our futures are at stake,” he said.

“All will end once Putin stops his aggression,” Cohen mocked. He argued that America uses Vladimir Putin, current president of Russia, as a way to escape taking some of the blame for the crisis.

Cohen explained that after 9/11, Putin was the first national leader to contact George Bush and offer help. Bush took his offering, yet soon after, expanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to Russia’s borders and put prohibitions on missiles. According to Cohen, Russians still mock Putin for his trust in the U.S.

At the end of the speech, Cohen accepted questions from the audience. Some members backed Cohen’s arguments, while many critiqued key statements.

An audience member near the front of the room was the first to stand up saying, “I find your presentation completely biased and one-sided.”

The floor was then given to George Sajewych, an American-Ukrainian who spent a year in Kiev working for the special defense unit. “I challenge every point that Dr. Cohen has just articulated,” he said. “When I heard Dr. Cohen was coming, I knew I had to come to defend the Ukrainian side.”

Sajewych argued that there is no basis for a civil war in Ukraine and that Russia’s main goal was to take over the country. “Putin’s goal is to destroy Ukraine as a state,” he said.

Cohen responded to Sajewych’s backlash by simply saying: “Most of what George is saying has some basis. But he only represents one side of Ukraine,” He went on to say, “We don’t know who George actually is; we don’t know where he came from.”

Despite the controversy Cohen’s lecture spurred, David W. McFadden, PhD., who presented Cohen at the event, felt that the event was successful overall, saying that “not only did [Cohen] provide a perspective on the Ukrainian crisis not often heard, but many representatives of the Ukrainian community turned out.”

Many students and audience members enjoyed the presentation and benefited from Cohen’s ideas.

“I was mostly excited to go to the talk because of how controversial a speaker he was,” said Justine Ferrara ’18. “It was very interesting to hear him speak on something that the general American media has been so biased about.”

Freshman Phil Amarante agreed, saying that he liked “how he explained how both sides made mistakes which led to Putin’s annexation of Crimea … Overall I thought it was very informative.”

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2 Responses

  1. Vaira Paegle

    While I did not attend the Cohen lecture, I have followed Prof. Cohen’s writings since the 1990’s, and listened to comments from people who did attend. Alisia LoSardo did a credible job on reporting on a controversial presentation.

    As a former Member of Parliament of Latvia, who has experienced Russia’ aggression first-hand, my problem is not that Prof. Cohen is provocative, but that controversy has become his end game

    What makes the validity of his remarks suspect as to bias, are his close ties, including appearances as commentator, with Russia Today and Sputnik – both acknowledged as an integral part of Putin’s propaganda machine.

    The question remains – whose interests does Prof. Cohen serve –
    Putin’ s or those of unbiased academic discourse?

    This e-mail was sent from a contact form on The Fairfield Mirror (http://mirror.wesseldesigns.com)

  2. George Sajewych

    Though Prof. Stephen Cohen’s presentation on the situation in Ukraine took place over a month ago, its resonance still rings. It confirmed for me that which I, up to then, had only suspected on the basis of his previous lectures and writings: that Dr. Cohen’s positions on the Russo-Ukrainian War are so far off the mark and so closely parrot the Kremlin line that they cannot possibly be the result of an honest mistakes or even of personal bias alone.
    Leading up to the lecture I had asked for the opportunity to rebut Prof. Cohen’s contentions. I was advised that a better solution might be to do this on a separate occasion and was given to understand that I should be able to ask a question of Dr.Cohen after his lecture. I was able to ask the first part of my question, but when I tried, after his very inadequate answer, to continue, the microphone was taken from me and the evening was announced over. As one who respects an opponent as long as he retains his intellectual integrity, I was deeply disappointed when Dr. Cohen claimed that: “We don’t know who George actually is; we don’t know where he came from.” Well, anyone who was listening when I introduced myself would have known that: I am a proud beneficiary of a Jesuit education (St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago and Georgetown University, Washington, DC); for 36 years I was a broadcast journalist for the Voice of America; for two and one-half years after the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine — the only high-level Ukrainian-English interpreter for the US government (a position which requires a Top Secret security clearance); and I was an active participant in the Maidan movement and today still am a member of its Self Defense.
    I have been asking the University, in the interest of academic fairness in pursuit of the truth, to give me the same opportunity that Dr. Cohen had, in order to argue a position absolutely contrary to his.
    When I get that chance I will convincingly argue, inter alia, the following:
    — the United States government had nothing to do with the rise of the Maidan movement. It was absolutely spontaneous and the purest, most idealistic and most effective manifestation of “people power” I have ever witnessed or heard about.
    — all the justifications offered by the Kremlin for its invasion, occupation and annexation of the Crimea are totally and transparently bogus. Those actions were, in fact, the opening phase of Russia’s hybrid war, planned long before with the goal of re-enslaving Ukraine and its people.
    — the present conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region is not a mere “crisis,” a civil war or a “separatist rebellion,” but the second phase of that war.
    I still have hope that the good Jesuit fathers, who taught me the high values of fair play and an honest pursuit of the truth, will give me the opportunity to defend that which, in my heart and in my mind, I know to be right.
    George Sajewych
    Silver Spring, MD


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