Stephen Frand Cohen (born November 25, 1938) is an American scholar of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University . His academic work concentrates on modern Russian history since the Bolshevik Revolution and the country's relationship with the United States .

Education and career

Cohen's family is Jewish. [2] His grandfather emigrated to the United States from Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire ). [3]

Stephen Cohen was born in 1938 in Owensboro , Kentucky where his father owned a golf course, [4] and attended Indiana University Bloomington , where he earned a B.S. degree and an M.A. degree in Russian Studies. While studying in England , he went on a four-week trip to the Soviet Union , where he became interested in its history and politics. Cohen, who received his Ph.D. in government and Russian studies at Columbia University , became a professor of politics and Russian studies at Princeton University in 1968, where he taught until 1998, and has been teaching at New York University since.

Cohen is well known in both Russian and American circles. He is a long-standing friend of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev , [5] advised former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s, helped Nikolai Bukharin 's widow, Anna Larina , rehabilitate her name during the Soviet era, [6] and met Joseph Stalin 's daughter, Svetlana .

Since 1998, Cohen has been professor of Russian Studies and History at New York University, where he teaches a course titled "Russia Since 1917." He previously taught at Princeton University. He has written several books including those listed below. He is also a CBS News consultant as well as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations .

Cohen has a son and a daughter from his first marriage to opera singer Lynne Blair, from whom he is divorced. Cohen is now married to Katrina vanden Heuvel , editor of the progressive magazine The Nation , where he is also a contributing editor. They have one daughter.

Writings and views about the Soviet Union

Cohen's first book, published in 1973 and republished in 1980, was a biography of Nicolai Bukharin , a Bolshevik leader who was purged and executed under Stalin. [7] During the Cold War, Cohen was critical of western hawks, but also of the Soviet government, which banned him from visiting the Soviet Union from 1982 to 1985. [7] He supported the perestroika reform program of Mikhail Gorbachev . [7]

Views on the Russian Federation


During the 2014 unrest in Ukraine , Cohen drew criticism for his "pro-Russian" views [8] with sources describing him as an apologist for Putin [9] [10] and the Russian government. [8] Cohen personally describes himself as an American "dissenter" [11] and argues that the media stifles anyone who even tries to understand the situation from the Kremlin's perspective while stigmatizing them as Putin apologists for doing so. [11]

In an article in The Nation , Cohen stated that the US political-media establishment was silent about "Kiev's atrocities" in the Donbass region. [2] His article was, in turn, criticized by Cathy Young as "error-riddled" narrative and "embarrassing" repetition of Kremlin propaganda. [7]

US-Russia relations

Cohen has argued in The Nation that the USA continued the Cold War after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, without US leaders acknowledging that they were doing so. [13] He says that a flawed interpretation of an "American victory" and a "Russian defeat" since the time of Bill Clinton had led to treating post-communist Russia like a defeated nation, even though Russia still possesses weapons of mass destruction inherited from the USSR. Cohen says that this "triumphalism" led to the expectation that Russia would submit completely to American foreign policy. [13] Public shows of friendship like those between Clinton and Boris Yeltsin were without real value taking into account the real background, according to Cohen. [13] Cohen argues that Clinton, contrary to the promise of his predecessor, extended NATO eastward and implemented a strategy of containment . Russia inevitably reacted with suspicion. Moreover, Cohen cites the cancellation of the ABM-treaty in 2002 and the refusal of admission to the WTO at the G8-summit in Saint Petersburg 2006. Cohen also criticises the "pointless demonization" of Vladimir Putin as an "autocrat". [13] [2]

In an interview given in July 2015, Cohen said that Putin's handling of the crisis in Ukraine — his annexation of Crimea and his support for rebel fighters in the east — was a reaction to aggressive behaviour of the United States and its allies, when they supported the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych . [5] Cohen went on to say that even if Putin's reaction was also aggressive, the US should now negotiate with Russia to avoid escalation of the conflict. [5]

Munk Debate

Cohen participated in a Munk Debate in Toronto , Canada over the proposal "Be it resolved the West should engage not isolate Russia…" He and Vladimir Posner argued in favor of engagement, while Anne Applebaum and Garry Kasparov argued against. Prior the debate, 58 percent of the audience were in favor of engaging with Russia and 42 percent against. After the debate, 52 percent of the audience agreed with Applebaum and Kasparov, and 48 percent with Cohen and Posner. [2]



  • Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War ISBN 978-0-231-14897-9 Pub. 2011 by Columbia University Press [with a new epilogue]
  • Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War ISBN 978-0-231-14896-2 Pub. 2009 by Columbia University Press
  • The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin ISBN 978-1-933002-40-8 Pub. 2010 by PublishingWorks
  • Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia ISBN 978-1-933002-40-8 Updated edition Pub. 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company
  • Voices of Glasnost: Interviews With Gorbachev's Reformers ISBN 978-0-393-02625-2 Pub. 1989 by W W Norton & Co Inc
  • Sovieticus: American Perceptions and Soviet Realities ISBN 978-0-393-30338-4 Pub. 1986 by W W Norton & Co.
  • Rethinking the Soviet Experience: Politics and History since 1917 ISBN 978-0-19-504016-6 Pub.1985 by Oxford University Press
  • An End to Silence: Uncensored Opinion in the Soviet Union, from Roy Medvedev's Underground Magazine "Political Diary" ISBN 978-0-393-30127-4 Pub.1982 Norton
  • Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938 ISBN 978-0-19-502697-9 Pub.1980 by Oxford University Press

Essays - Articles

  • The Friends and Foes of Change. Reformism and Conservatism in the Soviet Union in: Alexander Dallin /Gail W. Lapidus (eds.): The Soviet System. From Crisis to Collapse, Westview Press, Boulder/San Francisco/Oxford 2005 ISBN 0-8133-1876-9
  • Stalinism and Bolshevism in: Robert C. Tucker (ed.): Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1977. ISBN 0-7658-0483-2