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Don’t Risk War With Russia

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would do whatever it could to discredit the Soviet Union. We used to place articles in friendly newspapers exposing Soviet human rights violations, arrange for Russian front companies to buy technology that had been tampered with so that it would damage assembly lines when put into place, and send money and samizdat publications to groups like Solidarity that were opposing the communists. But there was a real war going on, even if it was tepid, and because the two sides were in dead earnest it was anything goes and more was always better.

Today, more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are many indications that Washington is slipping into a new and completely unnecessary confrontation with Moscow, only this time it is not being run largely out of sight by the CIA. Much of the new conflict is being conducted openly, with sanctions and resolutions by Congress, regular appearances in unstable regions overseas by senior state department officials and politicians, and trainings in new media political organizing funded by quasi non-governmental organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) [1].

This is not to suggest that there is not a covert side to it all. The funding and training of opposition groups frequently take place outside of the country being targeted, meaning that the players and their sources of income are carefully hidden from sight. The actual training and organizing are frequently carried out by a private contractor [2] rather than any agency linked to the U.S. government, increasing the plausible deniability of an official connection.

And much intergovernmental activity and links to important corporate components in the private sector are often arranged with a wink and a nod, without leaving any paper trail and avoiding any downstream accountability. That is exactly how $5 billion of U.S. taxpayer-provided money has been wasted on developing what passes for pluralistic democracy [3] in Ukraine but might more properly be described as “regime change.” Such overt interference in other countries’ internal politics also explains why governments [4] in Cairo, Moscow, and elsewhere have forced a number of foreign consultants working locally on NED’s dime to go home.


The rights and wrongs of Russian policy towards Ukraine have been discussed ad nauseam in The American Conservative as well as virtually every other forum dedicated to foreign and security policy. Let it suffice to say that Moscow has definite security concerns relating to ongoing NATO expansion, particularly the most recent ham-handed attempts to bring Kiev into the “Western” fold. It has as well strong historical and national defense related ties to Crimea. Even if one believes that Vladimir Putin is evil incarnate and seeks to reacquire Eastern Europe, one must concede that the argument over what is taking place should not be reduced to bumper sticker slogans. Unfortunately that is precisely what the United States Congress and to a lesser extent the White House are seeking to do.

Former Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has noted some of the overt maneuverings taking place to heighten tension with Moscow. He is particularly scathing [5] regarding the U.S. House Resolution 758, entitled “Strongly condemning the actions of the Russian Federation, under President Vladimir Putin, which has carried out a policy of aggression against neighboring countries aimed at political and economic domination,” which was passed on December 4th just before Congress recessed for Christmas. There were only ten votes opposed to the motion.

Paul describes the bill as “16 pages of war propaganda that should have made even neocons blush, if they were capable of such a thing” and observes that the resolution might provoke “a war with Russia that could result in total destruction.” H.R. 758 [6] condemns Russia for invading Ukraine without producing a shred of evidence that that is what took place, blames Moscow for shooting down MH-17, condemns the selling of arms to the Syrian government, accuses Russia of invading Georgia in 2008, and claims Moscow “illicitly acquir[ed] information” about the U.S. government through computer hacking while also “distorting public opinion” through its controlled media outlets. The resolution urges Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to disarm separatist rebels in the country’s eastern provinces and calls on President Barack Obama to provide the Ukrainians with weapons and training to that end, meaning that American soldiers might well be on the front line of what is generally regarded as a civil war.

In response to those who might ask why the United States is getting involved at all, the resolution affirms that it is because Russian involvement in the Ukraine “poses a threat to international peace and security.” As Ron Paul notes, seldom have there been so many lies, half-truths and distortions packed into one House Resolution. Indeed, many of the accusations being made regarding Moscow’s alleged bad behavior could more credibly be leveled against Washington.

As bad as the openly promoted war against Moscow is, there is also a secret conflict that some have referred to as a “stealth war.” It has been described as [7] “an attack on the international market for Russian corporations, and on the international currency and security clearance systems on which the market depends.”

To that end, there have been some reports suggesting [8] that the United States Treasury Department has been discreetly putting pressure on major European lenders to urge them to avoid acquiring Russian equity or debt because such transactions are currently legal but might become illegal with a new round of tightened sanctions, making Moscow a very bad risk, financially speaking. Whether a tightening of sanctions is likely or not is largely irrelevant as financial institutions are risk averse and any warning of potential problems produces an instant retrenchment. A Lloyds Banking group withdrawal from a refinance involving Russian oil conglomerate Rosneft in May has been attributed [7] to U.S. pressure.

Russia’s economy is indeed struggling [9], partly due to sanctions, but more due to the fall in the price of oil. Russia considers existing sanctions to be illegal but has so far failed to take steps against them. It is, however, likely that if sanctions are strengthened there will be litigation over breaches of contract, which would hurt all parties involved and only benefit a handful of international law firms.

More to the point, sanctions will not change Russian policy, because for Moscow Ukraine is a vital interest, and using them as a sword of Damocles style threat, as Secretary of State Kerry has done [7], is only likely to poison the atmosphere, making genuine rapprochement unobtainable. The United States has a great deal to lose if Russia chooses to go tit-for-tat in responding to both the overt and secretive attacks on its economy. Moscow has been cooperative with both Washington and the Europeans regarding tracking the financing of terrorist groups, proliferators, and drug cartels. It will be unlikely to continue that cooperation if it perceives a Western willingness to act against its own financial institutions and economy. It could even revert to its pre-2003 standard operating procedure of looking the other way when criminal proceeds were deposited in its banks, which made it at that time a haven for money laundering.

Moscow has also cooperated politically over how to deal with Syria, Iran, and North Korea. Russia could unilaterally break sanctions on oil purchases from Tehran and start selling weapons to Damascus, including up to date air defenses that could bring down U.S. warplanes. It could ease restrictions on trade with North Korea. At the United Nations, it might use its veto selectively to impede American-backed initiatives.

Using both open and hidden initiatives to push Russia into a corner from which it cannot escape is not good policy. As Ron Paul has noted, to do so is to invite war. And there are historical analogies that demonstrate what might develop. Trade embargoes and restrictions on oil sales [10] to Japan in 1940-1941 contributed both to Tokyo’s expansion in Asia in search of alternative resources and eventually led to Pearl Harbor. It is not wise to provoke a powerful enemy unless a vital national interest is at stake, which is not the case with Ukraine and Crimea.

The ire directed at Russia by both Congress and the White House, ably assisted by the mainstream media, is irrational, and official Washington should reconsider the error of its ways and step back before it creates a situation that will be disastrous for all parties involved.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Don’t Risk War With Russia"

#1 Comment By XSA On December 9, 2014 @ 2:00 am

Can Anything Save the Ruble?
Vladimir Putin has some ideas to help the struggling Russian economy. None of them are going to work.
War isn’t going to work. It used to be simple and now with laws you need expensive lawyers, engineers and accountants to go to war. Get everybody stewed.

#2 Comment By XSA On December 9, 2014 @ 2:28 am

Sean, yes, it’s worth distinguishing two kinds of mind-uploading scepticism. One kind acknowledges that a sentient copy of you could be digitally created – whether via constructive or “destructive” uploading – but claims that your sentient upload would merely be a type-identical copy of you, not you. Maybe so; but your flesh-and-blood namesake who wakes up tomorrow morning would seem in the same boat. This isn’t my real worry…

The second kind of mind-uploading scepticism focuses on the phenomenal binding problem – and disputes that a classical digital “upload” would be a unitary subject of experience. I won’t rehash my substantive grounds (Strawsonian physicalism plus natural selection-optimised quantum coherence) for doubting that the phenomenology of organic minds can be implemented in a classical digital computer. How close a functional simulation is feasible I simply don’t know. Either way, a digital zombie isn’t you. [12]

Prepare for destructive uploading. Release of fresh intelligence because they didn’t get enough from the Snowden job. John Kerry has a million problems and now all this and everything is a target. They are taking one target and turning it into ten. One problem is ten and the budget isn’t increasing ten times. The debt is.

#3 Comment By Leon Berton On December 9, 2014 @ 7:28 am

It is much easier for establishment ‘neo-CONS’ and ‘Demgressives’ to fan the rhetorical fires of nationalist antagonisms in the name of so-called ‘international peace and security’ (Whose security?; What kind of peace?) than it is to truly fulfill their central obligation of recovering the integrity of living according to Constitutional principles.

#4 Comment By Batka Makhno On December 9, 2014 @ 11:16 am

My points of disagreement with the article:

1. The war against Russia has been ongoing since 1960s; Ukraine is just an episode, only one of the many battlefields
2. That war was caused by the self-inflicted weakness of the USSR/Russia, ever since the Soviet Government abandoned its gold-backed ruble and accepted the petrodollar as the base of its budget that was/still is being heavily dependent on energy exports and by its inability to develop a sovereign economy other than the militarized economy model
3. The American strategy regarding Russia has not changed since Reagan’s “evil empire”; it is not about influencing Russian policies to benefit American interests (containment) but is about taking Russia out of the geopolitical equation once and for all (a dream of the British Empire strategists for centuries) – speaking in terms of classical geopolitics from the American point of view, the land mass of Russia, being in between Europe and China, cannot be allowed to facilitate the new Silk Road as that threatens the very economic existence of the British Empire’s replacement – USA
4. Since Russia is weaker now than the USSR was, it does make sense to go into the final phase of the war now even though it is understood USA will sustain some losses; it must be understood that this is not a military confrontation – as such, USA, nowadays being a country of globally dispersed financial services-oriented economy instead of the industrial production one, will mitigate risks of whatever Russia’s retaliation by letting its vassals take the damage
5. Until Russia understands that its only chance of victory is in hitting the American Achilles Heel (its banks, not the petrolollar) and not in alliance with China and the developing world (they are aligned with American banks and the petrodollar) but an alliance with the financial forces that oppose the US financial empire (the Rothschild clan), it is going to continue on the path of self-destruction through territorial breakup

#5 Comment By AnotherBeliever On December 9, 2014 @ 11:29 am

Indeed. Don’t back people with thousands of nuclear warheads into a corner they don’t want to be in if there is any alternative. I hope there are more conciliatory efforts being made behind the scenes, because wisdom lies in suing for peace while you can. Or as they might say in Vegas, stop while you’re still ahead. There is nothing of vital national security interest to us at stake in Ukraine. What is in the collective best interests of all parties, not least economically, is a reasonably peaceful resolution of the conflict. The end result won’t make us perfectly happy, but since we have nothing at stake in Ukraine, are not willing to risk even close to as much as Russia in this, and stand to gain very little even if we were willing, conceding the thing won’t cost us much more than eating a small slice of crow. This is preferable to another global economic recession, the continuance of low grade conflict while only hurts civilians in the contested region, or outright armed conflict with Russia or its proxies.

#6 Comment By The Wet One On December 9, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

Aw, c’mon folks?

War with Russia. What’s the worst that can happen? Seriously? What could possibly go wrong?


#7 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On December 9, 2014 @ 12:25 pm

I would make a small correction to otherwise, as always, excellent piece by Philip Giraldi. Russia, unlike Japan of 1930s, has many more degrees of freedom in her energy and trade policies. Reorientation to the East is obvious now, but then again, economically modern Asia is by no means inferior to Europe.

#8 Comment By James Canning On December 9, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

A strong argument indeed can be made that foolish promoters of “democracy” did a great deal to damage Russia’s relations with the EU and the US.

#9 Comment By simon94022 On December 9, 2014 @ 6:28 pm

Amash (R-Mich.)
Bishop (R-Utah)
Jones (R-NC)
Massie (R-KY)
Rohrbacher (R-Calif.)

These are the five Republicans who had the courage and intelligence to vote No on HR 758. They are the remnant of strong principled conservatism on Capitol Hill.

#10 Comment By Tom On December 9, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

I am so tired of “MY” government, fighting wars, causing conflicts, torturing, to what end, and more importantly to whom’s benefit?

#11 Comment By cecelia On December 10, 2014 @ 12:32 am

While the silly ones try to get us all to buy their list of enemies – Russia, Iran and China we force Russia to get closer to China (at least for awhile) and ignore the real threats to security and prosperity.

Check out the condition of our own nuclear arsenal.

#12 Comment By Neal On December 10, 2014 @ 5:54 am

I wouldn’t buy a product I knew was made in Russia since they shot down that airliner last summer. It’s darn near impossible anymore to participate in this so-called civilization without enriching or enabling some corrupt enterprise.

I also find these arguments for engaging with Russia (or any other uncooperative state) to be morally bankrupt. We should enable them because if we don’t they might be worse? This is the logic of blackmail.

#13 Comment By mightypeon On December 10, 2014 @ 10:29 am

I would echo the fact that Russia has thankfully far better options available then war. We should all be thankfull for it.

The sheer idiocy of the US planners is something else though.
Right now, they attempt to end Russias role as an independent player on the geopolitical chess role. They intend to turn Russia into some kind of US pawn. The latter simply will not happen. Russians remember how times as a pawn were under Yeltsin, and nearly noone wants to go back to that. The US may, temporarily, succeed in stopping Russia from being a player, but that would only transform Russia into the Queen for the Chinese.

I mean, just look at Chinas main strategic weaknesses:
1: Chinas current “best ally” is Pakistan. If Pakistan is your best ally, you got a problem. Russia is a huge, absolutly gigantic upgrade over Pakistan.
2: Chinese relies on maritime routes to fuel the resource demands of her burgeoning economy. These maritime routes could be blockaded by the US navy, something which adds considerable vulnerabilities to Chinas decision making. The US Navy cannot blockade Russian Oil pipelines going into China.
3: China is currently playing Poker with the US concerning the East Asian and South Chinese seas, and also chess against the Indians, Russians and Vietnamese, who have their own little “let us agree to not have a too dominant China” agreement. This agreement uses drastically different ways of “soft containment” then the western led containers do.
Containing China without Russian cooperation on that is already iffy (one should note that Russia and India have higher tolerances for what they consider as threatening Chinese dominance then the USA does), attempting to contain China against Russia is simply lunacy, and both New Delhi and Hanoi know this.
India will opt for neutrality, and Russia will happily ease them into that. Vietnam will likely attempt neutrality too, while trying to maintain beneficial relations with all major groupings (China, Russia, India, Japan, USA) in the sacred pursuit of the best deal.
While one should not underestimate the Vietnamese, especially as far as their Sinophobia is concerned, one thing should be kept in mind:
Of the purported US lead Anti Chinese East Asian Nato equivalent, Vietnam would be the only nation that actually has a land border with China, and one that is really close to its capital. In the event of a clash, China would marshall her land forces into Vietnam in order to gain a bargaining chip. These land forces wont have much to do anyway.
Vietnam could impose costs on that attempt, but not prevent it from happening. This makes neutrality really appealing, and joining the “East Asian Nato” really unappealing.

#14 Comment By JohnG On December 10, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

Ah, the idiocy of our political class continues. The main problem is that the overarching framework is still that bankrupt neocon idea of “the benevolent world hegemon.”

Have they ever received the news from Iraq and Afghanistan?! IT IS NOT WORKING guys! And it could never work anyway, as no empire can ever service all its clients in the long run, especially not on a global scale. And BTW, China’s GDP has just surpassed that of the US in real terms, and the nominal GDP is sure to follow, probably sooner rather than later.

The best hope we have is a multilateral system in which some basic norms are respected by all. You do this by forming broad coalitions and setting a good example. Then if China ever tries to cross these lines, the whole world will be on your side. And what did our smart neocons get us to do instead? VIOLATE all norms, from Kosovo to Iraq and Libya, not to mention Guantanamo, and much of the world (most Sunni Arabs, half of Libyan clans, most Serbs and their fellow orthodox Christians in Europe, a large majority of Afghans and Pakistanis, Turks are probably getting there too these days) can’t wait for a more multipolar world to emerge and some “China” or “Russia” to step in on their side. We are already seeing this in Syria and it will only get worse (Turkey has just signed a gas deal with Putin).

The world hegemon project is already bankrupt, it’s just that those in charge haven’t noticed. The subjugation of Russia was probably the next step after the subjugation of the Middle East. That this would be attempted despite the clear fiasco in the ME is a troubling indication that the leaders may be delusional. Or so blinded and arrogant that they don’t even have a plan B.

The way we are going, we may truly blow it, just wait for Front National to win an election in France. There goes Europe as an ally, and who will be left then? Saudi Arabia and Israel? I wouldn’t bet on that either. And most of Europe may in the end move into the “allied with Russia” column, talk about blowback.

The world will be multipolar despite what our neocon megalomaniacs wish, plan, or do. We can continue to ignore this at our own peril, or we can adopt the smartest strategy for this multipolar world that’s coming. In it, US and Russia are pretty natural allies, actually. And the US needs to adopt the posture that the Brits had toward Europe for centuries, just don’t allow a single hostile power to emerge and threaten you. Given its talents and resources, the US can definitely play this role and play it well. Or it can continue this delusional march toward world domination that cannot end well.

#15 Comment By GusFarmer On December 10, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

This whole situation is deja-vu. Recently, for my town’s 200th anniversary, I’ve been looking at old newspapers, specifically from 1960, and all of the nonsense we see today was occurring back then – planes buzzing each other, hostile talk, new weapons being tested, overtures to negotiate being rebuffed rudely, etc. As we know now, those issues were building to the Cuban Missile Crisis: a hostile threat too close to home for us to accept. That mess just barely avoided turning into WW3, and Ukraine has the same importance for them. This must stop.

#16 Comment By AnotherBeliever On December 10, 2014 @ 11:20 pm

GusFarmer, it wouldn’t have been World War III. It would have been World War Zero, nuclear winter, game over. You are correct, this must stop. Sooner or later, it will. The costs will be lower to all involved the sooner it stops.

#17 Comment By Gary Mead On December 11, 2014 @ 7:49 am

This article sounds like it was written by a Muscovite troll. A few relevant points:

1. Ukraine is an independent country, and has been again since 1991. It was also an independent country briefly early in the last century but the Soviet Union conquered it.

2. Moscow does not have the right to decide the policies of Ukraine, only the people of Ukraine do.

3. The war in the eastern regions of Ukraine is not a genuine civil war. It is a war started by Muscovites – Igor Strelkov has admitted as such – with Muscovite soldiers and weapons being used against Ukrainians.

The American Conservative’s defense of the Muscovite regime is shameful. You have no business talking about freedom when you are willing to allow Moscow to enslave the Ukrainians.

By the way, the capital of Ukraine is Kyiv, not Kiev. Kiev is a Muscovite spelling.

#18 Comment By Miles Pilkington On December 11, 2014 @ 8:09 am

Talk about propaganda. Giraldi links to an article supposedly proving the US funded regime change in Ukraine to the tune of $5 billion, but it concludes: “Contrary to claims, the United States did not spend $5 billion to incite the rebellion in Ukraine.” Perhaps Giraldi should read the articles he uses in support of his argument. It is also worth noting that the US sent billions of dollars in aid to Russia at the same time.

#19 Comment By JohnG On December 11, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

This article sounds like it was written by a Muscovite troll. A few relevant points:

1. Ukraine is an independent country, and has been again since 1991. It was also an independent country briefly early in the last century but the Soviet Union conquered it…

And your comment sounds like it was written by an extreme nationalist with maximalist aspirations :-). Check out any map with election results and you’ll see that there are really two Ukraines. Sough-east and central-west. One that feels itself close to Russia and the other one that sees itself in the EU and as far from Russia as it can possibly get.

I’d say we have no dog in this fight. Let them see whether they can form some sort of federation that is bearable to both sides or let them split up. It wouldn’t be the first country that breaks up for sure, but definitely not something worth going to war with Russia, that would be crazy!

#20 Comment By william marshall On December 11, 2014 @ 11:11 pm

I agree totally with the above article.
“Don’t risk war with Russia”
To me it’s mostly common sense.

#21 Comment By Brian Allan Cobb On December 12, 2014 @ 10:19 am

“But there was [the Cold War] going on, even if it was tepid, and because the two sides were in dead earnest it was anything goes and more was always better.”

And just as useless a war.

#22 Comment By coward On December 12, 2014 @ 11:05 am

Why war with anyone? Who wants to take over the U.S.? This leads to looking at the definition of the phrase “take over.” Like many, I did not understand the U.S. rush to war against Iraq. Then Pat Buchanan in The American Conservative provided irrefutable evidence of a neocon cabal driving us to war on behalf of a small and very foreign state that impacted the very fiber of our collective being. One must admire courageous people like Buchanan, Michael Rivera etc who speak the truth when it is probably social and economic suicide to do so.

#23 Comment By Stewart On December 12, 2014 @ 9:53 pm

Interesting, every article on TAC seem to take a predetermined position with the same tired conclusion. (No I’m not a hawk.) But I keep hoping that for a spark not ignited by the Party line.

#24 Comment By Mr. Amagi On December 13, 2014 @ 3:23 am

What most Americans know of Russia is a line drawing caricature. There is a Russian intellectual and spiritual depth that shallow Western civilization has not often matched let alone comprehended. Read Dostoevsky. Read Solzhenitsyn. Attend a Divine Liturgy at an Orthodox Church. Visit the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Then ask yourself in light of Congress’s idiotic and duplicitous HR 758, in light of Victoria Nuland’s antics at the Maidan, in light of endless war and torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, et al., has America morphed into Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire now?

#25 Comment By JamesBomb On April 15, 2018 @ 7:43 pm

The real question is, can anything save the petrodollar?
Constant western establishment fear mongering, militant foreign policy and diplomatic incompetence will cause the Russians, the Chinese, and other like minded nations to look for alternatives.
It’s not aggression, it’s just common sense/progress.