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WASHINGTON – As Moscow tells the Obama administration that current sanctions aren’t working and future ones won’t either, a group of retired U.S. intelligence officers have suggested that President Obama show restraint in the face of what they believe is a rush to restart the Cold War.
In a “Memorandum to the President,” former intelligence officials who now are members of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, or VIPS, with experience in dealing with the former Soviet Union, have told the president that a commitment of the military isn’t the answer.
The open memorandum to the president comes as the Obama administration announces a new round of economic sanctions against the assets of two close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin and 17 Russian companies “linked to Putin’s inner circle.”
Previously, the administration placed sanctions against the assets of lower-level Russian officials.
All the sanctions to date, included the latest round, are viewed by most observers as being too little, too late and reflect problems between the Obama administration and European allies in coming to a consensus on the severity of punishment.
Europe has hundreds of billions of dollars in business and trade with Russia and receives some 30 percent of all its energy needs from Russia.
Concern about the increasing prospect of military action between the West and Russia also was reflected in a recent interview with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier by Der Spiegel magazine in which he described the prospect of military escalation with Russia as the “worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.”
“We all sense that the events of the last few months could lead to a break, to a crossroad for Europe,” Steinmeier said. “I understand why that might scare people – nobody could have foreseen how quickly we’ve slid into the worst crisis since the end of the Cold War.”
Steinmeier added that there is no military solution to the conflict in Ukraine.
“If the wrong decisions are made now, they could nullify decades of work furthering the freedom and security of Europe,” Steinmeier said. “Nobody of sound mind can seriously want that – because we would pay the price for it in Europe – all of us, without exception.”
The Cold War veteran intelligence professionals feel the same way.
“While we support U.S. efforts to aid the development of a pluralistic democracy in Ukraine, including assistance in conducting free and fair elections, we believe that military support and direct involvement by U.S. troops is a step that will virtually guarantee escalation of the conflict, possibly leading to direct confrontation between two nuclear-armed great powers – a situation that should, and can, be easily avoided if the interests of all countries, including Russia, are taken into account,” the VIPS memo said.
Signatories to the memo say that taken together, they have almost 200 years of experience. Signatories include:
- William Binney, former technical director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
- Thomas Drake, former defense intelligence senior executive service, NSA
- Philip Giraldi, CIA, operations officer (ret.)
- Larry Johnson, CIA and State Department (ret.)
- David MacMichael, former senior estimates officer, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
- Ray McGovern, former chief of CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and presidential briefer (ret.)
- Tom Maertens, former foreign service officer and National Security Council director for non-proliferation
- Elizabeth Murray, former deputy national intelligence officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
- Todd E. Pierce, U.S. Army judge aAdvocate general corps (ret.)
- Coleen Rowley, former chief division counsel and FBI special agent (ret.)
They pointed out that the Ukraine situation has once again brought about the playing out of a great power rivalry.
“Our still-vivid memories of the Cold War and the harm it inflicted on the world’s security prompts us to argue that the troubles in Ukraine should not be permitted to usher a return to a bipolar world in which two heavily armed superpowers confront each other at every level, including on a global scale,” the retired intelligence officers said.
The retired intelligence officers pointed out that Ukraine is on Moscow’s doorstep and, in part, is ethnically Russian. Russian engagement with Ukraine, they said, “does not threaten vital U.S. interests.”
Any sanctions to be imposed, they said, should be done with “considerable restraint, as their effectiveness is questionable and they frequently serve only to harden adversarial positions.”
They cautioned against any “significant military moves,” whether unilateral or in concert with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, saying they would be seen as provocative with no solution to existing disagreements.
“We argue for more, not less, diplomatic engagement, based on our own experience as witnesses to many missed opportunities over the past 50-plus years in which the United States – to our regret – has found itself all too often on the wrong side of history,” the memo said.
As a sign of the buildup of tensions leading to the current crisis, the retired intel officers said that Russia could hardly have ignored Washington’s “de facto encouragement and achievement of ‘regime change’ in Ukraine,” resulting in the unseating of the “duly-elected (though thoroughly corrupt) government in Kiev.
“Moreover, continued efforts by the West to draw Ukraine into NATO would guarantee Russian hostility for many years to come,” they said.
They said that Moscow will not accept Ukraine’s entry into NATO, adding that it will not make Europe more secure but rather increase the danger of war.