15 December 2014


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I never thought it the resolution had any legally binding language. However, resolutions could easily be used as justification by the current regime or even a future one to justify some kind of adventurism. A much better resolution would council the USG to not get involved.


Thank you very much for the clarification Dr. Silverman, I am not familiar with the ins and outs of the American system.

What might be the response of Congress should Obama decide to escalate the action against Russia? Would or could Congress resile from its position, walk back its words and prevent Obama from starting a shooting war?


As I repeatedly note, I am not a lawyer, but from my US history classes almost 50 years ago, I recall one of the wise decisions by the framers of the US Constitution was the separation of powers. As the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the president can send forces where he decides. The Congress, however, controls the purse-strings. Others here will elaborate in more detail on that I am certain, especially in this case.


Walrus you are a cool guy.

Ex 11B

The Russians got the message. A big old poke on the Bear for sure, but we have we have been up to as much covertly, and even overtly.Which of course the Russians are aware of.So its a little closing of the barn door.

High school mean girl politics.With Nuclear bombs.


Sorry for not answering this question: Would or could Congress resile from its position, walk back its words and prevent Obama from starting a shooting war?

I would hope there are some fail-safes built in like the Kremlin-White House hotline. This is all too reminiscent of my childhood with MAD and my adulthood with a favorite song of mine from years ago, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Russian Roulette: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT_RGgFSN3M

My apologies to those who do not appreciate the music.

Adam L Silverman


No worries, our system has a lot of peculiarities. Many of the ones for Congress are the result of internal formal and informal rules that are arcane in the fullest sense of the word. I've had to teach American Federal Government classes as my doctorate is joint in criminology and political science (my specialty was actually how low intensity warfare is a learned behavior from the associational level of behavior) and I always check with a specialist who knows the minutiae!

To your specific question: I honestly don't think that President Obama would try to escalate action in lethal/kinetic terms. My somewhat informed impression is that the strategy is to continue to apply economic, diplomatic, and informational pressure because, and no offense to any Ukranian guests here at SST, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are simply not important enough to the US to go to war over. Given the composition of our Congress, especially the GOP House majority and the soon the be in place GOP majority in the Senate, I think it is far more likely that members of Congress will agitate for some sort of action.

I don't want to leave this just hanging, so if you'll indulge me several more lines, I'm going to try to explain my reasoning. There are, I think, three different dynamics going on. The first has to do with both the President and American politics. A couple of months ago the President stated that his guiding principle was "don't do stupid stuff". Here's a link to various reports and analyses of what everyone thinks the President meant by that remark: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=President+Obama+don't+do+stupid+shit&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8
My takeaway was that while this wasn't a specific strategy, it certainly was at least a unifying policy principle. My impression of the President over the past six years is that his preference is to avoid confrontation. He often seems to negotiate with himself on major issues before ever engaging his interlocutors. From my perspective this is too often a vice, not a virtue! I've also observed a preference for institutionalism. For instance, when he was being pushed to respond to the allegations of Syrian use of chemical weapons, he stated that Congress needed to decide. Congress voted not to provide funding or authorization, despite significant numbers of members of Congress telling the media that we had to do something because there had just been a chemical attack. The result was that the US did not attack the Assad government or its forces. Believe it or not the recent immigration executive order is similar. Congress only appropriates money for the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to process and deport 400,000 individuals per year who have either entered the US illegally or have overstayed their legal entry authorizations. At the same time members of Congress are constantly harping that we have to do something. Keeping in mind that an immigration reform bill that passed the Senate has been waiting for scheduling for a vote in the House for months - a vote that it will never get, the President, the leadership at DHS, and the personnel at ICE have to work out a plan to prioritize. If Congress won't act, regardless of why it won't, to make necessary changes, and there's only funding to handle 400,000 cases a year, then prioritization is going to be established. You, me, others may or may not like that prioritization, but if Congress isn't going to act, then all that anyone is left with is fiddling over which classes of illegal entrants or residents gets deported and in what order.

The second has to do with the nature of the American policy making apparatus. COL Lang and a number of others here at SST have remarked that the policy advisors and subject matter experts around the President are likely to recommend courses of actions and strategies that may suit their individual theories and positions (ideological, political, academic), but might not be the best solutions. I would argue that this is the case regardless of President. Our policy options are tightly constrained because we have a revolving door of advisors, for both domestic and foreign policy issues, that come from a very small segment of organizations and institutions. They all know each other, even when they're on opposing sides they often socialize together, and this includes the DC news media and the punditocracy too. As a result we do not see major policy shifts, especially on foreign policy, because the limits of the discussion and debate are narrow. This is mirrored in our domestic politics. As a result, we get artificially constrained policy and strategy.

Third, and finally, there's another player in all this Russia, especially President Putin. Everything I've read on what was driving his decision making points to two different sets of concerns. The first, a national concern, is that Russia had been badly treated internationally, especially by the Western coalition led by the US and the EU - including NATO, since the fall of the Soviet Union and the stalled transition to the post-Soviet system. Moreover, Russia had to both take it because its economy was weak and Western coalition rubbed Russia's nose in its weak position by expanding NATO and the EU into Russia's traditional sphere of influence and its near abroad. As long as global petroleum prices where high, Russia and Putin had both the ways and means (or motive and means if you like) to try to change this dynamic. The other dynamic is organized crime. One of Putin's first post KGB job in politics was an administrative position in St. Petersberg overseeing import/export licenses for businesses.* This was the period that the Bratva, Russian organized crime, was taking over the business sector. It is speculated that either Putin got his hooks into them and rode them all the way up, they got their hooks into him and rode him all the way up, or that its a symbiotic relationship. Regardless, Yanukovich was the boss or ceiling for all the organized crime in his area. That's how he worked his way up from being a petty functionary and criminal in Donetsk to being the head of Donetsk region to running the Ukraine. His ceiling was Putin. Protecting Yanukovich and then responding to his ouster make a lot more sense within an organized crime context. Regardless of what's been driving Putin - the attempt to redress national insult, solidify an organized crime position, or some combination - the whole affair in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine is an example of how one strategic victory can lead to new problems.

* A recent book on the connection between Putin and Russian organized crime was recently killed by its publisher in Britain. It was written by an American scholar. The publisher scrapped publication within months of its release date because it was worried about business reprisals from Russia. It was ultimately published by a US publisher. Reports on this can be found here:


Congress has found a way to lethally arm Ukraine and further sanction Russia. Obama might not sign the bill to become law, but the US Congress has 'put up'.


FB Ali

As Robt Willmann's opening comment on the Walrus thread made clear Resolution 758 had been overtaken by something much more substantial - Bill HR. 5859. This has now been passed by Congress, and even though it does not itself 'declare war' nor can it compel the President to do so, the point made by Walrus remains valid: it enables the President to arm the Ukrainians, which is tantamount to starting a proxy war with Russia.

Unfortunately, our Polish troll, Piotr, hijacked that discussion and prevented the implications of this serious move to be lost in the verbiage.

Even Dr Silverman seems to have missed the two posts by Robt Willman on that thread. HR. 5859 is the issue, not 758.


FB Ali et al

5859 will be a law if Obama signs the bill and he may well do so but it really doesn't require him to do anything except send reports to congress. what you should worry about is the possibility that some cretin will win the WH. I think I may have to support HC after all. pl

FB Ali

Col Lang,

I hope you are right in thinking HC will be circumspect about pushing Russia (and able to resist all the pressure that will be put on her to be "tough").

If Obama has one virtue, it is that he is cautious. It doesn't appear as if HC shares that trait.

FB Ali


That was a very informative comment. I tend to agree with your views - except in one respect.

I would suggest that to reduce Putin and his actions to an "organized crime context" is to seriously misread the situation. I would urge you to read some of his recent substantive speeches. Someone propped up by organized crime, or even associated with it, does not talk like that. They, and his actions, paint a very different picture of the man.

I support the fairly widely held view that he is about the only statesman on the international stage today.


Well, that would save some time for President Ted Cruz!

My impression is no amount of offensive weapons would not enable Ukraine to defeat the rebels, in he face of massive Russian "assistance".

But is it possible that large amounts of defensive gear could help the Ukrainians stabilize the current line of control? For example, I understand that the US has no ban against anti-personnel mines (neither does Russia).


FB Ali
what is the alternative? pl

FB Ali

I agree, between HC and any likely Republican candidate, there is no other choice.

If there is still anything left in 2020 to allow an election to take place, maybe the American people will be roused enough to choose Elizabeth Warren! (One can dream).


@ Dr Silverman (and FB Ali) --

I concur with FB Ali's intro to his comment to you. I ran across a US citizen's article on her remembrances of Vladimir Putin from the 1990's to the 2000's a number of months ago and I had a lot of difficulty in finding/remembering them, but I did eventually find her article about Putin --and I found it believable. Among her recollections of Putin are the following regarding his character:

In 1992, Quote >> I became aware that this interviewer was different from other Soviet bureaucrats who always seemed to fall into chummy conversations with foreigners with hopes of obtaining bribes in exchange for the Americans' requests. CCI stood on the principle that we would never, never give bribes. This bureaucrat was open, inquiring, and impersonal in demeanor. After more than an hour of careful questions and answers, he quietly explained that he had tried hard to determine if the proposal was legal, then said that unfortunately at the time it was not. A few good words about the proposal were uttered. That was all. He simply and kindly showed us to the door. Out on the sidewalk, I said to my colleague, "Volodya, this is the first time we have ever dealt with a Soviet bureaucrat who didn't ask us for a trip to the US or something valuable!" I remember looking at his business card in the sunlight––it read Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. > Year 2001: Jack Gosnell (former USCG mentioned earlier) explained his relationship with Putin when the latter was deputy mayor of St.Petersburg. The two of them worked closely to create joint ventures and other ways to promote relations between the two countries. Jack related that Putin was always straight up, courteous and helpful. When Putin's wife, Ludmila, was in a severe auto accident, Jack took the liberty (before informing Putin) to arrange hospitalization and airline travel for her to get medical care in Finland. When Jack told Putin, he reported that the latter was overcome by the generous offer, but ended saying that he couldn't accept this favor, that Ludmila would have to recover in a Russian hospital. She did––although medical care in Russia was abominably bad in the 1990s.<< End Quote.

The author's name is Sharon Tennison and she was involved with a citizen's initiative to help Russia with business education and connection to the West.

The link is:


Obviously I can't vouch for the truth of it all, but if you read Sharon's article it does have a number of resonances with what I consider to be more truth than propaganda. If not for you -- then I'd like to hear your criticisms.

My background: I grew up as an exile from my birth country (one of the Baltics) and I was subjected to constant criticism of the Soviet Union (USSR)-- and rightly so. However, since my reconnection with my relatives there and numerous visits (including the place where the KGB tortured & murdered my fellow Balts -- by the way it was across the street where I was born in 1944) I began to realize that the Soviet Union and Russia were quite separate entities and I actually had relatives with Russian roots. More than a decade has passed while I've come to the boundaries of understanding my complicated relationship with the old propaganda against the USSR and the "realities" of the concrete influence of Russia over centuries in my homeland. However, I do have to admit that most of my US relatives are not pleased with my current "search for truth."

The bottom line is that viewing the relationships of the USA with Russia (or their present actors) is a multidimensional situation that the "search for truth" is massively retarded by simplistic or jingoistic views.

Adam L Silverman

Brigadier Ali and JurisV,

I don't disagree with you. My take is that Putin's motivation are a combination of the two that I laid out. I don't think they're mutually exclusive and it certainly wouldn't be the first time a national leader acted for both national and personal aspirations and concerns.


I appreciate your views Dr Silverman -- they help me better understand my somewhat emotionally charged views which have roller-coasted during the last year -- from an virulently anti-Russian perspective, to uncertainty, to finally a very critical appreciation of current events. And thanks to you I have a better understanding of the difficulties of having even a clue about the motivations of actors on the world stage. I have to admit that this is all a very new, uncertain view of the world for me; because of that I find your discussion/arguments a rather strong, challenging but yet a comforting guide -- as well as the whole of Colonel Lang's site.

David Habakkuk

Adam Silverman,

With respect, the RFE/RL stories to which you link do not say that Karen Dawisha’s book was scrapped by the publisher ‘because it was worried about business reprisals from Russia.’ The headline to the first story – which correctly summarises it – reads ‘Putin Book Alleging Mob Ties Shelved Over British Libel Fears.’

As you will be aware, a feature of politics in the post-Soviet space has been the extremely ingenious disinformation – there is a very great of what the Russians call ‘black piar’ and ‘kompromat’ – deployed by all kinds of different people. Moreover, one of which Putin’s oligarch opponents put the funds they looted from their fellow-countrymen was in ‘information wars’ against their nemesis.

Without having read the Dawisha book, I cannot even hazard a tentative judgement as to whether she has unearthed credible evidence, or been taken in propaganda. But it is not obvious that figures against whom she makes serious accusations should not be allowed the same recourse to law of which the late Boris Berezovsky made frequent use.

And really, having recourse to law is something quite different from ‘business reprisals’. If you have any evidence that CUP has acted improperly out of cowardice, rather than going through the normal processes of ‘lawyering’ applied to books, television programmes, and newspaper articles, I suggest you produce it.

William R. Cumming

Thanks for your insights. Unfortunately few of the FP cadre in US are even capable of understanding your comment.

William R. Cumming

P.L. and ALL: My sources say the President will sign HR 5859!

William R. Cumming

General Ali! What merits do you find in Senator Warren? IMO, she does seem more honest and consistent than many others including HC!

Not sure about any FP she might adopt!


The Ukrainian armed forces do not lack material.

The Ukrainian armed forces lack trained troops and effective leaders, having suffered the destruction of about 10 maneuver brigades this past summer. They are in ruins, personnel-wise, and getting trained, well-led forces will be the work of months if not years.

What they can do is stand off and bombard civilians with artillery, or they can have their remaining cannon fodder march into Moloch's maw (Ukrainian troops have proven brave, give them their due), but the Ukrainian armed forces will not be undertaking effective offensive operations for quite some time.

FB Ali

I find Elizabeth Warren to be that rarity among public figures in the USA: someone who openly opposes Wall Street and is willing to fight the moneyed interests that appear to have so much influence on the US government.

I agree that she has not disclosed what her FP might be, but I believe that it will be in the broader interests of the American people rather than serving some particular constituencies or ideologies.



Somewhat off topic but the commodities price trends, particularly energy, are having some major geopolitical implications.

Russia is catching the headlines, but I note that Iran is also in difficulties and that is impacting their ability to subsidize Assad which seems unable to obtain the resources needed to put a knock out blow on rebels. One wonders if Iran might finally be interested in a reasonable nuke deal for sanctions release or rumor of sanctions reduction.

Then we have Venezuela in trouble as a high cost producer and Cuba making a diplomatic deal without the financial its benefactors of Venezuela or Russia.

China will negotiate any Russian energy deals at this point and India is importing with a surge from Iran at very low rates. Then we have Japan which also might get some relief as their trade deficit had been heavily driven by the fact they scaled back nuclear energy and needed to import fuel instead.

And near home we have Canada, a high cost producer, the Mountain and Southwestern US dependent on high energy prices. Most manufacturing jobs created in the US recently were because of energy prices and now one wonders about the political implications in those states and regions.

The bigger question I think is whether O&G price decreases are a single commodity phenomenon or part of a larger deflationary trend.

Last, war and the rumor of war in past time periods often caused a surge in economic activity, but in all parts Europe-Eurasia the impact might actually be reversed this time, or at least greatly delayed. Who is going to make big capital outlays in eastern Europe or the Middle East right now?

And in West Africa where oil deflation and epidemic fears have got to reduce economic activity, the implications on employment and stability have got to large.

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