Photo credits, clockwise from upper left: Time Magazine, Wikipedia, CBC, The Boston Globe
by FLO GOLOD
STOPPING THE WAR IN UKRAINE: A CALL FOR NEGOTIATIONS AND AN END TO NAME-CALLING
Flo Golod (with research and fact-checking by Dave Gutknecht)
The day after Russian troops invaded the eastern border of Ukraine, my Facebook feed filled up with Ukrainian flags, “Solidarity with Ukraine” banners, and a meme of a dove pooping on Putin’s head (a weird inversion of that peace symbol).
This is well-intentioned but, alas, recalls the bromide about the road to hell and what it is paved with. I’m asking my progressive friends and allies to dig deeper into the causes of this war and re-consider their response. Aid to refugees is urgently needed, but demonizing a head of state, even one considered an enemy, is unwise and possibly suicidal.
In a Waging Nonviolence article on resistance to war, Eli McCarthy describes the dangers of name-calling, even in private speech:
All stakeholders, including adversaries, need to be re-humanized. . . we must avoid labels such as calling persons or groups “evil,” “diabolical,” “irrational,” “thugs” or “monsters.” This doesn’t mean we agree with or justify their actions. Yet, the more we dehumanize others, the more we escalate, narrow our imagination, and enable dynamics of violence.
The urgent and unique role of American left liberals/progressives/radicals should be to hold our own government leaders accountable for their role in escalating this long-simmering conflict into war. I’d also urge us to be remember to be skeptical about what we’re reading and hearing from the mainstream press. Remember the “weapons of mass destruction,” widely and uncritically reported by public radio and the mainstream press? Those of you as old as I am may recall the early reporting on Vietnam was equally uncritical and hawkish.
Recent reports from the Ukrainian government, echoed by the West, are often unreliable. In wartime, each side will exaggerate or even fabricate enemy atrocities, which is why missing viewpoints and analysis found only in non-corporate media are so important. A chilling example with deadly results: the dramatic impact of Congressional testimony alleging that Iraqi soldiers ripped babies out of hospital incubators. This tearful account, delivered by the niece of then Kuwait ambassador and shown on national television, turned out to be false. But it helped build support for the war on Iraq.
Anyone with an ounce of empathy is sickened by the scenes of bombed buildings, corpses, and hordes of miserable people fleeing their homes. Who to blame? Putin gave the order. On his bald dome be it. But what provoked him? Ukraine troops massing at the border of Russian-speaking and Russian-allied Donbass? NATO troops and missiles trained on Russian from Poland, Romania, and Germany, to be brought even closer through placement in Ukraine?
The United States has been fighting a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine for years, and the Ukrainians are paying the price. However, Ukraine leadership and elements of Ukraine society are hardly innocent victims. After the US-backed 2014 coup, the first act of the Ukrainian parliament was to outlaw the Russian language while approving use of other languages. Such a law was not actually approved until 2019, but by that time the Ukrainian government had been shelling the Donbass region for several years. White supremacists and avowed Nazi sympathizers, organized in the Azov movement, have undue influence in Ukrainian politics. They were integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, and their Right Sector is a force in Ukraine’s military.
The issues at stake in this war are too complex to be covered adequately here. (See sidebar for useful history and analysis.) Russia, having suffered terrible invasions from the west, sought non-hostile relationships with its border countries, including Ukraine, where the CIA had supported anti-Russian activities beginning in the 1940s. The US abandoned its WWII alliance with Russia, launching the Cold War and fomenting anticommunist hysteria to justify ever-increasing military budgets.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia believed it had obtained an agreement that NATO forces would not expand east of Germany. Historians argue about who said what. James Baker, President George Bush’s secretary of state, initially indicated to President Mikhail Gorbachev that the West would limit NATO expansion, but he was quickly reprimanded by Bush. Baker walked the promise back with prep-school joviality, remarking, “I got a little ahead of my skis.” The point is that this strategic tension has been recognized by American and European leaders at least since the 1944 Yalta agreement of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, this status quo was abandoned, with the US squandering a potential “peace dividend.” In the late 1990s, even Western-friendly President Boris Yeltsin, who welcomed Wall Street into Russia’s coffers and inaugurated an era known as “cowboy capitalism,” cautioned against expanding NATO, saying it threated Russia’s interests.
US leaders made a grievous mistake by not forging a path of peaceful co-existence with Russia. The bloodshed in Ukraine is the most recent result of that intransigence. This is not just the opinion of an aging pacifist or, horrors, a Putin apologist. William J. Burns, Biden’s CIA Director, had been warning about the dangers of NATO expansion since he was an officer at the Moscow embassy in 1995. Ronald Suny, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, reminds us,
In June 1997, 50 prominent foreign policy experts signed an open letter to Clinton, saying, “We believe that the current U.S. led effort to expand NATO … is a policy error of historic proportions” that would “unsettle European stability.”
American hawks of both parties ignore this history, at our common peril. Recently, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, visiting Poland, gushed that, “The war is bringing our country together” (StarTribune, March 12). Is war, bolstered by billions of dollars in American arms, truly the basis for American unity?
There is no military solution to this conflict. Sending more arms only enriches the American war industry and increases the Ukrainian body count. Sanctions don’t work either, and UN member countries are not authorized to impose them alone. (According to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, only the UN Security Council has a mandate by the international community to apply sanctions (Article 41) that must be complied with by all UN member states (Article 2,2). The US has imposed sanctions on over twenty countries. Sanctions against the governments of Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela have starved those countries’ citizens and failed to bring about any change in their leaders’ positions.
While horrified by Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons, let us remember that US leaders have turned a deaf ear to repeated calls for a “no first strike” clause in our nuclear policy and have continuously diluted the level of grievance that might justify a US nuclear attack. We are citizens of the only country that ever dropped a nuclear bomb on a living human population. In 2001 President Bush withdrew the US from an antiballistic missile agreement with Russia, and in 2017 President Trump withdrew the US from another arms-limitations agreement. Meanwhile, US military budget and activities continue to expand. Since our leaders have dismissed opportunities for disarmament, we are backed into a corner, forced to take Putin’s threat seriously. The only sane response is serious negotiation, not an ever-escalating supply of weapons.
The better response from peace-seeking Americans would be to exercise our citizenship by holding to account our own officials: Klobuchar, Biden, and their Democratic and Republican allies in war-making. We should demand they support diplomatic discussions that would bring about a ceasefire and ultimately a treaty or agreement between Ukraine and Russia that would satisfy some of Russia’s concerns and ensure a neutral Ukraine. As of this writing, Zelensky has agreed to drop proposing NATO membership. But the status of the Donbass republics is unresolved, and Russia is demanding that Crimea remain part of Russia. Had Zelensky’s Western backers urged him to not seek NATO membership two months (if not years!) ago, we might not be watching this carnage, nor preparing to make new homes for millions of Ukrainian refugees.
It’s not too late to come together and take a stand for a saner approach to this conflict. Consider the powerful demands put forth by Code Pink, a woman-led national peace organization (https://www.codepink.org/about):
- continued rejection of a no-fly zone over Ukraine;
- no NATO expansion;
- recognition of Ukraine as a neutral country;
- an off-ramp for sanctions on Russia to be lifted;
- support for an international security agreement to protect the interests of all people on the European continent to remain free from war and occupation;
- support for Ukrainian demilitarization to the degree that missiles would be banned;
- supply humanitarian aid to Ukraine and support Ukrainian refugees.
The causes of this war, any war, are complex and subject to debate. We can, and should, debate the role of each major power, NATO, and Ukrainian leadership. What shouldn’t be up for debate, at least on the left, is the role of our government in fueling hostilities with arms paid for by our tax dollars (whatever happened to Build Back Better?), and the real threat of nuclear war if we don’t immediate replace weapons and name-calling with negotiations.
Sources for Ukraine article
Caitlin Johnson, Consortium News 3.29.22, ttps://consortiumnews.com/2022/03/28/caitlin-johnstone-re-visiting-russiagate-in-light-of-the-ukraine-war/
Code Pink: letter to Biden 3.27.22
Chris Hedges, Common Dreams 3.15.22, https://www.commondreams.org/views/2022/03/15/putin-has-given-masters-war-exactly-what-they-wanted
Democracy Now Interview with Yurii Sheilazhenko https://www.democracynow.org/2022/3/1/ukrainian_pacifist_movement_russia_missile_strike
Pugwash, a network of scientists dedicated to peace: 2.26.22, https://pugwash.org/
Joe Lauria, Consortium News 3.29.22, https://consortiumnews.com/2022/03/27/can-russia-escape-the-us-trap/
Richard Falk 3.30.22
Mike Eckel, Reuters 5.19.21, https://www.rferl.org/a/nato-expansion-russia-mislead/31263602.html
Patrick Wintour, 1.12.22, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/12/russias-belief-in-nato-betrayal-and-why-it-matters-today
Brian Garvey, Counterpunch 4.2.22, https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/04/01/the-ukraine-crisis-is-splitting-the-peace-movement-when-its-needed-most/
Cameron Leckie, 4.1.1, https://consortiumnews.com/2022/03/31/ukraine-transfer-of-power-balance-from-west-to-east/
Open Democracy describes the language law as another attempt to divide Ukrainian citizens: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/ukraine-language-law-en/.)
Eli McCarthy, Waging Nonviolence 3.23.22, (https://wagingnonviolence.org/2022/03/5-ways-to-support-courageous-nonviolent-resistance-in-ukraine/)
Tara John and Jim Lister, 3.30.22, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/29/europe/ukraine-azov-movement-far-right-intl-cmd/index.html
Benjamin Davis, 3.1.22, https://progressive.org/latest/us-reaping-sowed-in-ukraine-benjamin-davies-220201/
*Michael Hudson (https://michael-hudson.com) has interviews on several sites on US dollar hegemony and the sanctions.
*John Mearsheimer, U of Chicago international relations expert, videos online.
*Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector, antiwar interviews and commentary online.
*Stephen Cohen (RIP), Russia-US relations scholar, excellent background interviews online.
*Alex Christoforou, Greek citizen, daily updates online, informed contrast with US news.
*Oliver Stone 2016 production, “Ukraine on Fire,” informative, online with “warnings.”