World Politics

An Exchange of Views on the War in Ukraine



The following is an exchange of views on the war in Ukraine. It begins with a slightly edited version of a letter Pete Seidman, a leader of the U.S. Hands Off Cuba and Venezuela coalition in Miami, sent to Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and Codepink: Women for Peace, and Nicolas (Sandy) Davies, an independent journalist and researcher for Codepink.

Seidman is responding to the article by Benjamin and Davies “How the US Started a New Cold War with Russia and Left Ukraine to Fight It.” The latter appeared on February 28, 2022, in CommonDreams and is republished below. The compilation includes replies by Davies and Benjamin to Seidman, which appear immediately after Seidman’s letter and are published with the authors’ permission.

Cassia Laham, a leader of the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), published an article on March 1, headlined “No To NATO,” which expresses views similar to those in the CommonDreams piece. It is also republished at the end of this exchange for the information of our readers.

World-Outlook is publishing this exchange of views because of the importance of the issues involved for antiwar fighters and others. The editors of World-Outlook share Seidman’s views.

Subheadings are by World-Outlook.


By Pete Seidman

MIAMI, Florida, March 3, 2022

Dear Medea and Sandy,

This is a brief note responding to your article, “How the US Started a New Cold War with Russia and Left Ukraine to Fight It.”

Wars put politics sharply to the test. In this case, you rightly say, “We sincerely hope that Russia will end its illegal, brutal invasion of Ukraine long before it commits a fraction of the massive killing and destruction that the United States and its allies have committed in our illegal wars.” 

But in my view, the tone and emphasis of your article seeks to dance around that central point by suggesting that Russia has been in some way justifiably provoked by NATO/US economic and political aggression towards its borders. 


OPINION


A Ukrainian soldier guards his position on March 12, 2022, in Mariupol, a city in southern Ukraine surrounded and bombarded by Russian invading forces. (Photo: Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

Even if Russia is convinced it has strategic interests in the Ukraine, this does not in any way justify an invasion of that country. 

You know well that the road to real peace lies through justice, which in this case has to include the right of the Ukraine to self-determination. It is the second largest country in Europe, not a pawn in any way justifiably liable to the military force of Russia as it pursues its perceived interests, behaving as though it is still the prison house of nations where Great Russian chauvinism characterized an empire whose ultimate fall is mourned by no one.

It’s true that the foreign policy of the U.S. and NATO is despicable, aggressive, and in my terminology, imperialist. People living in the U.S. have a particular responsibility to speak out against this criminal policy. 

But no amount of U.S./NATO aggression justifies in any way the Russian invasion. Russia also is a capitalist power that has no lofty aims whatsoever purposing its brutal, immoral, and illegal invasion of Ukraine. This is a geopolitical slugging match in which the people of the Ukraine and their right to national self-determination are already suffering and paying the biggest price.

There is nothing whatsoever progressive in Russia’s moves. Just because they are in a conflict with NATO doesn’t make them in any way progressive. This is a thug fight. The fighters to be supported are the Ukrainians who want the Russian forces out of their country. In the course of this fight, political clarity will be enhanced inside Ukraine as well, the role of rightist forces in the country will be more clearly understood, and the possibility of unity in the fight for a new, progressive or even revolutionary Ukraine can be advanced. No doubt Washington and NATO will intervene in this complex situation as they always do. But the Ukrainians have already shown that their fightback goes way beyond the manipulations of any hostile power.

Ukraine’s independence at heart of debate

I really believe that the independence of the Ukraine is at the heart of this. Calls for “peace” that do not specifically include calls for the Russians to withdraw from the Ukraine dissolve the concrete question into an abstract pacifistic one. Right now, Russian forces are gunning down Ukrainians in their own country!

There is no just peace or serious diplomacy unless a Russian withdrawal is one of its mandates.

I might have skipped this note, which I hope you don’t find tiresome or dogmatic, if my criticism was only of the tone and imprecision of your article. But now I have received a note from Sandy [Nicolas J.S. Davies] in which he is endorsing a rally this Saturday, March 5, which does not call for the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Ukraine. It calls for negotiating a peace in the Ukraine while its people are being held at gunpoint. No! I expect that most Ukrainians would find this kind of “peace” demonstration an exercise in futile hypocrisy or at best political inconsistency. 

Flyer for March 5 rally in Hollywood, Florida.

The flyer for the rally calls for No war with Russia! But there is no war with Russia (at least not yet). There is a war by Russia against the Ukraine. The way the flyer for this rally puts it, Russia appears to be the victim. This is not accurate. To the extent Russia is a victim of heightened inter-imperialist competition in the world (which is not only between Russia and NATO, but also within NATO, and also between NATO countries and the U.S.), we shouldn’t be taking sides. 

Of course, I look forward to any discussion you want to have about this, as I see the issue as of great importance for all those looking to build a genuinely effective struggle against war.

In solidarity,

Pete

*

By Nicolas J.S. Davies

March 3, 2022

Dear all,

Thanks to Pete and Cassia for your emails, and for Cassia’s excellent article [published at the end of this exchangeWO]. The flyers I forwarded were the ones Cassia sent me, and I think they present a clear, balanced “big tent” message that I hope a lot of people will come out and support.

There are talks on a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, and they are the best chance for peace at this point. Russia and Ukraine have to find a basis they can agree on for a ceasefire, or there isn’t going to be one. I don’t think that Americans, in or out of government, demanding unconditional withdrawal by Russia will help those talks to succeed. The U.S. has played an unhelpful and destabilizing role by pushing Zelensky to be inflexible and tough since he was elected in 2019, sending weapons and supporting his refusal to even talk to the Donbas leaders, effectively derailing the Minsk II agreement. 

If Zelensky makes a non-negotiable demand for an unconditional Russian withdrawal, the only way the U.S. and NATO could back him up on that would be to risk nuclear war in a direct conflict with Russia. This is the predicament that the illusion of U.S. unconditional support has led him and his people into. Zelensky is now faced with the reality of Russia bombarding his cities and his people, and the U.S. and NATO cannot come and save them without seriously risking World War III. This is precisely the predicament that many of us have been warning that the U.S. revival of its Cold War on Russia and China would lead us into.   

You are all welcome to read my and Medea’s article, and you will see that we certainly did condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The universal condemnation of people all over the world and our solidarity with Russian and Ukrainian peace activists and citizens calling for peace is the best we can offer them and their people, and I hope we can make a difference.

See you all on Saturday!

Peace!

Sandy (Nicolas) Davies   

*

By Medea Benjamin

March 3, 2022

I believe we can criticize NATO, our government AND this horrible Russian invasion at the same time. I am.

Thanks,

Medea

*

How the US Started a New Cold War with Russia and Left Ukraine to Fight It


The following appeared in CommonDreams and is republished by permission. The original can be found here.


By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies

February 28, 2022—The defenders of Ukraine are bravely resisting Russian aggression, shaming the rest of the world and the UN Security Council for its failure to protect them. It is an encouraging sign that the Russians and Ukrainians are holding talks in Belarus that may lead to a ceasefire. All efforts must be made to bring an end to this war before the Russian war machine kills thousands more of Ukraine’s defenders and civilians, and forces hundreds of thousands more to flee.

But there is a more insidious reality at work beneath the surface of this classic morality play, and that is the role of the United States and NATO in setting the stage for this crisis.

President Biden has called the Russian invasion “unprovoked,” but that is far from the truth. In the four days leading up to the invasion, ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) documented a dangerous increase in ceasefire violations in Eastern Ukraine, with 5,667 violations and 4,093 explosions.

Most were inside the de facto borders of the Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics, consistent with incoming shell-fire by Ukraine government forces. With nearly 700 OSCE ceasefire monitors on the ground, it is not credible that these were all “false flag” incidents staged by separatist forces, as U.S. and British officials claimed.

Whether the shell-fire was just another escalation in the long-running civil war or the opening salvos of a new government offensive, it was certainly a provocation. But the Russian invasion has far exceeded any proportionate action to defend the DPR and LPR from those attacks, making it disproportionate and illegal.

Resurgent U.S. Cold War against Russia, China

In the larger context though, Ukraine has become an unwitting victim and proxy in the resurgent U.S. Cold War against Russia and China, in which the United States has surrounded both countries with military forces and offensive weapons, withdrawn from a whole series of arms control treaties, and refused to negotiate resolutions to rational security concerns raised by Russia.

In December 2021, after a summit between Presidents Biden and Putin, Russia submitted a draft proposal for a new mutual security treaty between Russia and NATO, with 9 articles to be negotiated. They represented a reasonable basis for a serious exchange. The most pertinent to the crisis in Ukraine was simply to agree that NATO would not accept Ukraine as a new member, which is not on the table in the foreseeable future in any case. But the Biden administration brushed off Russia’s entire proposal as a nonstarter, not even a basis for negotiations.

So why was negotiating a mutual security treaty so unacceptable that Biden was ready to risk thousands of Ukrainian lives, although not a single American life, rather than attempt to find common ground? What does that say about the relative value that Biden and his colleagues place on American versus Ukrainian lives? And what is this strange position that the United States occupies in today’s world that permits an American president to risk so many Ukrainian lives without asking Americans to share their pain and sacrifice?

The breakdown in U.S. relations with Russia and the failure of Biden’s inflexible brinkmanship precipitated this war, and yet Biden’s policy “externalizes” all the pain and suffering so that Americans can, as another wartime president once said, “go about their business” and keep shopping. America’s European allies, who must now house hundreds of thousands of refugees and face spiraling energy prices, should be wary of falling in line behind this kind of “leadership” before they, too, end up on the front line.

NATO expansion

At the end of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact, NATO’s Eastern European counterpart, was dissolved, and NATO should have been as well, since it had achieved the purpose it was built to serve. Instead, NATO has lived on as a dangerous, out-of-control military alliance dedicated mainly to expanding its sphere of operations and justifying its own existence. It has expanded from 16 countries in 1991 to a total of 30 countries today, incorporating most of Eastern Europe, at the same time as it has committed aggression, bombings of civilians and other war crimes.

In 1999, NATO launched an illegal war to militarily carve out an independent Kosovo from the remnants of Yugoslavia. NATO airstrikes during the Kosovo War killed hundreds of civilians, and its leading ally in the war, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, is now on trial at The Hague for the appalling war crimes he committed under the cover of NATO bombing, including cold-blooded murders of hundreds of prisoners to sell their internal organs on the international transplant market.

Far from the North Atlantic, NATO joined the United States in its 20-year war in Afghanistan, and then attacked and destroyed Libya in 2011, leaving behind a failed state, a continuing refugee crisis and violence and chaos across the region.

In 1991, as part of a Soviet agreement to accept the reunification of East and West Germany, Western leaders assured their Soviet counterparts that they would not expand NATO any closer to Russia than the border of a united Germany. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker promised that NATO would not advance “one inch” beyond the German border. The West’s broken promises are spelled out for all to see in 30 declassified documents published on the National Security Archive website.

After expanding across Eastern Europe and waging wars in Afghanistan and Libya, NATO has predictably come full circle to once again view Russia as its principal enemy. U.S. nuclear weapons are now based in five NATO countries in Europe: Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey, while France and the U.K. already have their own nuclear arsenals. U.S. “missile defense” systems, which could be converted to fire offensive nuclear missiles, are based in Poland and Romania, including at a base in Poland only 100 miles from the Russian border.

Another Russian request in its December proposal was for the United States to simply rejoin the 1988 INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty), under which both sides agreed not to deploy short- or intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. Trump withdrew from the treaty in 2019 on the advice of his National Security Adviser, John Bolton, who also has the scalps of the 1972 ABM Treaty, the 2015 JCPOA with Iran and the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea dangling from his gun-belt.

None of this can justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the world should take Russia seriously when it says that its conditions for ending the war and returning to diplomacy are Ukrainian neutrality and disarmament. While no country can be expected to completely disarm in today’s armed-to-the-teeth world, neutrality could be a serious long-term option for Ukraine.

There are many successful precedents, like Switzerland, Austria, Ireland, Finland and Costa Rica. Or take the case of Vietnam. It has a common border and serious maritime disputes with China, but Vietnam has resisted U.S. efforts to embroil it in its Cold War with China, and remains committed to its long-standing “Four Nos” policy: no military alliances; no affiliation with one country against another; no foreign military bases; and no threats or uses of force.

Ceasefire in Ukraine

The world must do whatever it takes to obtain a ceasefire in Ukraine and make it stick. Maybe UN Secretary General Guterres or a UN special representative could act as a mediator, possibly with a peacekeeping role for the UN. This will not be easy—one of the still unlearned lessons of other wars is that it is easier to prevent war through serious diplomacy and a genuine commitment to peace than to end a war once it has started.

If and when there is a ceasefire, all parties must be prepared to start afresh to negotiate lasting diplomatic solutions that will allow all the people of Donbas, Ukraine, Russia, the United States and other NATO members to live in peace. Security is not a zero-sum game, and no country or group of countries can achieve lasting security by undermining the security of others.

The United States and Russia must also finally assume the responsibility that comes with stockpiling over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, and agree on a plan to start dismantling them, in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the new UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).

Lastly, as Americans condemn Russia’s aggression, it would be the epitome of hypocrisy to forget or ignore the many recent wars in which the United States and its allies have been the aggressors: in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, Palestine, Pakistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

We sincerely hope that Russia will end its illegal, brutal invasion of Ukraine long before it commits a fraction of the massive killing and destruction that the United States and its allies have committed in our illegal wars.

*

No to NATO


The following appeared in FightBackNews! It is republished by permission. The original can be found here.


By Cassia Laham

MIAMI, Florida, March 1, 2022—Events are unfolding quickly surrounding Ukraine. It is therefore imperative that the anti-war movement in the United States mobilize for peace and against any further possible escalation by the United States. This means demanding: no war with Russia, no to NATO expansion, and no to sanctions.

It is important for Americans to understand that the current crisis in Ukraine did not begin with Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine; rather, it has been a crisis in the making for decades, as the United States has expanded the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military alliance well beyond original post-Cold War agreements, throughout Eastern Europe and up to Russia’s doorstep.

NATO is a major military alliance that was created in 1949 and was originally composed of the United States and its key Cold War allies in western Europe. The United States helped form this dangerous military alliance in an overtly aggressive move meant to intimidate the Soviet Union and prevent the spread of socialism in post-WWII Europe. In response, the Soviet Union eventually created the Warsaw Pact, a military alliance of its own.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the United States has gone back on its word to the Russians to maintain NATO’s Cold War borders. Instead, NATO has expanded to include much of Eastern Europe, surrounding Russia with military bases and weapons, all meant to protect American political and economic dominance.

The United States and NATO have been the biggest purveyors of death and violence in the world since the Cold War began, from Korea to Vietnam, Yemen to Iraq, Yugoslavia to Libya.

And in 2014, with specific reference to the current situation in Ukraine, the United States backed an illegal coup against the democratically elected government of Ukraine. The United States armed and supported fascist, neo-Nazi movements, and militias (like the Azov Battalion) in Ukraine, groups that are responsible for killing thousands of ethnic Russians throughout Ukraine in a war that was never ended.

Since 2014, the end goal of the United States in Ukraine has been to incorporate the country into the ranks of the European Union and NATO. Russia made it clear that absorbing Ukraine into NATO would be unacceptable and would be taken as a military threat. But rather than negotiate in good faith, for seven years the United States resorted to sanctions, more arms to Ukraine, and anti-Russia chest-pounding.

So, when it comes to war, especially in Ukraine, the United States has no room to point fingers, serve as a moral compass, or pass judgement on Russia or any other countries. It is laughable to hear U.S. officials denounce this war, when it did everything it could to instigate it.

And it is even more ridiculous to think that the talking heads in the corporate media care about the people of Ukraine, when they have ignored the NATO-backed starvation and murder of millions of Yemenis for seven years now. Besides, why would anyone believe a word the mainstream media has to say about wars abroad, when these are the same fools who tried to sell the American people Saddam Hussein’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction as justification for the U.S. war in Iraq that would kill 1 million Iraqis?

As American anti-war activists, it is our responsibility to the global peace movement first and foremost to demand an end to this country’s imperialist expansion and aggression, in Ukraine and around the world. It’s our responsibility to pressure our government to stop using Ukraine as a proxy-war with Russia, and to end NATO expansion. As peace activists in the most powerful imperialist country in the world, we must work to ensure that the United States does not continue to escalate through unilateral or NATO military action or any form of warfare, including sanctions.

Those of us who truly want peace must demand: No War with Russia! No to NATO Expansion! No to Sanctions!


2 replies »

  1. Demands raised at Codepink event in LA by youth associated with the LA Hands Off Cuba Ctte.
    Russia out of the Ukraine.
    NO US troops/NATO intervention.
    US out of Guantanamo.
    Self determination for Ukraine.

  2. Some comments on the debate on the war in Ukraine—

    First, in relation to the March 3 letter by Sandy Davies–
    Davies says:

    “Russia and Ukraine have to find a basis they can agree on for a ceasefire, or there isn’t going to be one. I don’t think that Americans…..demanding unconditional withdrawal by Russia will help those talks to succeed.”

    Imagine that an armed robber breaks into your house and you are trying to defend yourself from this person. If instead of demanding that this robber get out of your house I say, “well you need to be reasonable; you need to give this guy something”, I am not helping to get that guy out. Rather I am implying that he has some justification for breaking in, and that you need to concede. I am strengthening his position and weakening yours.

    Imagine if during the Vietnam War we had raised the slogan of “Peace” instead of demanding unconditional withdrawal by the US from that country, thereby implying that both sides needed to be reasonable and that concessions were necessary on both sides. To put it bluntly, that would have been a betrayal of the Vietnamese people.

    It is not up to people in the US to decide what concessions Zelensky needs to make to get the Russian troops out of his country. We are not Ukrainians. Our job is to recognize the elementary right of the Ukrainian people to self-determination and to demand that Russia get out.

    It is also not a question of second-guessing what Zelensky did in the past. The Ukrainian government (like the Russian government) is a capitalist government. It is not a question of placing any confidence in that government. The issue is defending the right of the Ukrainian people to a free and independent country, regardless of whatever government happens to be in power.

    Second, comments on the February 3 article by Medea Benjamin and Davies—
    They say:

    “In the four days leading up to the invasion, ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) documented a dangerous increase in ceasefire violations in Eastern Ukraine, with 5,667 violations and 4,093 explosions. Most were inside the de facto borders of the Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR) People’s Republics, consistent with incoming shell-fire by Ukraine government forces.”

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t find this to be credible. With 190,000 Russian troops encircling Ukraine, and Putin looking for the slightest pretext to invade, Zelensky is going to start shelling these breakaway regions? Whatever else he is, I don’t think Zelensky is suicidal. Pictures in Russian media of supposed shelling from Ukraine were shown to have been from 2014. On the other hand, there were lots of photos and videos of shelling by Russian forces into Ukraine.

    An interesting note about this quote is that Benjamin and Davies refer to these regions that were taken by Russia in 2014 as “People’s Republics”, as if they are independent states. They join Russia as virtually the only ones in the world to recognize them as such!

    And further on, they call for negotiations to allow the people of Donbas to live in peace. The implication here is that the Russian seizure of Luhansk and Donbas should be accepted as an accomplished fact, rather than as a crude land-grab by Putin.

    Benjamin and Davies single out NATO expansion to explain why Russia invaded Ukraine. First of all, of course NATO is an imperialist-dominated military alliance, and it should be disbanded. We can all agree on that.

    However, it is false to think that the issue of NATO is the only, or even the primary cause of this war. Putin made this clear in his speech on the eve of the invasion.
    1.He does not consider Ukraine to be a legitimate nation; he considers it to be a part of Russia.
    2. Further, he has a history of military actions against regions of the former Czarist empire, notably in Chechnya and Georgia.
    3. Also, if his aim is to weaken and push back NATO, invading Ukraine is completely counterproductive. It has only served to strengthen the NATO alliance and build support for NATO in Eastern Europe.
    4. Finally, Zelensky has announced that Ukraine will not join NATO, and this has had no effect on the Russian war drive.
    Of course we should never forget the many crimes of US imperialism and the millions of deaths it is responsible for. But there is more than one bad actor on the scene, and we should not allow our completely justified opposition to US imperialism to affect our opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    Third, comments on the March 1 article by Cassia Laham—
    She says:
    In 2014…..the United States backed an illegal coup against the democratically elected government of Ukraine. The United States armed and supported fascist, neo-Nazi movements, and militias (like the Azov Battalion) in Ukraine.

    It is false to call the ouster of Yanukovych as a coup. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated over a period of weeks against a government widely and correctly viewed as corrupt. Finally, his own party voted to keep the police and army in their barracks, and Yanukovych, seeing that he had no support, fled the country. This is not a coup; it is a mass uprising. Of course fascist groups participated in the protests and tried to make gains through their participation, but they did not determine the character of the protests. They were much larger than that. Likewise, sure, the US government supported the protests (but did not determine their character), just as it does anywhere in the world where it thinks it can influence the outcome of events, but if we just put a minus sign everywhere that the US government puts a plus sign, we will never understand politics.

    Where is the evidence that the US arms the Azov Battalion? Yes it does provide arms to the Ukrainian military, and to the extent that some members of the Azov Battalion are in the army, they may well get their hands on some of those weapons. But that is not at all the same thing as directly arming and supporting fascist organizations in Ukraine.

    Furthermore, Ukraine has been under threat from Russia for a number of years, and now it has been invaded. It is completely justified in accepting arms from any country that is willing to supply them. It would be the height of stupidity not to do so.

    Finally, who is the demand “No War with Russia” aimed at? Has someone invaded Russia? Is this a demand aimed at Ukraine? If it is aimed at the US, then the demands against NATO are more specific and more applicable. What is striking about Laham’s demands is the one that is missing: Russia Out of Ukraine!

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