Negotiations Not War

Photograph Source: Pat Guiney – CC BY 2.0

The situation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine is very dangerous. Russia is a capitalist country led by an authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin. Russia has increased its military build-up to 130,000 troops near their 1300-mile border with Ukraine. This is wrong. Yet, the US mainstream media and our leaders want us to believe that Russia is the only aggressor and threat to peace in Ukraine.  That is far from the reality.

The United States has consistently intervened in other countries, e.g., it has tried to overthrow the government in Cuba for over 60 years. In 1990, the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev made an agreement with Secretary of State James Baker, who was also a close confidant of then President George H.W. Bush.  In return for Gorbachev agreeing to the unification of Germany and permitting the independence of many of the nations within the USSR, there would be no NATO expansion east of Germany, nor stationing of European and US troops east of Germany.  Ukraine was specifically mentioned as part of this agreement.  This request from Gorbachev for the neutrality of countries in Eastern Europe needs to be put in the context of the Soviet Union losing 20 million people from Nazi aggression in World War Two and wanting to have a buffer between Germany and Russia.

In direct violation of this agreement in the late 1990’s, NATO expanded into Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and the Baltic countries. Today, there is a major military buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. There has also been an increase of 3000 U.S. troops to Poland and Romania with likely increases to come and increased sales of weapons to the Ukraine. Somewhat ironically, the Ukrainian government, led by Volodymr Zelensky, seems less worried about a Russian invasion than U.S. leaders like Biden and National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Negotiated Settlement!

There could and should be a negotiated settlement along the following lines. A clear statement by NATO that it will not offer membership to Ukraine in the present or future and that there will be no stationing of U.S. or troops from European countries in  Ukraine. In return Russia is likely to accept the sovereignty of Ukraine, agree to not intervene in its domestic politics, to not invade and to significantly reduce Russian troops from Ukraine’s border.  Of course, Ukraine should be part of this negotiated settlement.

Does this violate the Ukrainian right to self-determination? Perhaps, a little bit but let us not forget that NATO is a military and expansionist alliance led by the U.S. Moreover, sovereignty does not include the right to militarily intervene in other countries which is a central part of NATO. In the longer run, we should demand the dismantling of NATO, which is a cold war relic.

A war would be catastrophic for Ukraine and beyond.  Negotiations and diplomacy that include Ukraine in a central way is the only way forward. A neutral Ukraine is one possible desirable outcome of a negotiated settlement. France is currently making that proposal. Let us demand the United States end its threat of sanctions and military escalation and be a part of a negotiated and peaceful solution. The sanctions being proposed by the U.S. Congress would seriously harm the Russian people and could be put into effect even short of a Russian invasion.

Why is our focus on the United States and less on Russia?  We live here and we can have more influence on U.S. actions than on other countries. U.S. actions are partly our responsibility.  Moreover, having people and an anti-war movement here reducing U.S. escalation and supporting peace efforts encourages those in Russia seeking peace and increases their credibility in demanding Russia de-escalation. Each will reinforce the other.

How likely is war between Russia and the United States over Ukraine?

I don’t know how likely it is, but we are more likely to be effective in stopping a war before an actual war starts. There were massive protests before the 1991 Gulf War (the first war against Iraq), the 2001 U.S. War against Afghanistan and especially the 2003 war against Iraq. Once the U.S. went to war the protests and anti-war movement declined. Also, even if no nation is planning to go to war, there is a danger of unintended consequences of specific actions by the U.S. or Russia being misinterpreted and a war that is not planned for occurring.  Moreover, besides the destruction of Ukraine from a war fought on Ukrainian territory, there is even the slight danger of a nuclear war. Let us not take this chance.   Instead, let’s make active opposition to United States escalation of this dangerous situation and a call for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement part of our daily life and the groups we are members of.

Building an Anti-War Movement!

Let us educate ourselves, our friends and communities, our workplaces and fellow students about the history and current danger with regards to Ukraine. Let us build an anti-war movement in support of diplomatic solutions along lines I have mentioned: No expansion of NATO into the Ukraine.  Ukraine is the immediate danger but also let us also educate and build an antiwar movement in the not too distant future for cutting U.S. military spending; that is against the growing U.S. military build-up and threats against China; that demands the ending of sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Venezuela,;and for ending U.S. military support for Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) including ending military sales to those countries.  As already mentioned, let us also call for the dismantling of NATO.

In conclusion, in building an anti-war movement in Olympia and beyond, let us build one that also makes central calls for ending injustice and oppression in the U.S. and links up with organizations and social movements involved in these struggles.

For example, let us connect the anti-war movement to the demand for freedom for Leonard Peltier.  He was a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and has been a continuing inspiration to Native Americans and so many others. Leonard has spent 45 years in prison accused of killing two FBI agents in 1975 who invaded the Pine Ridge Reservation. His trial was a huge misjustice with coerced and perjured witnesses.  The prosecution withheld evidence that could have cleared him. Leonard Peltier has Covid although he had requested a booster shot that he was not given. The conditions at the Federal Prison where he is incarcerated in Coleman, Florida are inhumane.  Leonard is 77 years old, has diabetes and high blood pressure and other comorbidities with Covid. Let us demand President Biden grant him clemency on medical and humanitarian grounds.  With enough pressure, this is a winnable demand.

More generally, let us connect U.S. militarism and imperialism, not only to its costs, but also   to “race”, gender and class oppression at home and to an exploitative capitalist system that we need to replace and transform into a participatory socialist system.

This article is adapted from a speech given in Olympia, WA. on February 5, 2022.

Peter Bohmer is a faculty member in Political Economy at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. He has been an activist since 1967 in movements for fundamental social change.