by Jackie Dee King
As the Ukraine war entered its second year, the leaders of the world’s two most heavily armed nuclear powers doubled down on their vows to carry the conflict through to victory. President Biden publicly reaffirmed his previous claims that the US would do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to ensure a Ukrainian win, and paid a whirlwind visit to Kyiv to drive home the message. President Putin suspended Russia’s participation in the START II nuclear treaty. Both Ukraine and Russia have planned new offensives for the spring.
This is an incredibly perilous time in world history. It often feels as if we in the peace movement are prophets crying in the wilderness. The sober-minded Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently pushed the hands of the Doomsday Clock up to 90 seconds before midnight, the closest it has ever been to nuclear Armageddon.
The Ukraine war has caused enormous suffering on both sides, with many thousands of casualties, millions of refugees, critical infrastructure destroyed, and worldwide food shortages. The US Congress has approved an astounding $113 billion in military and economic aid to Ukraine over the past year, while programs for health care, housing, education, ending poverty and addressing climate change languish at home. And despite the US and NATO’s massive infusion of ever more sophisticated and lethal weapons systems and tanks, the war is not going as well for Ukraine on the battlefield as the American people have been led to believe. The losses continue to mount.
There is no military solution to this war. The only way out is through a ceasefire and negotiations toward a peaceful settlement. We in the US have a particular responsibility to focus on our own government, the only one we have any chance of influencing.
There are signs of hope. Large demonstrations, under-reported by US mainstream media, have been held in European countries to protest the economic hardships exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict and against sending more arms to fuel the fire. In Germany, tens of thousands rallied at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and more than 650,000 signed a petition against the war. Rallies have also been held in France, Italy, Spain, and the UK. Many countries in the Global South have deep reservations about both the Russian invasion and the West’s stance and have chosen to remain neutral or to urge negotiations for a peaceful resolution. Offers from around the world have been made to help broker a peace agreement, from leaders in China, Brazil, Türkiye, Israel, and other states. China has offered a 12-point peace plan.
Inside the US, polls show that the public’s support for the war is beginning to wane. In the upside-down world of American politics today, a bloc of Republicans is opposing a blank check for arms to Ukraine and calling for a resolution of the war. And a relatively small but growing, battered but determined, peace movement on the left has continued to hold rallies and vigils, send petitions, lobby our lawmakers, and sponsor countless webinars and forums aimed at ending the war. Recent signals from Biden Administration officials indicate they are privately telling Ukraine that military support cannot be sustained indefinitely at the same level, and that some kind of pragmatic agreement will eventually have to be reached with Russia.
Some will ask, ‘Why open negotiations with Russia when they started this brutal and unprovoked war in the first place?’ Yes, this war is brutal, as all wars are. MAPA condemns the Russian invasion. But unprovoked it is not. The United States and NATO engaged in a series of provocations over many years before the war began. To review:
- NATO expanded aggressively over the past three decades, despite repeated promises it would not move “one inch” further east; it grew by 14 countries until it now pushes up against Russia’s borders; a long line of US ambassadors & military experts have warned against NATO expansion.
- Despite Moscow’s repeated insistence that it would consider Ukraine or Georgia joining NATO as an existential threat to Russia, NATO went ahead and invited them to begin the process of accession anyway. What would be the US response to Canada or Mexico joining a US-hostile military alliance on its borders?
- Since 2000, the US unilaterally withdrew from three crucial nuclear treaties that had been painstakingly negotiated with Russia: the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and the Open Skies Treaty, eliminating a range of safeguards that had curbed the nuclear arms race, provided for monitoring and verification, and lessened the danger of nuclear war.
- The US placed land-based missile systems in Romania and Poland near Russia’s borders, with launchers that can be repurposed to fire not only defensive but offensive missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads, according to independent experts;
- Within Ukraine, in 2014 the US backed a popular uprising that turned into a coup against a democratically elected government that leaned toward Russia. The Maidan Square uprising began as a grassroots protest but ultraright and neo-Nazi groups took leadership at key times, fomented violence, and eventually found positions in the government, military, and police. The election was recognized as legitimate by only about half the population; the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in the Donbas region then rebelled and a civil war began, in which at least 14,000 were killed, according to the UN.
- Negotiations eventually led to the Minsk I and II peace accords, signed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France and endorsed by the US and UN. It did result in a ceasefire line and a reduction of casualties, but its regional autonomy provisions were never implemented by Kyiv. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande now admit that Minsk II, from their side, was only to buy time for them to arm and train Ukraine.
Even over the past year, there have been hopeful signs that a peace agreement could be negotiated – until they were scuttled by Western powers in NATO, according to numerous sources, including former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who was helping to mediate peace talks. Last April, when Ukraine and Russia were about to reach a carefully worked out peace settlement that included concessions on each side, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid a sudden visit to Kyiv and told Zelensky the West would not back such an agreement, that Putin needed to be “pushed” not negotiated with.
In the heat of this war, the intense propaganda on all sides, the very real nuclear danger, what is the responsibility of the peace movement? Again, we have no choice but to focus on the actions of our own government. Therefore, we in Massachusetts Peace Action will redouble our efforts to build a movement that is strong enough to demand that the US step back from the brink. We demand that the US government work with Ukraine and Russia toward:
An Immediate Ceasefire!
Negotiations for a Peaceful Settlement!
No More Weapons to Ukraine!
–Jackie Dee King is a Board member of Massachusetts Peace Action.