Photo by Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock
This is an updated version, February 27th, of the talk I gave at the “No War with Russia over Ukraine” rally on Feb. 5, 2022. The rally was sponsored by Economics for Everyone.
The situation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine is very dangerous. Russia is a capitalist country led by an authoritarian and militaristic leader, Vladimir Putin. A major Russian invasion of the Ukraine began on February 24th together with massive bombing.
The Russian aggression is totally wrong and totally unjustified. Yet, from the mainstream media and our leaders, Russia is the only aggressor and the only responsible party for this horrific war. That is not the reality.
An agreement made and then violated – by our side
In 1990, the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev made an agreement with Secretary of State, James Baker, then a close confidant of President, George H.W. Bush. In return for Gorbachev agreeing to the unification of Germany and permitting many nations within the USSR to become independent, the US and European leaders agreed not to station troops east of Germany nor to expand NATO there.
Ukraine was specifically mentioned as part of this verbal agreement. The request from Gorbachev for the neutrality of countries in Eastern Europe must be seen in the context of the Soviet Union losing 25 million of its residents from Nazi aggression and wanting to maintain a buffer between Germany and Russia.
From 1999 to 2004, NATO violated this agreement, expanding east of Germany into Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and the Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The US has recently sent 10.000 US troops to Germany, Poland and Romania with more likely to come. There were major sales of weapons to Ukraine even before the Russian invasion.
A negotiated settlement
There could possibly still be a negotiated settlement along the following lines. In return for Russia agreeing to withdraw fully from the Ukraine and accepting its sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Ukraine, NATO and the U.S. could pledge–that Ukraine will not now or in the future join NATO. This was the main demand by Putin and the Russian government during their troop buildup on the Ukrainian border. The U.S. totally rejected this reasonable demand so we will never know whether it would have been sufficient to stop the Russian invasion. It still should be made by the U.S. at this late date. Of course, Ukraine should be part of this negotiated settlement.
Does this violate the Ukrainian right to self-determination? Let us not forget that NATO is a military and expansionist alliance led by the US. Sovereignty doesn’t 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, a cold war relic.
Why is Our Focus on the United States?
The war is catastrophic for the people of Ukraine and could spread throughout Europe and beyond. Higher energy and food prices globally are happening and likely to worsen as well as a major refugee crisis from Ukrainians fleeing. Negotiations beginning with an immediate ceasefire and diplomacy including in a central way, Ukraine, is the way forward. A neutral Ukraine is a possible, desirable outcome of a settlement.
Let’s demand that the U.S. in addition to calling for ending the Russian invasion and supporting “No Ukraine in NATO” propose sanctions that primarily hurt the rich and powerful in Russia. Much of their wealth is abroad so freezing their assets and threatening to confiscate it could reduce their support for Putin and the war. 60% of Russian exports are oil and natural gas. Refusing to buy them until a cease fire by Russia and honest negotiations would harm Russian exporters although it would also hurt the Russian people as Russian imports would soon be reduced. The U.S. could temporarily increase oil and gas production and help people here by subsidizing the rising costs they incur for higher energy prices.
Other actions that could put pressure on Russia to end its aggression include banning all Russian banks and financial institutions from the SWIFT messaging system which connects most large banks around the world. This would make it more difficult for Russian entities to process transactions and hobble the Russian economy’s ability to do business beyond its borders. Another possibility is boycotting Russian sports teams such as the announcements by Sweden and Poland that they will refuse to play the Russian national soccer team in the qualifying games for the World Cup.
All these actions minimize the possibilities of a wider war and could further undermine the support for the war inside Russia thus increasing the possibility of the Putin led government ending its war of aggression or even having to resign.
There is a serious danger of the escalation of this war. The Ukrainian people have the right to defend themselves and the U.S. sending defensive weapons such as anti-aircraft artillery is justified but not offensive weapons or troops or military advisers.
Those could lead to a war beyond the Ukraine.
Why is our focus on the U.S and not just Russian aggression? We live here and we can have more influence on U.S. actions than on other countries. U.S. behavior is partly our responsibility. When people here participate in an anti-war movement to stop US escalation and support peace efforts, it encourages those in Russia seeking peace and increases their credibility in demanding Russian end the war. Each will reinforce the other.
The large protests in Russia against Putin, saying No to War are courageous and inspiring. More than 3000 have been arrested in Russia since the beginning of the Russian invasion and they are continuing to grow. Let’s support them. The war is not popular in Russia and may lead to Putin’s downfall like what happened to the Czar for leading Russia into the highly destructive WWI.
A war between Russia and the United States over Ukraine?
Let’s continue to oppose the U.S. going to war over Ukraine while supporting the Ukrainian resistance to their invasion. There is a danger of unintended consequences. Specific actions by the US or Russia could be misinterpreted and a broader war that is not planned for could occur. There is the slight danger of a nuclear war. Let us not take this chance. Let’s make part of our daily life — and the groups we are part of, a call for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement.
Building an anti-war movement
Let us educate ourselves, our friends and communities, our workplaces and fellow students about the history and current situation in Ukraine including the human costs of the war and Ukrainian resistance. Let’s build an anti-war movement calling for “No NATO expansion into Ukraine” and Russia out. One of our tasks is to educate and build an antiwar movement for cutting US military spending and closing U.S. military bases around the world. We need a movement against the growing US military build-up and threats against China; a movement that demands the end of sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Venezuela; an end to military support for Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and an end to military sales there.
In building an anti-war movement in Olympia and beyond, we should build one that makes central calls for ending injustice and oppression in the US 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 many others.
Leonard has spent 45 years in prison after being unjustly convicted for a 1975 killing of two FBI agents who invaded the Pine Ridge Reservation. Let us demand President Biden grant him clemency on medical and humanitarian grounds. With enough pressure, this is a winnable demand.
Let’s build solidarity with people across borders who are resisting oppression, exploitation, authoritarianism and repression and foreign intervention.
Let’s connect US 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.
Peter Bohmer is active as a member of Economics for Everyone, Real Utopia, and was a long-time faculty member at The Evergreen State College.
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