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The best time to stop a war is before it starts

Support Ukraine! No US or NATO War!

[Peter Bohmer gave a speech at the “No War with Russia over Ukraine” rally on Feb. 5, 2022. The rally was sponsored by Economics for Everyone. This is an update of that speech.].

The situation between the United States and Russia over Ukraine is very dangerous. Russia is a capitalist country headed by an authoritarian and militaristic leader, Vladimir Putin. A major Russian invasion of the Ukraine began on February 24, together with massive bombing.

The Russian aggression is wrong and totally unjustified. Yet, according to 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 Ukraine and accepting its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Ukraine, NATO and the US 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 US 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 US 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.

Targeted sanctions and a cease-fire

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 US 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 US could temporarily increase oil and gas production and help people here by subsidizing the rising costs they incur for higher energy prices.

Why do we focus on the United States?

There is a serious danger of the escalation of this war. The Ukrainian people have the right to defend themselves and the US sending defensive weapons such as anti-aircraft artillery is justified while providing offensive weapons or troops or military advisers is not.Those could lead to a war beyond the Ukraine.

Why is our focus on the US and not just Russian aggression? We live here and we can have more influence on US actions than on other countries. US 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 Russia end the war. Each will reinforce the other.

The large protests in Russia against Putin, say “No to War” are courageous and inspiring. More than 3000 people have been arrested since the beginning of the Russian invasion and the number is increasing. Let’s support them. The war is not popular in Russia and may lead to Putin’s downfall. Thats what happened to the Czar for leading Russia into the destructions of WWI.

A war between Russia and the United States over Ukraine?

Let’s continue to oppose the US going to war over Ukraine while supporting the Ukrainian resistance to the 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 a call for diplomacy and a negotiated settlement part of our daily life—and the groups we are part of.

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.

Let’s educate and build an antiwar movement for cutting US military spending. We need a movement against the growing US military build-up and threats against China. This movement would demand 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 such as housing justice and freedom for political prisoners.

A movement extending across borders

Let’s build solidarity with people across borders who are resisting oppression and militarism 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, and was a long-time faculty member at The Evergreen State College.


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