Stopping the war in Ukraine: a call for negotiations and an end to name-calling

(with research and fact-checking by Dave Gutknecht)

The day after Russian troops invaded the eastern border of Ukraine, my Facebook feed filled up with Ukrainian flags, “Solidarity with Ukraine” banners, and a meme of a dove pooping on Putin’s head (a weird inversion of that peace symbol).

This is well-intentioned but, alas, recalls the bromide about the road to hell and what it is paved with. I’m asking my progressive friends and allies to dig deeper into the causes of this war and re-consider their response. Aid to refugees is urgently needed,  but demonizing a head of state, even one considered an enemy, is unwise and possibly suicidal.

In a WagingNonviolence article on resistance to war, Eli McCarthydescribes the dangers of name-calling, even in private speech:

All stakeholders, including adversaries, need to be re-humanized. . . we must avoid labels such as calling persons or groups “evil,” “diabolical,” “irrational,” “thugs” or “monsters.”This doesn’t mean we agree with or justify their actions. Yet, the more we dehumanize others, the more we escalate, narrow our imagination, and enable dynamics of violence.

The urgent and unique role of American left liberals/progressives/radicals should be to hold our own government leaders accountable for their role in escalating this long-simmering conflict into war. I’d also urge us to be remember to be skeptical about what we’re reading and hearing from the mainstream press. Remember the “weapons of mass destruction,” widely and uncritically reported by public radio and the mainstream press?Those of you as old as I am may recall the early reporting on Vietnam was equally uncritical and hawkish.

Recent reportsfrom the Ukrainian government, echoed by the West, are often unreliable. In wartime, each side will exaggerate or even fabricate enemy atrocities, which is why missing viewpoints and analysis found only in non-corporate media are so important. A chilling example with deadly results: the dramaticimpact of Congressional testimony alleging that Iraqi soldiers ripped babies out of hospital incubators. This tearful account, delivered by the niece of then Kuwait ambassador and shown on national television, turned out to be false. But it helped build support for the war on Iraq.

Anyone with an ounce of empathy is sickened by the scenes of bombed buildings, corpses, andhordesof miserable people fleeing their homes. Who to blame?  Putin gave the order. On his bald dome be it. But what provoked him? Ukraine troops massing at the border of Russian-speaking and Russian-alliedDonbass? NATO troops and missiles trained on Russian from Poland, Romania, and Germany, to be brought even closer through placement in Ukraine?

The United States has been fighting a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine for years, and the Ukrainians are paying the price. However, Ukraine leadership and elements of Ukraine society are hardly innocent victims.  After the US-backed 2014 coup, the first act of the Ukrainian parliament was to outlaw the Russian languagewhile approvinguse of other languages. Such a law was not actually approved until 2019,but by that time the Ukrainian government had been shelling the Donbass region for several years.White supremacists and avowed Nazi sympathizers, organized in the Azov movement, have undue influence in Ukrainian politics. They were integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, and their Right Sector is a force in Ukraine’s military.

The issues at stake in this war are too complex to be covered adequately here. (See sidebar for useful history and analysis.) Russia, having suffered terribleinvasions from the west, sought non-hostile relationships with its border countries, including Ukraine, where the CIA had supported anti-Russian activities beginning in the 1940s. The US abandoned its WWII alliance with Russia, launching the Cold War and fomenting anticommunist hysteria to justify ever-increasing military budgets.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia believedit had obtained an agreement that NATO forces would not expand east of Germany. Historians argue about who said what. James Baker, President George Bush’s secretary of state, initially indicated to President Mikhail Gorbachev that the West would limit NATO expansion, but he was quickly reprimanded by Bush. Baker walked the promise back with prep-school joviality, remarking, “I got a little ahead of my skis.” The point is that this strategic tension has been recognized by American and European leaders at least sincethe 1944 Yalta agreement of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, this status quo was abandoned, with the US squanderinga potential “peace dividend.”In the late1990s, even Western-friendly President Boris Yeltsin, who welcomed Wall Street into Russia’s coffers and inaugurated an era known as “cowboy capitalism,” cautionedagainst expanding NATO, saying it threated Russia’s interests.

US leaders made a grievous mistake by not forging a path of peaceful co-existence with Russia.  The bloodshed in Ukraine is the most recent result of that intransigence. This is not just the opinion of an aging pacifist or, horrors, a Putin apologist.  William J. Burns, Biden’s CIA Director, had been warning about the dangers of NATO expansion since he was an officer at the Moscow embassy in 1995. Ronald Suny, professor of political science at the University of Michigan, reminds us,

In June 1997, 50 prominent foreign policy experts signed an open letter to Clinton, saying, “We believe that the current U.S. led effort to expand NATO … is a policy error of historic proportions” that would “unsettle European stability.”

American hawks of both parties ignore this history, at our common peril. Recently, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, visiting Poland, gushed that, “The war is bringing our country together” (StarTribune, March 12).  Is war, bolstered by billions of dollars in American arms, truly the basis for American unity?

There is no military solution to this conflict. Sending more arms only enriches the American war industry and increases the Ukrainian body count. Sanctions don’t work either, andUN member countries are not authorized to impose them alone.  (According to Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, only the UN Security Council has a mandate by the international community to apply sanctions (Article 41) that must be complied with by all UN member states (Article 2,2). The US has imposed sanctions on over twenty countries. Sanctions against the governments of Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela have starvedthose countries’ citizens and failed to bring about any change in their leaders’ positions.

While horrified by Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons, let us remember that US leaders have turned a deaf ear to repeated calls for a “no first strike” clause in our nuclear policy and have continuously diluted the level of grievance that might justify a US nuclear attack. We are citizens of the only country that ever dropped a nuclear bombon a living human population.In 2001 President Bush withdrew the US from an antiballistic missile agreement with Russia, and in 2017 President Trump withdrew the US from another arms-limitations agreement. Meanwhile, US military budget and activities continueto expand.Since our leaders have dismissed opportunities for disarmament, we are backed into a corner, forced to take Putin’s threat seriously. The only sane response is serious negotiation, not an ever-escalating supply of weapons.

The better response from peace-seeking Americans would be to exercise our citizenship by holding to account our own officials: Klobuchar, Biden, and their Democratic and Republican allies in war-making. We should demand they support diplomatic discussions that would bring about a ceasefire and ultimately a treaty or agreement between Ukraine and Russia that would satisfy some of Russia’s concerns and ensure a neutral Ukraine. As of this writing, Zelensky has agreed to drop proposing NATO membership.But the status of the Donbass republics is unresolved,and Russia is demanding that Crimea remain part of Russia. Had Zelensky’s Western backers urged himto not seek NATO membership two months (if not years!) ago, we might not be watching this carnage, nor preparing to make new homes for millions of Ukrainian refugees.

It’s not too late to come together and take a stand for a saner approach to this conflict. Consider the powerful demands put forth by Code Pink, a woman-led national peace organization (

  • continued rejection of a no-fly zone over Ukraine;
  • no NATO expansion;
  • recognition of Ukraine as a neutral country;
  • an off-ramp for sanctions on Russia to be lifted;
  • support for an international security agreement to protect the interests of all people on the European continent to remain free from war and occupation;
  • support for Ukrainian demilitarization to the degree that missiles would be banned;
  • supply humanitarian aid to Ukraine and support Ukrainian refugees.

The causes of this war, any war, are complex and subject to debate. We can, and should, debate the role of each major power, NATO, and Ukrainian leadership.  What shouldn’t be up for debate, at least on the left, is the role of our government in fueling hostilities with arms paid for by our tax dollars (whatever happened to Build Back Better?), and the real threat of nuclear war if we don’t immediate replace weapons and name-calling with negotiations.


Language, Culture and War

by Flo Golod and Dave Gutknecht

Unresolved territorial and economic disputes escalate and explode in death, destruction, and exile of people on each side of war, but the conflict is often represented most vividly in threats to language and culture. This kind of ethnic and cultural divide has been exploited repeatedly by the US to advance its agenda, maintaining its unipolar status — including in Ukraine. Despite many other stories, that overall US agenda is war on Russia.

Language is bound up with identity, and Ukraine has a very long history of two dominant languages, Russian and Ukrainian. Many Ukrainians speak primarily or exclusively Russian, while even larger numbers speak both languages. Ukrainian language was discouraged and suppressed by the Soviet Union, seeking to unify its federated nation; later, Russian was discouraged by some Ukrainians after independence in 1991 and especially after the 2014 coup.

It took until February 2014 (!) for the Ukraine parliament, Rada, to pass a law recognizing Russian as one of many secondary national languages. But this recognition was repealed following the coup of that year, and a pattern of increased suppression of and war on Russian-speaking Ukraine was launched — along with an ever-increasing flow of NATO weapons and advisors. The Russian-speaking districts of eastern Ukraine were attacked by Ukrainian forces, and eventually Russia retaliated.

Reports of Russia’s escalation of this conflict into a full invasion with mounting body counts, exiles, and bombing of cities daily are horrifying and must be recognized as a moral and political failure. The war is a threat to all sides.  Nevertheless, it is essential that we remember that most of what we are reading and viewing isjust that: reports fed to us by the corporate and government-sponsored press.   By taking the language issue out of the context described above and by giving print and air time to undocumented accounts of atrocities, the press fuels the David-and-Goliath narrative and a dangerous war fever.

Understanding the Ukraine war and the global war on Russia cannot be achieved by only following mainstream media and all the pro-war voices. Nor can we simply accept what Ukraine and Western leaders say about the course of the war — surely our own government’s past lies about war should have taught us this. Recently a mainstream (NBC) report from the CIA acknowledged that they deliberately released sub-standard “intelligence” about Ukraine that is false and misleading. As Scott Ritter said, this report “should drive a stake through the heart of US credibility — or at the very least make the American public, and the world community, ask themselves whether they can ever again take US intelligence assertions at face value.”

Our thanks to Southside Pride for admitting a dissenting voice to the war narrative. Where else to look?  We recommend some of the following for essential information and informative analyses:

*Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, well informed on Ukraine and military matters, has numerous interviews online.

*For background on NATO expansion, see Ronald Suny:

*Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and Nicolas Davies put in perspective the Ukraine war’s civilian deaths, which pale by comparison with US behavior in other wars:

*Stephen Cohen (R.I.P.), a top scholar in US-Russia relations, has interviews online and has authored books; here is a sample of his important historical notes on Ukraine neo-nazis:

*John Mearsheimer, U of Chicago international relations expert, has numerous videos online.


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