U.S. peace groups begin to challenge war hawks over Ukraine
CodePink activists unfurl an anti-war banner in Washington. | CodePink

WASHINGTON—As President Biden warned that Russia may soon launch an invasion of Ukraine in what would be the biggest military operation in Europe since World War II, peace organizations here and even some governments in Europe, among them Germany and Ukraine itself, are calling upon Washington to cool the war rhetoric.

The saber-rattling from the White House and Capitol Hill is beginning to prompt some peace groups in the U.S. to begin mobilizing public opinion against any looming conflict, and campaign for diplomacy instead.

CODEPINK leaped into the lead here on the evening of Jan. 25 with a webinar to begin organizing. It has scheduled a mass demonstration at the White House at 1 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, Jan. 27, under the slogan “No War with Russia Over Ukraine.”

It’s also posted a petition to Congress online, launched call-ins to lawmakers, and solicited member e-mails to the White House and to CNN. That news network’s stable of retired war hawk officers-turned-commentators has joined the anti-Russia parade, as they did for Republican President George W. Bush’s Iraq War.

The group countered with its own expert: Retired Col. Larry Wilkerson, now an informed Pentagon critic. Wilkerson, a government and public policy professor at William and Mary College in Virginia, went into detail in an hour-long Zoom session on the dangers of war on Tuesday night. Posted on short notice, it drew several thousand viewers.

Joining the call for peace was the Friends Committee on National Legislation, which said a shooting war in Eastern Europe could be ruinous. Justice With Peace traced the history of the area, including centuries-old close Russian-Ukrainian ties.

Anti-nuclear war groups, noting that the United States and Russia are the world’s two largest nuclear powers, are warning that war could escalate into a situation of unimaginable horror and destruction even if only by accident.

Dissension in the ranks?

The war hawks in Washington continue to beat their war drums despite evidence that the war hysteria they are pushing is not backed by either the Ukraine government itself or, more importantly, the majority of the Ukrainian people, particularly those not under the direct influence of powerful fascist organizations there.

Matt Bradley, the MSNBC correspondent who reported several days ago that there was no sense of panic among people in Kiev and then was not heard from in this regard for several days, re-emerged Wednesday with another report from the streets. MSNBC’s Jose Ballard pushed Bradley with a question in which he insisted, “People must really be worried about all these Russians massing on their border. What are you finding?” he demanded to know.

Bradley responded that everything in Kiev still looks normal. “People have been going out to restaurants, enjoying themselves, singing songs as usual,” he said. His report did anything but reinforce the bunker mentality that the war hawks would like to say exists in Kiev but apparently does not.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Tuesday that there has been no change in any security issues for his country since last April. He accused the news media in some countries, including the U.S., of overstating the danger “for their own geopolitical purposes.” He attacked the U.S. and Britain for removing personnel from their embassies in Kiev, saying they had acted prematurely and in a provocative way. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, reinforced his defense minister comment’s Tuesday night by asking, “What’s new?” and saying that the military reality of the Russia-Ukraine situation “hasn’t changed for years.”

Reznikov again reinforced his earlier comments. “Today, at this very moment, there is not a single strike group of the Russian armed forces that has been established, which attests to the fact that tomorrow they are not going to invade.” Addressing Biden, he said, “That is why I ask you not to spread panic.”

A U.S. Air Force cargo processor loads ammunition, weapons, and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Jan. 21, 2022. Since 2014, the U.S. has sent more than $5.4 billion to Ukraine. | Mauricio Campino / U.S. Air Force via AP

Biden, unfortunately, followed that remark when Reznikov first made it with an announcement that 8,500 U.S. troops were being put on high alert. Cool heads realize that this type of remark coming from the president of the United States could actually provoke the type of Russian response the U.S. claims it wants to avoid.

Right after Biden’s announcement about additional troops, Dmitri Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said Moscow was watching the situation with U.S. and NATO troop movements “with profound concern.”

Germany is also posing another possible problem for the war hawks in the U.S. and NATO. Its government is not being quick enough to meet the U.S. demand to cancel the Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia because Germany depends heavily on natural gas from that country, particularly since they dismantled their domestic nuclear energy program.

U.S. oil companies would like to have Europe purchase oil and natural gas from the U.S. instead. They are gleefully rubbing their palms together at the thought of profits they could squeeze from selling Europe fracked gas from the U.S. or oil from outfits they control in the U.S. and the Middle East. Unfortunately, Biden has said he is trying to use access to such gas as a tool to convince Germany to cancel the pipeline and stop wavering on sanctions against Russia.

In any case, Germany also has held up the shipment of nine howitzers to Ukraine from Estonia and ruled out any German arms shipments to Ukraine. (Germany has troops under the guise of NATO in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. While it says it will send no weapons to Ukraine, it is not showing signs of pulling back its military and economic saturation of the Baltic states.)

It’s not just the new Social Democratic government in Germany that is causing trouble for the Washington war hawks regarding Ukraine, however. Freidrich Merz, the new chief of the conservative Christian Democrats, came out in opposition to some of the major sanctions the Biden administration has threatened against Russia, especially the threat to exclude Russia from the SWIFT payment transactions network that handles global financial transfers. Merz is insisting that these sanctions would damage the German economy which receives so much of the money it is owed in payments from Russia.

Perhaps the biggest shock to the Biden administration and NATO leadership regarding Germany came from Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, the chief of the German Navy, when he declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect” and that Crimea would never be returned to Ukraine. He has been forced to resign.

Desperate to bring Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Germans in line for a more warlike approach to Russia, Biden has sent both William Burns, the head of the CIA, and Secretary of State Antony Blinkin to Berlin to twist the Social Democrat’s arm. So far to no avail.

Mattias Piatzek, a long-time Social Democratic leader in Germany, is head now of the pro-peace German-Russian Forum. He told the New York Times that peace forces want no repeat of horrible things that have happened in the past.

“We attacked Russia twice, and the second time it was a genocidal war,” he said. “Twenty-seven million Soviets died, 15 million Russians among them,” he said.

Although Biden has clearly been a hawk on the conflict, there are leaders of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress who are worse. Spearheading the warmongers in Congress are Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and James Risch, R-Idaho, chair and top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Their bill would immediately send Ukraine $500 million more in emergency military aid, and add $3 million in overseas aid for U.S. training for the Ukrainian military. That’s on top of at least $2.7 billion in U.S. aid and arms Ukraine has received in the last eight years.

Some 41 other Senate Democrats—but notably not anti-war Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind,-Vt.—signed on to the Menendez-Risch measure, S3488. A People’s World call and e-mail to Sanders’ press staff for a statement was not returned.

“The Democrats are trying to outdo the Republicans” in bashing Russia “and they’ve hyped it (the confrontation) so much,” Wilkerson explained.

The Menendez-Risch measure also hit Russian President Vladimir Putin by name with financial sanctions, along with almost two dozen other top Russian officials and a raft of companies, topped by banks and its leading energy producer, Gazprom. Biden said he would heavily sanction Putin, but only if Russia actually invaded Ukraine.

U.S.-built Polish Air Force F-16 fighter jets participate in a NATO mission in Lithuanian airspace, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. | Lithuanian Ministry of National Defense via AP

Who wins and who loses

At the CODEPINK event, Pentagon critic Wilkerson, a 31-year military veteran, also cited corporate profiteering from NATO expansion as a reason for the rising tensions. He explained major U.S. corporations—not just the military-industrial complex, but also energy companies—play a big role in the NATO expansion and are also now strangely silent about the warlike tensions, even if they stand to lose investments.

The military, after all, Wilkerson said, is ExxonMobil’s biggest buyer. “The oil companies want more customers, and they want to take out their competitors” for the large European market. The leading competitor is Russia’s Gazprom.

Prominent public radio interviewer Amy Goodman also brought attention to the matter. “I mean, this is a weapons manufacturers’ bonanza. If weapons manufacturers were concerned that the U.S. had pulled out of Afghanistan and what that would mean for them, I mean, their worries must be very much allayed at this point,” she told two anti-war analysts during her Democracy Now! program Tuesday.

The troops Biden’s sending to the Russian border aren’t the only U.S. and NATO forces that have angered Putin, Wilkerson noted. The U.S. flies drones and Airborne Warning and Control planes over Ukrainian airspace, right on Russia’s frontiers, and it’s considering the sanctions. Planeloads of U.S. arms already landed Kiev on Jan. 25.

Wilkerson, who has long since disavowed his aid to the late Secretary of State Colin Powell’s infamous speech justifying GOP President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, laid the blame for tensions on American leaders, starting with former Presidents Bill Clinton (D) and George H.W. Bush (R), who expanded NATO to enroll nations bordering Russia, such as Poland and the Baltic states.

Those additions produced the unsettling sight, for Russia, of U.S. tanks, flying flags, parading just yards from the Estonian-Russian border. Wilkerson said NATO “should have died when the Soviet Union died.”

Instead, the Cold War military alliance grew instead, admitting former Warsaw Pact member states and even former Soviet republics, not counting Ukraine, yet. That expansion violated agreements between the U.S. and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and his successor, the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Wilkerson pointed out.

There are ways to defuse the tensions, he contended. One is to listen closely and follow lower-key recommended responses floated by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The latter turned down Biden’s invitation five days ago for a snap meeting on the tensions over Ukraine, Reuters reported. Macron first proposed direct talks between Europe and Russia on Jan. 19 and will now hold his own phone call with Putin, one-to-one, on Jan. 28. Those developments belie Biden’s claims his allies are all on the same page.

Putin has his own demands, which he’s raising in talks with Biden and other top U.S. officials. Given the U.S. role in running troops up to the border, Wilkerson called the demands reasonable.

The demands are Ukrainian neutrality, “no membership in NATO”—which the Ukrainian regime has been unsuccessfully angling for—“no membership in the European Union and no membership in anything else until you clean up” what he called “one of the most corrupt governments on Earth,” regardless of who, including neo-Nazis, are running it.

Peace mobilization

Several other U.S. pro-peace groups echoed CODEPINK’s stand, even if they didn’t announce their own demonstrations or find their own expert military analyst to oppose the looming possibility of war.

“As Quakers, we affirm that war is never the answer,” said Bridget Moix, General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers). “War is brutal and bloody, and its grievous consequences stretch on for generations. War represents a calamitous failure of governments to do their most basic job of keeping their people safe.

“This discussion assumes Russia can be threatened into submission. Or that threats of war will prevent a war. But disputes don’t end with wars, they end with diplomacy and peacebuilding,” Moix added.

“President Joe Biden and members of Congress, expanding NATO any further would constitute an unnecessary provocation as well as an unwise military obligation. Taking such expansion off the table would address Russia’s primary security concern and reduce the likelihood that U.S. troops will be sent to yet another unwinnable war. Simply by acknowledging this, you could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.”

Joseph Gerson, speaking for Abolition 2000, the Global Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, reiterated many of Wilkerson’s points. Justice With Peace reposted his lengthy history and analysis.

“This has been a totally unnecessary crisis, fueled in large measure by U.S. insistence on maintaining NATO’s ‘open door’ policy when the reality is that there is no way France or Germany will agree to Ukraine becoming a NATO member state,” Gerson wrote.

“Resolution of the crisis could be hastened were President Biden or Secretary Blinken to state the obvious: ‘We understand there are deep insecurities on all sides. Given that our allies are in no hurry to welcome Ukraine into NATO, we propose a moratorium on new NATO memberships. Beyond that, we look forward to a range of constructive negotiations to establish an enduring Eurasian security framework for the 21st century.”

They’d better act before some accident pushes both sides into a shooting war, or worse, he warned.

“Perhaps most worrying, while President Biden and NATO have for the moment ruled out a military counterattack should Russia invade Ukraine, nothing is certain in war. Just as unanticipated gunshots”—Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand—”triggered an unwanted World War in 1914, today an incident, accident, or miscalculation, compounded by powerful nationalist forces, could lead to a wider, potentially nuclear war.”

TAKE ACTION:

– Contact the White House.

– Call Congress: (202) 224-3121

Sign CODEPINK’s anti-war petition to Congress.

– Attend the Jan. 27 rally in Washington, or initiate your own local event.

READ OTHER UKRAINE COVERAGE:

> The West, not Russia, is responsible for the war danger in Ukraine

> Biden and NATO raise the stakes in deadly Ukraine war gamble

> Who is invading whom? U.S. forces already in Eastern Europe


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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