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“You don’t have to be Ukrainian or Russian to demand the US stop instigating, escalating, and funding the war in Ukraine,” declared People’s Forum co-director Claudia Cruz at “The Real Path to Peace in Ukraine” event Saturday November 19 in New York. Her comment was an answer to President Biden’s clever trick of saying peace “is up to the Ukrainians.” That gives him a pretext to continue the flood of military aid and “trainers” that keep the war hot and endless.

“We demand the US government stop its brutality across the world,” Ms. Cruz said. She scoffed at the official US government claim that its proxy war in Ukraine was “unprovoked” – adding “we can see the difference between the narrative and the fact! We need to shut down “the war machine – NATO, Africom, every instrument of war across the globe.”

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“We have a collective responsibility to remember the four waves of NATO expansion,” she said, explaining that when NATO’s original “defensive” role against the USSR ended, it morphed from a dozen European and North American countries to an aggressive alliance of 30 countries, designed to surround Russia, and extend imperial power to the Middle East, central Asia, Africa and the Far East. “We need to remember all the imperialist interventions,” Claudia said, “financing dictatorships and attacking people’s movements in Central America in the 1980s, the invasion of Panama in 1990, terror bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria; sanctions, coups and regime change operations in Cuba, Bolivia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela.”

Call for antiwar surge in mid-January

The event was called to launch a major intensification of antiwar activity across the US, starting on Saturday, January 14, as part of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday weekend. Sponsored by the People’s Forum and the ANSWER coalition, the call has been echoed by a large array of groups including Black Alliance for Peace, US Peace Council, United National Antiwar Coalition, Black is Back Coalition, Popular Resistance, International Action Center, World Beyond War, BAYAN USA, Green Party USA, Sanctions Kill Campaign, Students for a Democratic Society, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power, and dozens of others, including groups in Canada, Europe and Africa.

“The Real Path to Peace in Ukraine” event at People’s Forum in New York, Nov. 19. Left to right: Manolo de los Santos of People’s Forum, Brian Becker of ANSWER, Jill Stein of the Green Party, Claudia Cruz of People’s Forum, VJ Prashad, Eugene Puryear of BreakThrough News.

“The Real Path to Peace in Ukraine” event at People’s Forum in New York, Nov. 19. Left to right: Manolo de los Santos of People’s Forum, Brian Becker of ANSWER, Jill Stein of the Green Party, Claudia Cruz of People’s Forum, VJ Prashad, Eugene Puryear of BreakThrough News.

Manolo de los Santos of People’s Forum chaired the event, which was packed with people at the forum site, with hundreds more online. Manolo said “for as long as NATO and US imperialism exist, we’ll be mobilizing and organizing against it. People power is the only thing capable of stopping the war machine!” Brian Becker, director of the ANSWER coalition, said “we have to organize tens of millions – if you’re a worker, a young person, all who are suffering because all the money is going to the war makers and not the people – we need to unite to fight against the war makers. We’re building a worldwide movement.” Other speakers were Medea Benjamin of CodePink, Noam Chomsky, Jill Stein of the Green Party, Eugene Puryear of BreakThrough News, and VJ Prashad of the Tricontinental Institute.

Confusion in Washington

Medea Benjamin highlighted confusion in Washington, where “the most cautious people in DC are the military, with top General Milley calling for negotiations while “Biden and Blinken push the illusion that Ukraine can get back all of Donbas and Crimea.” Meanwhile, she said, “not one Democrat opposed massive amounts of money for Ukraine,” and thirty supposedly “progressive Democrats” had to retract a friendly letter to Biden gently suggesting it might be time for peace negotiations. She said the most extreme right-wingers are “feeling pressure from their base” against the “blank check” for Ukraine. Trump, in announcing a new run for president, says the war buildup “could end up in nuclear war – and I can stop it!”

That doesn’t mean the antiwar movement should align with the far right, Benjamin said. Rather, it should reach out to people concerned about climate change, and the faith-based movement, including the Pope, calling for a Christmas truce.

Noam Chomsky said the war can end “in one of two ways – surrender or a negotiated settlement.” The US wants to continue the war to weaken Russia, then impose conditions on a “defeated” Russia worse than those imposed on Germany at the end the first world war, he said. The consequences of this “vast gamble” is the war must go on as long as it benefits the US as the world’s dominant power. He contrasted US “shock and awe” war methods with Russia’s more cautious approach, which has involved far less suffering and bloodshed than US wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on. He said the US “gamble that Russia will accept defeat” is based on illusion. He added that the euphoria in the executive offices of fossil fuel companies is unrestrained, but could lead to the end of organized human life on the planet, as the possibility of nuclear war is now casually discussed.

“Every possible path to diplomatic settlement should be pursued,” Chomsky said, “but the US and UK have sabotaged the Minsk II process and the deal between Ukraine and Russia in Istanbul last spring. “As the war continues, options become very narrow,” he concluded.

The end of the colonial, white supremacist project, but ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’

Jill Stein, twice presidential candidate of the Green Party, said “we cut our teeth on fighting ‘manufactured consent’ in Vietnam and Iraq, and we’re facing a social-economic system run by elites in the end stage of their colonial, white supremacist project.” She pointed to recent polls showing that most ordinary people focus on basic issues like health and housing, inflation and economic desperation, and not “defense and security” – the favorite of DC politicians. The people’s second concern is betrayal by government officials. War in Ukraine and against Russia rank between one and two percent, she said. But the US federal budget allots more than a trillion dollars for the military, which “leaves a pittance for human needs and the climate crisis, while fifty million people are facing acute starvation. This is a crisis of war, a crisis of climate, and a crisis of justice, she said.

“The US elites insist on ‘full spectrum dominance’,” Stein observed. “The US is determined to not allow competitors to emerge – neither among enemies or allies” – referring to how the Biden gang bludgeoned its NATO allies to sanction Russia, causing economic disaster for themselves. The US has disrupted or cancelled all nuclear treaties, endangering everyone. “The solution is to get rid of the nukes,” she said. Meanwhile water levels are rising everywhere while fossil fuels are the engines of war. She said the explosion of the Nord Stream pipelines caused the “biggest ever” release of poisonous methane gas. “Now there are ten new LNG terminals in the US, and another ten in the EU – we’re gonna stop it!”

The US wanted this war…

Brian Becker said “the US pumped in more than $10 billion for military aid to Ukraine after rejecting Russian peace proposals last December. They wanted this war because of their imperialist objectives. First, the EU was becoming independent of US imperialism by dealing with Russia and China – ending post-WW2 dependence on the US.” The US strategy was to use Ukraine to weaken Russia. Then the US plan was for Russia to invade Ukraine. “If you’re Russia, what should you do? We can’t ignore that the US imperialists wanted it.” He added that “our enemies are not in Ukraine or Russia, they’re on Wall Street, in the Pentagon and Langley [CIA HQ].”

Becker said “the path to peace is to negotiate – not escalate.” But he warned that “if you stand for peace against the war makers, you’re an existential threat to them.” He recalled that when Socialist leader Eugene Debs called on people to oppose World War 1 in 1917, he was “tried, convicted and sent to prison.” When Martin Luther King declared “the US government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, and we need to stand with the Vietnamese people,” he was assassinated a year later on April 4, 1968. Then a year and a half later in December 1969, Chicago Panther Fred Hampton as killed by police, he said. Still, Becker said a massive national and worldwide movement can stop the war makers.

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Even though the EU countries became partners with the US against the global South following World War 2, the anti-colonial struggles and revolutions across the world weakened the western alliance, Becker said. As the US became bogged down in wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Africa, the Europeans reached out to Russia and China for business. The US, under the neocon advisers to both Trump and Biden, have worked to force Europe back into tight dependency, even if it hurts the Europeans.

Realistic basis for peace

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Ukraine’s current leadership and its US/NATO backers want to avoid a settlement reflecting the demographic and historical reality of the country, as I wrote in July 2022. But this is one key issue that should guide any effort at peace. A peace agreement reflecting Russia’s legitimate concerns (voiced for many months and years) would establish a viable basis of cooperation by Russia with Ukraine and with Europe.

Getting to this type of truly viable peace would require complete withdrawal of NATO forces from Ukraine and an end to sanctions against Russia. It would require recognition of political self-determination for the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, that recently voted to join Russia. Ideally, it would also involve dismantling NATO, which was originally formed as a defense alliance against the USSR, but has morphed into an aggressive global force.

Why the Russian intervention happened

Russia’s need to defend itself against NATO’s increasing threats from the Baltic to the Caspian seas was just one of its problems. Protecting Russians and Russian-speakers in the Donbas was another. As Ellen Taylor, daughter of Nuremberg prosecutor Telford Taylor wrote recently, the Russian leadership “had the responsibility to protect its people.”

The Donbas is “the heart of Russia,” as acknowledged by the Atlantic Council’s reporter Irena Chalupa. “We Won’t Abandon Them,” was the headline cited by Chalupa from a leading Russian business magazine, Ekspert, in June 2014. The people of Donbas played a decisive role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Russians remember the USSR suffered about 27 million deaths and inestimable economic losses to the Nazis in World War 2. Their determination to prevent anything like that happening again should be understandable.

“Russia, convinced that an attack was imminent, despairing of negotiations, persuaded by information contained in a hacked email and aware of the danger of waiting any longer, launched its ‘special operation,’” Taylor wrote. From February 15 to 24, 2022, Ukrainian army shelling in the Donbas region increased daily from 41 to more than 2,000 on successive days. “NATO’s intention was to precipitate an attack,” she stated.

The avalanche of Western propaganda charging “Russian aggression” does not change the fact that Russia responded to years of provocations. Millions of Russians living inside the existing borders of Ukraine were targeted for choosing political autonomy from Ukraine’s fascist-infiltrated national government. Some 14,000 soldiers and civilians were killed between 2014 and early 2022 in the internal war launched by Kyiv in the spring of 2014 to crush resistance to the violent coup of that year and smother demands for autonomy.

Conspiracy by NATO and the US in a War of Aggression

Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies called Russia’s intervention an “illegal, brutal assault,” “criminal,” and “the worst strategic decision that any Russian government has made” since the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5. In their new book, War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, they say “Russia was the aggressor.” But Ellen Taylor states bluntly that “the crime of conspiracy to commit a war of aggression… has to be laid at the feet of NATO and the U.S.” She added that “the often-repeated claim that Russia’s aggression was unprovoked, is preposterous.”

The United States investment in bringing anti-Russian fascists to power was not merely “over $5 billion to assist Ukraine,” as Assistant US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland bragged. Another part of the “investment” was to “fuck the EU,” as Nuland said. By sabotaging French and German efforts to sustain the Minsk II accords granting autonomy to the Donbas region, and cutting western Europe off from Russian energy supplies, the US forced a conflict between NATO and Russia. The September 26 explosion of the Nord Stream pipelines can be seen as a guarantee, at least for now, that Europe cannot depend on Russian gas. Meanwhile the US and NATO flooded Ukraine with military hardware and “trainers,” effectively converting Ukraine’s military into a NATO force.

All this makes it clear the US wants the conflict in Ukraine to last, and to “weaken Russia,” as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. That’s a version of former Vice President Dick Cheney’s dream: he “wanted to see the dismantlement… of Russia, so it could never again be a threat,” as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote in his 2014 memoir. (Cited by Ben Norton in Multipolarista.) Cheney and former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wanted a “loosely confederated Russia ‒ composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic, and a Far Eastern Republic.” Brzezinski wrote that “what happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy.” He added that “a sovereign Ukraine is a critically important component” of such a policy.

Russia’s intervention in the Donbas and other Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine countervails the US/NATO strategy. It has completed much of its objective to “liberate” Donbas from Ukraine’s army and its paramilitary, extreme-right battalions. But this also makes clear that talk of Russian withdrawal from the territories it now holds is not a basis for peace. Recent western claims that “Ukraine is winning,” and Ukrainian President Zelensky’s fantasies of “regaining Ukraine’s lost territory” are hopeless.

Last May the NY Times editorialized that “A decisive military victory for Ukraine over Russia, in which Ukraine regains all the territory Russia has seized since 2014, is not a realistic goal… Unrealistic expectations could draw [the United States and NATO] ever deeper into a costly, drawn-out war.”

How to stop the war

The question of how to avoid a drawn-out war that could become nuclear is now a topic of debate. There are calls for negotiations from a variety of sides. Talks will of course take place. Biden takes the position that negotiations are up to the Ukrainians, whose war effort is totally dependent on the US and NATO. Meanwhile Zelensky insists that Russia surrender and withdraw its forces. This doesn’t sound like a basis for negotiations, and makes calls for talks meaningless. Instead, the peace movement should call for an end to US/NATO funding, training and arming of Ukraine. As Manolo de los Santos declared at the People’s Forum event, “people power is the only thing capable of stopping the war machine!”