The crisis in Ukraine is escalating to the point where a new Cold War threatens to become a hot war between nuclear-armed powers. How did we get here and what can we do to avoid war?
- In February of this year, the U.S. government supported the violent overthrow of the elected president of Ukraine, after he decided against entering into an exclusive economic and political agreement with the European Union. Hundreds of thousands of people in western Ukraine were in the streets calling for the president to step down, for a variety of reasons including corruption. But extreme right-wing nationalist militias led the mob violence that sent the president packing, and neo-fascist leaders now hold key positions in the U.S.-backed government in Kiev, including overseeing the military and police.
- Russia responded by facilitating the annexation of Crimea, historically part of Russia and home to its Black Sea naval fleet. The insertion of Russian troops into Crimea was a violation of international law, and thus the popular referendum on annexing to Russia can be called into question. But the massive participation in the referendum, with over 90% approving annexation to Russia, appears to accurately reflect the sentiment of the Crimean people, and was followed by widespread dancing in the streets. No Russian tanks. Crimea had been part of Ukraine only since 1954, when it was so ordered by Russian president Nikita Krushchev, without the consent of the people of Crimea.
- The largely Russian-speaking population of eastern Ukraine does not accept the new coup government in Kiev, and armed groups have seized many government buildings, variously calling for more autonomy within Ukraine, outright independence, or annexation to Russia. Many people in western Ukraine also remain in the streets, some supporting the interim government, while others are reportedly wary of the coup government and waiting for democratic elections, promised for late May.
- Some Ukrainian Army units sent to take back government buildings in eastern Ukraine have been disarmed and/or have refused to attack their fellow countrymen.
- Russian-speaking militants attempting to take over a military base in eastern Ukraine were repelled, several were killed and others arrested. A checkpoint manned by Russian-speaking militias was attacked, killing three to six men, and wounding several others. Right-wing militias were accused, but have denied responsibility for the attack.
- An interim peace agreement between the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the government in Kiev quickly fell apart, as resistance groups in eastern Ukraine were not invited to participate and have not agreed to abandon their occupation of government buildings. President Obama is accusing Russia of not calling on pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine to stand down.
- Two weeks ago the head of the CIA made a “secret” mission to Kiev, followed last week by Vice President Joseph Biden. New raids by the Ukrainian Army in eastern Ukraine began shortly after Biden’s visit. The new regime in Kiev, considered illegitimate by many Ukrainians, is to receive one billion dollars in loan guarantees, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.
- NATO has announced that it is building up its air, naval and ground forces in eastern Europe. Dominated by the U.S., NATO has steadily expanded to incorporate former states of the Soviet Union, despite earlier promises to Russia that this would not happen.
- Russia, incensed by the West’s blatant – if botched – attempt to expand its sphere of influence into traditional Russian strongholds, is reported to have as many as 40,000 troops stationed near its border with Ukraine.
- Six hundred U.S. soldiers have been sent to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They are from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy. This is a rapid response unit that played a key role in the March 2004 invasion of Iraq and saw major combat in Afghanistan. Six hundred troops is not a lot, but NATO’s top military commander, U.S. Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, has publicly discussed the option of sending a 4,500-member American combat brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, to Europe.
- U.S. media coverage of the “Crisis in Ukraine” has been little more than one-sided propaganda, portraying Russian President Putin as the aggressor and providing no historical context whatsoever.
- Right-wing militarists in the U.S. are calling for U.S. troops in Ukraine, while President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry implement economic warfare (“sanctions”) and institute a renewed policy of isolating and “containing” Russia, aka Cold War II.
- President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have avoided making comments about fascistic, anti-Semitic leaders who are now part of the government in Kiev. Only after forged fliers were attributed to a pro-Russia resistance group in eastern Ukraine, did John Kerry denounce the “obscenity” of anti-Semitism.
- Loan guarantees from the U.S., EU and International Monetary Fund will require further privatization in Ukraine and a great burden of austerity to be imposed upon its people.
In our Statement of Purpose, Veterans For Peace promises “to restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations.”
What we are seeing in Ukraine is a classic example of covert U.S. intervention and “regime change,” very similar to current goings-on in Venezuela, where the U.S. government is supporting street violence aimed at overthrowing another democratically elected government.
Whether or not U.S. and Russian leaders intend it, this covert war threatens to become an overt war with every rhetorical, economic and military escalation. As we know, wars are all too easy to start, even by accident, but very difficult to stop. Russia, feeling existentially threatened and bullied on its own border, is unlikely to back down. It is our responsibility as Veterans For Peace to help pull our own government back from the abyss.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HEAD OFF WAR?
- Rather than succumb to outlandishly one-sided propaganda in the U.S. mass media, we will counter it by telling the truth, to our neighbors, to our local media, through our own media and through public actions.
- We will tell our elected leaders and the general public that we absolutely oppose any U.S./NATO military intervention in Ukraine or attack on Russia.
- We believe that the U.S., the European Union and right-wing extremists in Ukraine bear much of the responsibility for the current crisis. Even so, we call upon Russian leaders to take steps to de-escalate this crisis and avoid a new war between nuclear-armed powers.
- We also oppose economic warfare (“sanctions”) against Russia. Economic warfare is a violation of international law, in part because it is a form of collective punishment that most often hurts the poor, the very young and the very old. As we saw with Iraq, economic sanctions, rather than being an alternative to military action, can actually be a prelude to all-out war.
- We oppose shoring up the illegitimate government of Ukraine with billions of U.S. tax dollars that would better be spent on much needed social programs here in the U.S., such as food security, housing and healthcare for GI’s and veterans who have been physically and psychologically wounded by war.
- We will seek out allies in the peace movement, both in the U.S. and internationally, and make urgent common cause to head off a dangerous war involving the U.S. and Russia, both nuclear-armed powers.
- We will work to understand the varying interests of different national groups and regions within Ukraine, and encourage a nonviolent, diplomatic outcome to this dangerous crisis. Washington and its European allies ought to reverse course and turn Ukraine into a field of cooperation with Russia through a jointly supported bailout devoid of geopolitical motivation. Good relations with both Russia and the European Union are in the best interests of all the Ukrainian people. A just and peaceful resolution that averts the very real threat of war is in the interests of all the world’s people.