By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies
So far, the debate has revolved around what Ukraine and Russia can do to end the war and restore peace. However, given this war is not just between Russia and Ukraine, NATO, and the United States must consider what they can bring to the table to end it. The geopolitical crisis that set the stage for the war in Ukraine began with NATO’s broken promises not to expand into Eastern Europe, and was exacerbated by its declaration in 2008 that Ukraine would eventually join this primarily anti-Russian military alliance.
Then, in 2014, a U.S.-backed coup against Ukraine’s elected government caused the disintegration of Ukraine. Only 51% of Ukrainians surveyed recognized the legitimacy of the post-coup government, and large majorities in Crimea and in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces voted to secede from Ukraine. Crimea rejoined Russia, and the new Ukrainian government launched a civil war against the self-declared “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The civil war killed an estimated 14,000 people, but the Minsk II accord in 2015 established a ceasefire and … casualties declined substantially. But the Ukrainian government never resolved the political crisis by granting Donetsk and Luhansk the autonomous status promised in the Minsk II agreement. Now former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President François Hollande have admitted that Western leaders only agreed to Minsk II to buy time to build up Ukraine’s armed forces to recover Donetsk and Luhansk by force. Russia and Ukraine drew up a 15-point “neutrality agreement,” which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly presented on March 27th, 2022. Russia agreed to withdraw from the territories it occupied since the invasion in exchange for a Ukrainian commitment not to join NATO or host foreign military bases. That framework included proposals for resolving the future of Crimea and Donbas.
But in April … Western allies … persuaded Ukraine to abandon its negotiations with Russia. U.S. and British officials said they saw a chance to “press” and “weaken” Russia, resulting in a prolonged and devastating conflict with hundreds of thousands of casualties. U.S. and NATO leaders now claim to support a return to the negotiating table … with the same goals. They implicitly recognize that nine more months of unnecessary and bloody war failed to greatly improve Ukraine’s negotiating position.
Instead of sending more weapons to fuel a war that cannot be won, Western leaders have a grave responsibility to restart negotiations and ensure that they succeed. Instead of risking nuclear annihilation, the U.S. could open up a new era of disarmament treaties.
For years, President Putin has complained about the large military footprint in Eastern and Central Europe. But in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. actually beefed up its European military presence. It increased the total deployments of American troops in Europe from 80,000 before February 2022 to roughly 100,000. It sent warships to Spain, fighter jet squadrons to the U.K., troops to Romania and the Baltics, and air defense systems to Germany and Italy.
Even before the Russian invasion, the U.S. began expanding its presence at a missile base in Romania that Russia objected to since 2016. The U.S. also built “a highly sensitive military installation” in Poland, just 100 miles from Russian territory. These bases have sophisticated radars … and interceptor missiles. The Russians worry these can be re-purposed to fire offensive or even nuclear missiles, exactly what the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union prohibited, until President Bush withdrew from it in 2002.
While the Pentagon describes the two sites as defensive and pretends they are not directed at Russia, Putin has insisted the bases are evidence of the threat posed by NATO’s eastward expansion.
Here are some steps the U.S. could put on the table to start de-escalating the rising tensions and improve chances for a lasting ceasefire and peace agreement:
—The U.S. and other Western countries could support Ukrainian neutrality with the security guarantees Ukraine and Russia agreed to last March.
—The U.S. and NATO could lift sanctions against Russia as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.
—The U.S. could significantly reduce the 100,000 troops it now has in Europe, and remove its missiles from Romania and Poland, handing over those bases to their respective nations.
—The U.S. could commit with Russia to resume mutual reductions in their nuclear arsenals, and to suspend plans to build more dangerous weapons. They could restore the Treaty on Open Skies, from which the U.S. withdrew in 2020, so both sides can verify the other is removing and dismantling the weapons.
—The U.S. could remove its nuclear weapons from the European countries where they are deployed: Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Turkey.
De-escalation would give Russia a tangible gain to show its citizens. It would allow the U.S. to reduce military spending and enable Europeans to take charge of their own security, as their people want.
— Reprinted and edited for space from Global Research, Jan. 26, 2023.
— Medea Benjamin is co-founder of CODEPINK, and the author of several books. Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist and researcher with CODEPINK.