Peace activists demand diplomacy and negotiations, not escalations in Ukraine

By Marcy Winograd, Independent Media Institute

On September 18, President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t” use nuclear weapons in retaliation for severe battlefield losses in Ukraine. While Putin dismissed Biden’s worries as unfounded, the specter of nuclear armageddon drove U.S. antiwar activists to the streets days before in a September Week of Action organized by the Peace in Ukraine Coalition.

codepink peace rally in dc

Demanding a “ceasefire now,” activists hosted antiwar events in D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Madison, Boston, Rockville, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles.

The Peace in Ukraine Coalition—consisting of CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, Massachusetts Peace Action, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom-U.S., and other organizations—mobilized for negotiations, not escalation, in what CODEPINK describes as a proxy war threatening a direct war between the two most heavily armed nuclear nations, the United States and Russia.

With President Biden asking Congress for another $13.7 billion for Ukraine, $7.2 billion for weapons and military training, activists delivered letters to their U.S. House and Senate representatives, some letters simply urging a ceasefire, others pushing for a no vote on the next weapons request folded into a $47 billion COVID-19 relief bill. That bill, called a continuing resolution, must be voted on in one form or another by September 30 to avoid a federal government shutdown.

​​If the resolution passes with Biden’s request, military analysts say it would bring this year’s total for Ukraine to $67 billion. The amount allotted for weapons, military training, and intelligence could surpass $40 billion, four times the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency during an existential climate crisis of wildfires, droughts, storms, and rising sea levels.

In the nation’s capital, CODEPINK co-founders Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, together with Colonel Ann Wright and other activists, kicked off the Week of Action, going door to door to the offices of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), where the most natural antiwar allies would, theoretically, be found. While some members of the caucus call for much-needed diplomacy and raise concerns about the risk of nuclear war—either through a miscalculation or an intentional first strike—not one member of the nearly 100-member CPC will commit to voting against more weapons for Ukraine.

Benjamin told the press, “Further escalation should be unthinkable, but so should a long war of endless crushing artillery barrages and brutal urban and trench warfare that slowly and agonizingly destroys Ukraine, killing hundreds of Ukrainians with each day that passes. The only realistic alternative to this endless slaughter is a return to peace talks to bring the fighting to an end.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer do not make it easy for Democrats to break ranks—as the Republicans are doing ahead of the midterms—on the question of weapons for Ukraine. Pelosi and Schumer embed humanitarian aid and military dollars in the same legislation, making it hard for progressive Democrats to join with the 57 Republicans, among them hard-core Trumpers Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14), Lauren Boebert (CO-03), and Jim Jordan (OH-04), who voted against previous Ukraine packages.

Since the Russian invasion on February 24, thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have died, and according to the United Nations, 12 million have been displaced, either internally or throughout Eastern Europe. The Pentagon estimates 80,000 Russian soldiers have been killed.

Partners in the Peace in Ukraine Coalition condemn the Russian invasion but argue there is no military solution to a war that was provoked by the same neoconservatives responsible for the disastrous U.S. invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Through successive administrations, the voices for a unipolar world in which the United States dominates led to the expansion of NATO, a hostile nuclear-armed military alliance, from 12 countries after the fall of the Soviet Union to 30 countries, including some that border Russia: Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Lithuania.

In addition to the expansion of NATO, organizations in the Peace in Ukraine Coalition cite other provocations: U.S. support for a 2014 coup of Ukraine’s democratically elected Russia-friendly president and years of U.S. arms shipments—from Presidents Obama to Trump to Biden—to undermine the 2015 MINSK II peace agreement. That accord signed by Russia and Ukraine was to end the civil war that followed the 2014 coup and left an estimated 14,000 people dead in Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. Fighting between the swastika-flag-waving Azov Battalion and Russian separatists preceded Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, though corporate media often fails to mention this.

On Thursday, September 15, demonstrators in San Francisco’s Financial District marched from the Senate offices of Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein to deliver letters in opposition to funding a protracted war in Ukraine.

Massachusetts Peace Action activists camped outside the offices of three Democratic House members—Jake Auchincloss, Katherine Clark, and Stephen Lynch—to implore them to support a ceasefire.

Milwaukee antiwar activists, including a county supervisor, took their peace flags and “Diplomacy, Not War” signs to the campus of conservative Marquette University, where they passed out hundreds of flyers with QR codes for students to email their Congress members for a ceasefire. Organizer Jim Carpenter, co-chair (with myself) of the foreign policy team of Progressive Democrats of America, told skeptics who want a fight to the last Ukrainian, “Are you more concerned about saving lives or saving territory?”

DSA members in Santa Barbara, California, distributed a similar half-pager to a staffer for Democratic Congressman Salud Carbajal, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and represents a district crawling with military contractors and home to Vandenberg Air Force Base, where a test launch of a nuclear missile was delayed due to Putin’s placement of Russia’s nuclear arsenal on high alert.

On the steps outside the congressman’s office, activists talked to a Ukrainian church member visiting the lawmaker at the same time to press for more weapons for Ukraine. “You can’t negotiate with Putin—you can never trust him,” he insisted, waving a large Ukrainian flag and arguing for a fight to the finish—to regime change.

“But there is no military solution short of economic ruin, global famine, climate catastrophe—or worse, nuclear armageddon,” I responded, and I pointed out—to nods from the Ukrainian—that since the start of the war, Ukraine and Russia had negotiated grain exports and nuclear reactor inspections. Why couldn’t they negotiate an end to the war, if only the United States and NATO would stop sending weapons to prolong the crisis?

Veterans for Peace members in the Bay Area wrote to Democratic Representatives Mark Desaulinier (CA-11) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), the lone vote against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and sponsor of legislation to cut the Pentagon budget by $350 billion. “We urge you to forcefully call for negotiations and speak out against Secretary of Defense [Lloyd] Austin’s call for continuing the war to ‘weaken Russia.’ That is a recipe for a world war if ever there was one,” read the letters.

In Rockville, Maryland, another Veterans for Peace member, Jim Driscoll, who volunteered for the Marines in Vietnam, published an op-ed in the local press titled, “Why I Was Arrested to ‘Stop the War! Save the Climate!’” Driscoll was arrested in August during an antiwar protest outside Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen’s office. His message to Van Hollen, as well as the media, was to stop fueling the war in Ukraine that exacerbates the climate crisis.

Driscoll writes, “As with Vietnam and Iraq, the U.S. government and a subservient media have painted an ahistorical, one-sided, distorted narrative to justify the damage we have foisted upon the people of Ukraine…”

It was announced that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, was expected to on September 21 virtually address an Austin, Texas, summit of military contractors—Raytheon, Northrop Grumman—to appeal directly to the war profiteers for more weapons. The White House—concerned that Ukrainian battlefield victories will trigger Russian retaliation—opposes Zelenskyy’s latest request: missiles with a range of 190 miles that Zelenskyy could use to strike Russian-annexed Crimea.

As a plan B, Zelenskyy’s government has launched an “Advantage Ukraine” initiative of low taxation and deregulation to attract foreign investors to build made-to-order weapons systems in Ukraine. That country, however, may have serious competition as a forward-deployed threat to Russia, for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently announced he wants to make his country “the cornerstone of conventional defense in Europe.”

Not everyone in high places campaigns, however, for escalation and further militarization. Mexican President Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced plans to call on the United Nations to create an international committee to promote dialogue between Biden, Putin, and Zelenskyy with invitations to Pope Francis, the prime minister of India, and the UN secretary-general to act as mediators to end the war in Ukraine. AMLO would like to put everything on the negotiating table, including nuclear missile tests.

Excited by AMLO’s initiative, members of the Peace in Ukraine Coalition hope to amplify his message in the coming weeks as an existential question haunts coalition members.

​​How does the war in Ukraine end—with nuclear annihilation of 60 percent of the human race; a decades-long war of attrition; or a backdoor deal for semi-autonomy of the Donbas and partial denuclearization of Europe?

As October 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, one is reminded that former President John F. Kennedy persuaded Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to remove nuclear missiles pointed at Florida from a base in Cuba, not by fast-tracking weapons to escalate a hot war but rather by quietly making a deal to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey.

As time passed, U.S. nuclear warheads were reinstalled in Turkey, though the quiet negotiations between JFK and Khrushchev serve as an example of how diplomacy can avert catastrophe.

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Marcy Winograd, coordinator of CODEPINK for Congress, is a longtime antiwar activist who served as a 2020 DNC delegate to Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. A retired English and government teacher, Marcy blogs about militarism and foreign policy at LA Progressive.