By Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd
Well-intentioned people on the right, left and in between argue against a ceasefire in Ukraine. They insist the United States should continue to spend billions on weapons, military training and intelligence to ensure Ukraine triumphs over Russia.
Anyone who questions the wisdom of sinking billions more into a crusade for a military solution is labeled a Vladimir Putin apologist or appeaser with a spine as flimsy as a paper towel.
Besides, who can negotiate with a madman like Putin?
The president of Ukraine can — and has.
Since the war started Feb. 24, Volodymyr Zelensky and Putin have negotiated prisoner exchanges, grain exports and international inspections of a nuclear reactor.
While it is only natural to demonize Putin and cheer for Ukrainians who’ve lost so many loved ones and have been forced to flee their homes to escape constant shelling, it is politically naive to dismiss the leader of a nuclear nation of 140 million people as a deranged egoist untethered from his country’s security interests.
It is also unwise to dismiss provocative events that led to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including NATO expansion to Russia’s borders, U.S. involvement in the 2014 overthrow of the government and the encouragement of Ukraine to join NATO.
To fan the flames of war in Ukraine with massive caches of U.S. weapons only ups the ante in a never-ending spiral of violence. For every Ukrainian battlefield victory, one can expect retaliation from Russia – just as Ukraine’s recent victory in northeastern Kharkiv led to the mobilization of 300,000 Russian reservists and referendums in Russia-occupied areas.
Opponents of a ceasefire contend it is not up to the United States to decide the fate of Ukraine. If Ukrainians want to fight until the bitter end, that’s their choice.
A constant flow of U.S. weapons, however, serves as a disincentive to peace negotiations. So does Western interference.
Back in March, just one month after the invasion, Ukraine and Russia had tentatively agreed to a 15-point peace plan, only to have it undermined by Britain’s then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who reportedly told Zelensky not to sign the deal because the United Kingdom would not be party to any agreement with Russia, and the West would supply Ukraine with all the weapons needed to defeat Russia.
That leaves us marching toward an apocalyptic nuclear war. In a national broadcast, Putin recently warned, “In the face of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal.”
Days later, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told the media, “We have communicated directly, privately, at very high levels, to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia.”
If the U.S. State Department is communicating with the Kremlin on the consequences of a nuclear first strike, surely the Biden administration can sit down with the leaders of Russia to support a ceasefire and peaceful settlement.
Certainly there is much to negotiate, beginning with a demand that Russia withdraw troops from occupied Ukraine; pay reparations for destroying hospitals, schools and infrastructure; and remove nuclear-capable missiles from Kaliningrad, a region sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. In return the United States could agree to remove anti-ballistic missiles from Poland and Romania and reaffirm arms control treaties abandoned by Donald Trump.
Let us begin with support for a ceasefire now.
Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of CodePink and co-author of the forthcoming book, “War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict.”
Marcy Winograd is co-chair of the foreign policy team for Progressive Democrats of America and a former congressional peace candidate in Southern California.
Originally published at The Mercury News