Are "Negotiations" the Answer?
Oct. 14, 2022. After their excellent show on 10/6 featuring an Indian Leftist Kavita Krishnan talking about Ukraine, Democracy Now went back on 10/12 to guests blaming U.S. and Ukrainian leaders for the continued warfare.
The main person interviewed was Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK. She and Nicolas Davies have just had published a book “War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict”. First off let me say I haven’t read the book, but the title is grossly insulting. The war there is not one between two greedy kings or dictators. The Ukrainian fight, their warfare, is no more senseless than Vietnams 30-year fight against colonization, or the warfare of Jewish partisans against the Nazis or the warfare of the Blacks of Haiti against Napoleon. Ukrainians aren’t fighting over something silly or symbolic. They’re trying to maintain their independence and their livelihoods and their identity as Ukrainians.
The segment was entitled “Negotiations are the only way forward.” Benjamin maintains that the U.S. is keeping the war from ending by pressing Ukrainian leaders to refuse to talk with Putin.
There’s no evidence at all for that unless you believe that Biden’s statement that he won’t go behind Ukraine’s back and make a deal with Putin somehow means he’s pressing Ukraine not to bargain with Putin.
Benjamin says, “And we have seen the U.S. actually torpedo negotiations, starting from the proposals that the Russians put forward right before the invasion, which was summarily dismissed by the U.S.” I don’t know what she’s talking about. As far as I can tell the facts are quite the reverse. Reuters in September published what they said was an “exclusive”. It starts “Vladimir Putin's chief envoy on Ukraine told the Russian leader as the war began that he had struck a provisional deal with Kyiv that would satisfy Russia's demand that Ukraine stay out of NATO, but Putin rejected it and pressed ahead with his military campaign, according to three people close to the Russian leadership.” It should also be remembered that when on February 24 Russian troops crossed the border the response from “the West” was not to demand Ukraine fight to the last man, but to offer Zelensky safe passage on leaving his country.
Now we do know that the sides were talking in March and that on March 29 Ukraine presented a 10 point plan that included a proposal not to raise the issue of Russian control over Crimea for 15 years, for Ukraine to agree to be a neutral country, foreign military bases would be forbidden and certain sections of the Donbas would not be covered by security provisions of the treaty. Russia’s response was to say it would shell less heavily. On April 7 Putin said peace talks had hit a “dead end”.
Medea Benjamin would have us believe that the failure of the talks was due to Boris Johnson arriving in Kyiv. She says, “We saw Boris Johnson coming to meet with Zelensky and saying that the, quote, 'collective West' was not about to make an agreement with the Russians and was there to support Ukraine in this fight." The UK government website page that talks about that visit only says Johnson pledged “unwavering support”. A site “The Hungarian Conservative” wrote a piece in August quoting a Ukrainian news site article from May saying that Johnson was giving a message from a collective west that Putin was a war criminal and not a person to negotiate with. Let’s say Johnson did say that. What the Hungarian Conservative and Medea Benjamin are leaving out is that that same article also mentioned that the March-April talks failed because “The first thing was the revelation of the atrocities, rapes, murders, massacres, looting, indiscriminate bombings and hundreds and thousands of other war crimes committed by Russian troops in the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories…” Ukrainian forces had driven the Russians out of northern Ukraine and away from the outskirts of Kyiv and had discovered the rumored horrors to be absolutely true. Ukrainians were rightly furious.
Did Ukraine harden its position? Yes, and it had every right to do so. It had been invaded, with thousands of its citizens killed, hundreds of billions in property damage suffered. If it was enraged at seeing the horrors and if it was encouraged that the U.K. and the U.S. were going to support it and if that meant it was withdrawing proposals that were made when it looked like Putin would overrun the whole country, it had every right to do so.
Obviously talks are made to establish terms at the end of wars, but that doesn’t mean that all wars can simply be ended by talking. So, what terms, what “compromise” might settle the conflict? On Democracy Now Benjamin and Davies ask nothing from Russia, certainly not reparations. What concessions then do Benjamin and Davies propose from Ukraine? They want Ukraine to accept permanent neutrality and that it accept the terms arrived at by the 2015 Minsk agreements on Donbas, agreements that were good enough for a ceasefire, but too vague to include the steps by which peace could actually be implemented. Do they also think Ukraine has to accept some of Putin's annexations?
Finally, Benjamin notes that none of the Democrats are opposing military aid to Ukraine. She says that the aid is only being opposed by the “extreme right”. She says, “It’s being questioned also by Donald Trump, who said that if he had been president, this war wouldn’t happen. He would have probably talked to Putin, which is right. So, we’ve got to build an opposition movement from the left to say that we want the Democrats in Congress to join with any Republicans that will join in this to put pressure on Biden.” She wants to the Democrats to join with the Trump extreme right on foreign policy.
P.S. Another point of view on the program from Clay Claiborne