Peace Action Statement on Ukraine: Diplomacy and De-escalation, not further Militarization

 In NATO, Russia, Ukraine

Peace Action condemns the deployment of Russian troops into the Donbas and calls for all parties to implement an immediate ceasefire. We have long opposed these types of illegal and unilateral military interventions, often by our own U.S. government, as fundamental threats to a more peaceful world. Our hearts go out to all those threatened by this violence. 

This intervention risks escalation and a catastrophic war. Now, while the window for diplomacy may be narrowed, we call on all parties to rally and redouble efforts to seek a diplomatic solution. We agree with President Biden’s recognition that U.S. troops do not belong in the conflict. This conflict has no military solution. Pro-peace Americans should press their representatives to call for diplomacy not military escalation. 

The underlying tensions driving this conflict go deep. All of the parties must engage in serious and sustained diplomacy to get to the bottom of this conflict. This diplomacy should urgently implement a cessation of hostilities in the Donbas, and get back on the diplomatic track of resolving the regional conflict represented by the Minsk II agreements and the Normandy format. The Minsk II agreement would have, if implemented, demilitarized the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine and guaranteed meaningful political autonomy to the region while retaining Ukrainian sovereignty over the area and its borders. At the same time, serious and sustained diplomacy is needed to address the conflict between Russia and NATO and the U.S. over wider security issues. 

Nobody should oversimplify the current situation. While no one but Russia is responsible for the decision to send troops and tanks into Ukraine, many decisions led to this day. Russia-Ukraine relations and history are complex. The decisions made by the U.S. and NATO to expand NATO without fully addressing Russian security concerns were a risky sort of post Cold War triumphalism. Many military and foreign policy leaders pointed this out throughout the last two decades. George Kennan, the State Department architect of the Cold War’s U.S.  “containment” strategy famously warned that expanding NATO to the east “would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.” The Minsk agreements were signed in 2015, seven years went by, and the failure to implement those agreements was also fateful. 

This failure to take diplomacy and conflict prevention seriously enough is part and parcel of a military-first foreign policy in this country – and internationally. Since 2014, the central features of U.S. policy towards Russia and Ukraine have been sanctions, military aid, and saber rattling. The sanctions and $2.7 billion dollars of military aid we’ve already sent to Ukraine didn’t deter Russia, and piling on more weapons and sanctions are unlikely to work in the future. We need to give up the mirage that some package of sanctions and weaponry can resolve this conflict. 

Congress is considering a massive defense package including a staggering $500 million grant for new weapons for Ukraine, which would make it the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid. Throwing another half-billion dollars in military aid at Ukraine will not resolve the conflict – on the contrary, it could escalate it. The bill also piles sanctions on Russia without fully examining how those sanctions might impact innocent Russian civilians. At the same time, the bill represents yet another half-billion dollars gift to weapons manufacturers that could instead be spent on threats here at home like the pandemic and climate change. 

Diplomacy and de-escalation are the urgent priorities; we can’t risk putting out the fire with gasoline. While seemingly no one wants war, miscalculations could lead to catastrophe between nuclear-armed behemoths. It is time to escalate diplomacy, not military aid. 

To de-escalate the current crisis, Peace Action advocates an ambitious round of diplomacy that is powerful enough to get at the roots of the crisis. While this level of diplomacy would be difficult, particularly after Russia’s recent escalation and intervention, the alternative to successful diplomacy is likely to be decades of conflict. This diplomacy could include:

  • Renewed and intensified negotiations to end the conflict in the Donbas along the lines of the Minsk agreements.
  • A sustainable security assurance agreement for Ukraine that guarantees Ukrainian independence and sovereignty while keeping Ukraine militarily neutral (i.e. not in NATO). 
  • Talks between the U.S., NATO, and Russia to create a new, more stable, European common security architecture. This could include agreements on military activities, military exercises, military bases, reduction of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, as well as military to military mechanisms to prevent escalation-prone incidents and other conflict prevention mechanisms. 
  • Transform the current crisis. Initiate diplomacy to address common challenges where the US, Russia and all parties have common interests in addressing the climate catastrophe, the pandemic, and violent extremism.
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