The Biden administration has ruled out the idea of pushing Ukraine to negotiate with Russia to end the war, even though many U.S. officials believe neither side is “capable of winning the war outright,” reports The Washington Post. This comes as the war in Ukraine appears to be escalating on a number of fronts, with Russian President Vladimir Putin accusing Ukraine of committing a “terrorist act” and launching the largest strikes on Ukraine in months. We speak with Medea Benjamin, CodePink cofounder, and Nicolas Davies, independent journalist, about the war. They are also co-authors for the book. Making sense of a Senseless Conflict: War in Ukraine “We, the American public, have to push the White House and our leaders in Congress to call for proactive negotiations now,” says Benjamin.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.
AMY GOODMAN: The Washington PostIs reporting the Biden administration has ruled out the idea of pushing Ukraine to negotiate with Russia to end the war, even though many U.S. officials believe neither side is, quote, “capable of winning the war outright.”
This is all as the war in Ukraine seems to be growing on many fronts. A massive explosion destroyed a bridge linking Russia and Crimea on Saturday. This was the Crimea that Moscow annexed in 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Ukraine committed a terrorist act. Over a dozen Ukrainian cities have been hit by Russian missiles, including Lviv and Kyiv, killing at most 20 people.
Jake Tapper interviewed President Biden on Tuesday night CNN.
JAKE TAPPER:Would you be open to meeting with him at the G20
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look, I have no intention of meeting with him, but, for example, if he came to me at the G20 and said, “I want to talk about the release of Griner,” I’d meet with him. It would depend on what he said. But I can’t imagine — look, we’ve taken a position — I just did a G7 meeting this morning — the idea nothing about Ukraine with Ukraine. So I’m not about to, nor is anyone else prepared to, negotiate with Russia about them staying in Ukraine, keeping any part of Ukraine, etc.
AMY GOODMAN: Despite Biden’s comments, there are growing calls for the U.S. to push for negotiations. General Mike Mullen, former chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff appeared on Sunday. ABC This Week.
MICHAEL MULLEN:It also speaks to my belief that we need to get to each other. I’m a little concerned about the language, which we’re about at the top, if you will.
MARTHA RADDATZ: President Biden’s language.
MICHAEL MULLEN: President Biden’s language. We’re about at the top of the language scale, if you will. And I think that we should be able to rethink this and do all we can to reach an agreement.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests: Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CodePink, and Nicolas J.S. Davies. They are also co-authors of the forthcoming novel. War in Ukraine: Making sense of a Senseless Conflict.
Medea, let’s begin with you in Washington, D.C. You can see the Russian military’s massive attack on Ukraine this week, including the huge raining down of drone strikes and missiles in places like Lviv, Kyiv and the capital, and you can see that President Putin is threatening with a nuclear bomb. Is negotiation possible? What would that look and feel like? What needs to happen for that to happen?
MEDEA BENJAMIN:Negotiations are not only possible but essential. There have been some discussions on key issues, such the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, getting the grain out from Ukraine, and prisoner swaps. However, there have not been negotiations on the important issues. Antony Blinken (the secretary of state) has not met Lavrov. In that clip, we just heard how Biden doesn’t want to talk with Putin. Negotiations are the only way to end this war.
We’ve seen the U.S. torpedo negotiations. This started from the Russians’ proposals just before the invasion. And then, we saw that it was Boris Johnson, the U.K. president and Secretary of Defense Austin who torpedoed those negotiations.
So, I don’t think that it is realistic to think that there is going to be a clear victory by the Ukrainians that are going to be able to get back every inch of territory like they’re now saying, including Crimea and all of Donbas. Both sides need to reach compromises. We, the American people, must push the White House to encourage proactive negotiations.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ:Medea could you please be more specific regarding the talks that took places, sponsored by Turkey as well as Israel. This was in relation to what was the potential path forward to a ceasefire. Unfortunately, it was torpedoed. Because most Americans do not know that there was an opportunity to stop the fighting at an early stage of the war.
MEDEA BENJAMIN:Yes, we do. We go into great detail in our book. War in Ukraine: Making sense of a Senseless ConflictYou can read the full story here. And then 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 secretary of defense Austin then sent the same message, saying that the goal was to weaken Russia. This changed the goalposts and the entire agreement was destroyed.
We now see that Zelensky, who once said he was willing to accept neutrality for Ukraine’s cause, is calling for fast-tracking. NATOApplication for Ukraine. And we then see the Russians, that have also hardened their views by having these — a referendum and then trying to annex these four provinces. If that agreement had actually been reached, I believe we would have seen an end of this war. It’s going to be harder now, but it’s still the only way forward.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the fact that President Biden is still discounting the possibility of talks with Russia — those of us old enough to remember the Vietnam War understand that the United States, while fighting in the Vietnam War, spent five years at the negotiating table in Paris, between 1968 and 1973, in peace talks with the National Liberation Front of Vietnam and the Vietnamese government. So it’s not unheard of that you can have peace talks while a war is still going on. I’m wondering your thoughts about that.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, but, Juan, we don’t want to — we don’t want to see these peace talks going on for five years. We want to see peace negotiations that lead to an agreement quickly because this war is affecting everyone. We’re seeing a rise in hunger. We’re seeing a rise in the use of dirty energy. We’re seeing a rise and a hardening of militarists throughout the world and increased expenditures on militarism, a strengthening of NATO. And we’re seeing the real possibility of nuclear war. So we can’t afford, as a globe, to allow this to keep going on for years.
And that’s why I think it’s so important that the progressive people in this country recognize that there is not one Democrat who voted against the $40 billion package to Ukraine or the more recent $13 billion package, that this issue is actually being questioned by the right, the extreme right in this country. 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 spoken to Putin, which he is correct. 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. Pramila Jayapal (head of the Progressive Caucus) is having trouble getting her Progressive Caucus members to sign onto a moderate letter stating that we should combine military assistance to Ukraine and a diplomatic push. So it’s our job now to really create the momentum for diplomacy.
AMY GOODMAN:Boris Johnson, the U.K. Prime Minster, met with Zelensky in April. It’s been reported Johnson pressured Zelensky to cut off peace negotiations with Russia. Bloomberg News interviewed Johnson, then-Prime Minster, in May.
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON:How can you make a deal when you are a proponent of a deal to Putin?
KITTY DONALDSON: Yeah.
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: How can you deal with a crocodile when it’s in the middle of eating your left leg? You know, what’s the negotiation? That is exactly what Putin is doing. And any kind of — he will try to freeze the conflict, he will try and call for a ceasefire, while he remains in possession of substantial parts of Ukraine.
KITTY DONALDSON:And what do you say to Emmanuel Macron?
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON:That is what I want to say to all my G7 colleagues and friends. NATO. Everyone gets that. Once you go through the logic, you can see that it’s very, very difficult to get a —
KITTY DONALDSON:But you must desire this war to be over.
PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: — to get a negotiated solution.
AMY GOODMAN:I wanted to invite Nicolas Davies, co-author of The Conversation, into the conversation. War in Ukraine: Making sense of a Senseless Conflict. The significance of what Boris Johnson said, and also the attempts of some in the U.S. Congress to push for negotiation, very different from what the former prime minister was saying in Britain, like Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, who drafted a congressional sign-on letter calling on Biden to take steps to end the Ukraine war using — through several steps, including a negotiated ceasefire and new security agreements with Ukraine? So far only Congressmember Nydia Velázquez has signed on as a co-sponsor. Let’s talk about the pressure.
NICOLAS DAVIES: Yeah, well, I mean, the effect of what we’re seeing is, effectively, a sort of ratcheting up of tensions. If the U.S. and the U.K. are willing to torpedo negotiations when they’re happening, but then they’re not willing to — you know, they’re willing to go and tell Zelensky and Ukraine what to do when it’s a matter of killing the negotiations, but now Biden says he’s not willing to tell them to restart negotiations. So, it’s pretty clear where that leads, which is to endless war.
The truth is that all wars end at the negotiating table. A few weeks ago, the U.N. General Assembly saw world leaders step up to remind NATORussia and Ukraine, and that the U.N. Charter calls to peaceful resolution of conflicts through diplomacy. The U.N. Charter is not clear that countries should be subjected, if they are guilty of aggression, to an interminable war that kills millions. That is just “might makes right.”
In fact, 66 countries called on the U.N. General Assembly for peace negotiations to resume and ceasefire negotiations to be reopened as soon as possible. And that included, for instance, the foreign minister of India, who said, “I’m being — we’re being pressured to take sides here, but we have been clear from the very beginning that we are on the side of peace.” And this is what the world is calling for. These 66 countries also include India and China with billions of citizens. Those 66 countries represent the majority of the world’s population. They are mostly from the Global South. Their people are already suffering from food shortages due to Russia and Ukraine. They face the possibility of starvation.
And on top of that, we’re now facing a serious danger of nuclear war. Matthew Bunn, who’s a nuclear weapons expert at Harvard University, told NPRHe said the other day that he believes there is a 10-20% chance of nuclear weapons being used over Ukraine. This was before the Kerch Strait Bridge incident and the Russian retaliatory bombardment. So, if both sides just keep escalating, what will Matthew Bunn’s estimate of the chance of nuclear war be in a few months’ time or a year’s time? And Joe Biden himself, at a fundraiser at media mogul James Murdoch’s house, just chatting with his financial backers in front of the press, said he does not believe that either side can use a tactical nuclear weapon without it then escalating to Armageddon.
We are here. We have gone from early April, when President Zelensky went on TV and told his people that the goal is peace and the restoration of normal life as soon as possible in our native state — we have gone from Zelensky negotiating for peace, a 15-point peace plan that really looked very, very promising, to now a rising — a real prospect of the use of nuclear weapons, with the danger rising all the time.
This is not good enough. This is not responsible leadership from Biden or Johnson, and now Truss, in the U.K. Johnson claimed, when he went to Kyiv on April the 9th, that he was speaking for, quote, “the collective West.” But a month later, Emmanuel Macron of France and Olaf Scholz of Germany and Mario Draghi of Italy all put out new calls for new negotiations. Although they appear to have gotten them back on track, the truth is that the world needs to find peace in Ukraine.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nicolas Davies, if that’s the case, why do you see so little in the way of peace movements in the populations of the advanced Western countries at this stage?
NICOLAS DAVIES:Actually, there are large and frequent peace demonstrations in Berlin and other parts of Europe. There have been more demonstrations in the U.K. then in the U.S., and that is all thanks to Medea, my co-writer here. She has been working so hard with all of CodePink, Peace Action, Veterans for Peace, and other peace organizations in America.
And really, but the public — the public really needs to understand the situation. And, you know, this is why we’ve written this book, to try and give people — it’s a short book, about 200 pages, a basic primer to the people — to give people a clearer understanding of how we got into this crisis, the role of our own government in helping to set the stage for this over the years leading up to it, you know, through NATO expansion and through the events of 2014 in Ukraine and the installation of a government there that, according to a Gallup poll in April 2014, barely 50% of Ukrainians even considered it a legitimate government, and that provoked the secession of Crimea and a civil war in Donbas, you know, that killed 14,000 people by the time the Minsk peace — the Minsk II peace accord was signed a year later. We have much more to share about this in our book. We hope you will purchase a copy, read it, and join the peace movement.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ:Nicolas, if you are able, I would like Medea to be brought back. In the spirit of peace, Medea from the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Prize to a number of civil society groups in Belarus and Russia. In Ukraine, it was the Center for Civil Liberties. You wrote: pieceIn Common DreamsThis week we are discussing the criticism of that prize by an influential pacifist in Ukraine, who criticized Center for Civil Liberties for accepting the agendas of international donor like the State Department and National Endowment for Democracy. Could you expand on this and the West’s indifference to violations of civil rights in Ukraine?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, yes, we were quoting a leading war resister, pacifist inside Ukraine that said that that organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize was following the agenda of the West, was not calling for peace talks but was actually calling for more weapons, was not — would not allow for the discussion of violations of human rights on the side of Ukraine and would not support those who were being beaten up or otherwise abused for not wanting to fight.
So, our piece was to suggest that the Nobel Prize should be awarded to organizations in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus that support war resisters. We also know that many, many thousands of them are fleeing Russia and are having difficulty finding asylum, especially in the United States.
But, Juan, before we go, I just wanted to correct something that Amy said about Pramila Jayapal’s letter. It has 26 members of Congress that have signed it now, and we’re still pushing to get more signing it. I just wanted to let people know that there is still a time to call your members and to press them to call on diplomacy.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s very significant, 26 members. Do you feel there is a push in Congress right now, or is there a changing of the tide? I didn’t realize that many had signed on. And also, finally, are you concerned about this last week Putin appointing this head of military operations, Sergei Surovikin, known as the “Butcher of Syria,” as “General Armageddon,” in this massive bombing by missiles and drone strikes across Ukraine and the killings of scores of people?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, of course we’re concerned about it. Our whole effort in this, writing this book — and we produced a 20-minute video — is to show people the terrible devastation for the Ukrainian people that this war is causing.
We think that 26 members of Congress is a bit pathetic. It should be all members. Why is it so difficult to call on negotiations? This letter isn’t even saying cut off the military aid. We believe this is something all members of Congress should support. And the fact that they’re not is quite astounding and really reflects that we don’t have a movement in this country that is strong enough right now to change the tide.
And that’s why we’re on a 50-city speaking tour. We’re calling on people to invite us to their communities. We’re calling on people to do house parties, read the book, show the video. This is a turning moment in history. We’ve talked about the potential of nuclear war. We are the ones that will have to stop this by getting our elected representatives on board to express our desire to see peace talks immediately to end the conflict before we see a nuclear war.
AMY GOODMAN:We want to thank Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies, the co-authors, for their contribution to this book. War in Ukraine: Making sense of a Senseless Conflict.
Next, we’ll examine how private insurance companies defraud the U.S. government as well as the Medicare Advantage program. Then we’ll look at a massive leak of documents in Mexico. Stay with me.
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