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Ukrainians Doubt a Russian Invasion Is Imminent as U.S. Peace Groups Urge Biden to Halt Escalation

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The United States and Russia sparred on Monday over the crisis in Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council. Meanwhile, U.S. senators are preparing to unveil a bill that would target Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian banks and other entities with sanctions. To discuss the Ukraine crisis, we’re joined by the co-founder of CodePink, Medea Benjamin, who says “we need the voice of the American people” to oppose U.S. escalation and also calls on U.S. progressives to vocalize their opposition to fueling a war in Europe. We also speak with Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko, who says Ukrainian intelligence does not see a Russian invasion as likely or economically wise for Russia.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The United States and Russia sparred Monday over the crisis in Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council. The United States accused Russia of preparing to invade Ukraine by amassing more than 100,000 troops on its border, but Russia rejected the charge, claiming it’s the United States and NATO who are trying to push Russia into a war. Last week, President Biden ordered 8,500 U.S. troops to be on high alert. The U.S. and NATO allies are also shipping weapons to Ukraine. This is Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The threats of aggression on the border of Ukraine — yes, on its border — is provocative. Our recognition of the facts on the ground is not provocative. The threats of action if Russia’s security demands aren’t met is provocative. Our encouraging diplomacy is not provocative. The provocation is from Russia, not from us or other members of this council. … Russia has assembled a massive military force of more than 100,000 troops along the Ukraine’s — along Ukraine’s border. These are combat forces and special forces prepared to conduct offensive actions into Ukraine. This is the largest — this is the largest, hear me clearly — mobilization of troops in Europe in decades.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations addressing the U.N. Security Council.

VASILY NEBENZYA: [translated] The deployment of Russian troops within our own territory has frequently occurred on varying scales before and has not caused any hysterics whatsoever. Troops and servicemen who are in their own areas of deployment and barracks, where they were before, they were not actually on the border. This deployment of Russian troops in our own territory is getting our Western and U.S. colleagues to say that there’s going to be a planned military action and even an act of aggression. But the U.S. ambassador speaks as if that act of aggression has already taken place. I very carefully listened to her statement: the military action of Russia against Ukraine that they’re all assuring us is going to take place in just a few weeks’ time, if not a few days’ time. There, however, is no proof of confirming such serious accusation whatsoever being put forward. However, it is not preventing people from whipping up hysteria to such an extent that an actual economic impact is already being felt by our Ukrainian neighbors.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. Security Council adjourned Monday without the body taking any action on the crisis in Ukraine. On the diplomatic front, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is speaking with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov by phone today. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte are both expected to visit Kyiv today. Meanwhile, the Hungarian President Viktor Orbán is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin today and hold a news conference with him. In Washington, U.S. senators are preparing to unveil a bill imposing what Senator Robert Menendez described as “the mother of all sanctions” targeting Vladimir Putin, Russia banks and other entities.

Today we’re spending the hour talking to those we are rarely hearing from: voices around the world calling for peace. We begin today’s show with two guests. Volodymyr Ishchenko is a Ukrainian sociologist, a research associate at the Institute for East European Studies at the Free University of Berlin. He’s joining us from the German city of Dresden. Also with us, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CodePink. CodePink is one of 100 U.S. groups that released a statement today urging President Biden to end what they call the U.S. role in escalating the Ukraine crisis.

Medea Benjamin, let’s begin with you. As these talks are happening at the highest levels, and Russia is amassing troops on the border with Ukraine, and the U.S. and NATO countries are sending weapons to Ukraine, can you talk about if you hold out hope for peace and what you think that could look like?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I certainly hold out hope for peace, but I think it’s going to take the people of the NATO countries, and especially the United States, to make their voices heard. We can’t rely on the Democrats or Republicans. We have them falling over each other to see who will be the toughest on Russia, with the Democrat bill calling for $500 million of lethal aid to be expedited, and Nancy Pelosi saying she’s going to fast-track this legislation, and these crushing sanctions that we’ve seen the U.S. impose on other countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, that only hurt the ordinary people.

So we have to make our voices heard, which is why we’re calling for people to get out on Saturday, February 5th, in front of their federal buildings, statehouses, offices of their congressional representatives or anywhere to say no to this escalation. And we say every day should be a day of action, calling and writing your congressional representatives and the White House. That’s the only way they’re going to hear that the American people do not want a war with Russia. And we have to be — recognize this moment of history is one where we need the voice of the American people — not a peace movement, the American people in general — because we are all against going to war.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, I wanted to ask you — we’ve been hearing now for weeks the same story repeated in almost every newscast: 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. No one talks about the fact that there are 320,000 American troops still in Europe, 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. And those troops are somehow not considered a problem or a threat. Who are they there for, those [60-80,000] troops?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, that’s right, Juan. I think this is a moment to educate the American people about all of the bases that the U.S. has surrounding Russia. What if Russia had bases in Mexico and Canada with missiles that were pointed at the United States? This is an educational moment, too, and I’m glad you’re spending the hour on it, talking about NATO and how NATO has expanded from 16 members at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union to 30 members, including members that were part of the Soviet Republic, and how Ukraine has a 1,300-mile border with Russia. And of course this is extremely intimidating.

And so, I go back to saying the American people have to recognize how the U.S. is the expansionist country that has bases all over the world and that NATO is antagonizing not only Russia, but it’s antagonizing China. It says that China is a threat to NATO’s security. That’s the North American Treaty Organization. China is in the Pacific. So, it is a moment to say not only do we want Ukraine not to be part of NATO, but we want NATO disbanded. And you can go to the CodePink website and see all kinds of ways that you can get involved in this peace movement right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, do you have contact with peace movements either in the Ukraine or Russia that are — what are they telling you about their concerns about this growing drumbeat for war?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we are part of a movement that is called “No to NATO,” and we have reached out to groups in Russia, in Ukraine, and they are all saying the same thing. Nobody wants to go to war. There are many people in Ukraine that are worried about Russia, but they say war is not the answer. We know that the only ones who benefit from war are the military-industrial complex, the media, that has been so sensationalist and increases its ratings. And that’s why people in Ukraine itself are saying slow down, step back — and, of course, the people of Russia saying the same thing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s bring in Volodymyr Ishchenko, the Ukrainian sociologist with the Institute for East European Studies. If you can talk about the response right now of Ukraine? What has been very interesting is, last weekend, when Biden, President Biden, spoke with the Ukrainian president, it was reported that that call did not go well and that Zelensky was saying, “You are blowing this up. You’re going to lead us to war.” I mean, he pulled back on that when he was asked, you know, about it, had to put out another statement, but that was the report behind the scenes. Can you talk about what’s happening in Ukraine right now and where the peace movement there stands?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: Good morning.

Yeah, there is quite consolidated position of the Ukrainian government right now that tries to — contextually, yeah, goes against this mainstream narrative about an imminent invasion. And Zelensky, but not only Zelensky, the minister of defense, the secretary of the National Security Council, they all tell that, according to Ukrainian data, according to Ukrainian intelligence, they don’t see the massive invasion to Ukraine, with occupation of the large territory, of the big cities, as likely, not only in the coming weeks, but maybe all, like, in this year at least. So, that’s what the Ukrainian intelligence says. And, I mean, some people might say that, like, Ukrainian government might be lying and might be hiding the truth. And, yeah, we usually hear these conspiracy theories. But, I mean, at the same time, there are no, like, patriotic dissenting officers from military or intelligence saying that, “OK, we have some traitors in the government that are just lying to the public, and, yeah, we need to be prepared to invasion, like tomorrow or next week.”

So, it looks like that there is some kind of, indeed, discrepancy over the interpretation, and there isn’t a — so, that pushes us to a conclusion that, on the one side, there is this course of diplomacy by Russia that involves military buildups, involves their diplomatic action, diplomatic demands to NATO and the United States, but, on the other side, there is a media campaign driven by U.S. officials and media, but also now by the U.K. officials and media, that is developing by its own logic and is kind of like in a mutual reinforcement with the Russian course of diplomacy.

And for Ukraine, it already means quite serious economic risks. It destabilizes the national currency. The investors, for example, at the real estate market, are starting to move away, taking their money from Ukraine. And, of course, the government feels that this panic may have probably the serious economic consequences right here, right now, even before Russia actually did anything particularly aggressive this year. And finally, the government might feel — and again, that’s quite — that’s at a speculative level so far — that the West might try to force Ukraine to — in order to implement the Minsk accords, the peace accords that the Ukrainian government actually doesn’t want to implement for various reasons. One of them is that you might fear for the violent revolt from the nationalist civil society, that perceives the peaceful accords as a capitulation of Ukraine, although they are speaking on behalf of just one part of Ukraine, not of the whole country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mr. Ishchenko, I wanted to ask you particularly about that, the right wing within Ukraine. President Putin has alleged that there are — there’s a significant Nazi and ultra-right movement within Ukraine. Could you talk about groups like the Freedom Party, Svoboda? How big are they? How influential are they within the Ukrainian government?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: They are not relevant electorally at this moment. So, Svoboda was able to get into the parliament during one election campaign, and it was like 10 years ago; however, since that time, they were losing elections. But some of the people connected to the far right were present on the lists of nominally non-far-right parties. But the real strength of extreme right in Ukraine is on the streets. They are probably the most mobilized, the most organized, the most politically articulated and actually armed part of Ukrainian civil society. The problem is that they also have quite significant legitimacy from other parts of the civil society and of the political society who are like nominally non-far-right; however, they systematically don’t play the extremism of that far-right segment, don’t play their strengths, don’t play their danger. And it’s kind of like a whitewashing of Ukrainian civil society, which is specifically directed to the West in order not to — in order to sustain all the support, all the sanctions against Russia, and so on and so forth.

So, the Ukraine far right are strong on the streets, not really strong so much at the electoral level. However, also due to their strength, they are capable to influence the policies of the government, and particularly about the implementation of the Minsk accords. The far-right activists who blew a grenade near the parliament in 2015, they basically stalled the implementation of the Minsk accords right after they were signed. And in 2019, when Zelensky had a huge support from the society, over 70% of trust, just winning in a landslide against Poroshenko at the presidential elections, winning a single-party majority at the parliamentarian elections, he was not able to make progress with implementation of the Minsk accords, although even supported by France and Germany, because of a quite small but very voiceful so-called anti-capitulation campaign led by the nationalist civil society, not only by the nominally far-right party but also by professional NGOs perceived by liberal, however, in close connections and in close cooperation with the far-right segment, and at the same time supported by the Western donors, by the Western governments.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Medea Benjamin about the role of military contractors here and what they have to gain right now. Several executives for U.S. military contractors have boasted that the worsening conflict in Ukraine is boosting their profits. This is Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes speaking last week during an earnings conference call with investors.

GREGORY HAYES: The answer is obviously we are seeing, I would say, opportunities for international sales. We just have to look to the last week, where we saw the drone attack in the UAE, which attacked some of their other facilities, and of course the tensions in Eastern Europe, the tensions in the South China Sea. All of those things are putting pressure on some of the defense spending over there. So, I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.

AMY GOODMAN: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics all fund the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an influential think tank that’s supported U.S. military action in response to a Russian invasion. And, of course, you go back to the famous promise that then-Secretary of State James Baker made to Gorbachev — when was it? in 1990 — saying “not one inch eastward,” that promise that NATO would not expand to Russia’s border. Medea Benjamin, if you can talk about what we hear in the United States on the corporate networks, the lack of presence of those who are opposed to a war with Russia?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, first, I think it’s very important that you bring out who in these defense contractors — or military contractors, more accurately — are benefiting from this. We have given over $3 billion in, quote, “lethal aid” to Ukraine since the 2014 coup. And the NATO alliance itself — you know, there are some organizations that come together to do things like reduce poverty or greenhouse gases. The NATO alliance has a goal of increasing the percentage of the GDP that countries spend on the military. It’s actually a goal. Only 10 of the 30 so far have reached that goal, and there is pressure on those deadbeat countries that prefer to put money into education and healthcare instead of buying fighter jets and bombs. So NATO itself is really doing the bidding of the military-industrial complex.

And so, the media is another winner in this. Their ratings go up. They have sensationalized this. And as you said, they don’t put voices of the peace movement. And I do want to say that we need the progressives in Congress to speak out more, because they have more access to the media than we do. There is a statement that was put out by Pramila Jayapal, the head of the Progressive Caucus, and Barbara Lee, but it wasn’t signed by the whole Progressive Caucus. It was just the two of them. Where are the rest of the over 100 members of Congress that call themselves progressives? We need to hear their voices, and we need to hear them on the media, loud and clear, representing us, saying, “Stop this escalation of war. We need the money not to be spent on more bombs, but that money to be spent here at home to improve people’s lives.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, I wanted to ask you — the U.S. government has not only had trouble rallying the government in Ukraine behind its current posture toward Russia, but also among its own NATO allies. I’m wondering, in your talks with other peace groups around Europe, what the hope is for whether any of the major European powers will put the brakes on the drumbeat for war that is going on now.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Certainly, the government of Germany and France have been better than the United States, but there is so much pressure from the U.S. on NATO to come out in unity on this. And that’s why it’s so important to hear from the peace groups that are very active in the European countries, particularly in places like Germany and France. And it’s civil society in those countries that are forcing their governments to try to take a stance that is not as aggressive as the United States. Unfortunately, we don’t have that same kind of pressure on our government, which is what we need to do right now. It is our moment now to show our European allies, the civil society in those countries, that we, too, can put that kind of pressure on our government.

AMY GOODMAN: And the day of action, Peace with Russia Day of Action, that you have planned for February 5th, what is that?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: It was just called. You can go on the CodePink.org website and register your own protest. You only need yourself and a group of friends to do that, but we need people all over the country. And then we’re really saying that every day is a day of protest. Our friends the CodePink group in San Francisco is going to the home of Nancy Pelosi, because she’s supposed to represent us, and yet she is calling for expediting of this legislation that would send more weapons to Ukraine. And so, I think it’s fair to go not only to the offices of our representatives, but, if necessary, to go to their homes. They are not doing their job. Of course, Antony Blinken, who is supposed to be the top diplomat in the United States as secretary of state, is not doing his job. But neither are all of those who are supposed to be our representatives. They are not doing their job of calling on the Biden administration to stop this drumbeat for war. And so it really is up to us, February 5th, the time to get out. But call, write, and not only the Congress, but also the media, to tell them that we want to hear the other side in this conflict, the side that is calling for deescalation, negotiations, no war.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, and Volodymyr Ishchenko, the Ukrainian sociologist, Institute for East European Studies at the Free University of Berlin.

When we come back, we are going to look at the peace movement in Germany and also in Belgium, the home of NATO. Stay with us.

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