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An Off-Ramp from War? Russia Says It Pulled Back Some Troops from Ukraine Border as Talks Continue

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Russia has announced plans to pull back some troops from the Ukrainian border in a possible effort to deescalate the standoff over Ukraine but still intends to continue with military exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea. This comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicated on Monday the country may drop its bid to join NATO and the U.S. continues to urge U.S. citizens to leave Ukraine, warning a Russian invasion could come as soon as Wednesday. We speak with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, who says the U.S. is continuing to escalate the crisis by directing U.S. funds to weapons and loans for Ukraine. “It seems the United States is more anxious for Russia to invade than Russia is to invade,” says Benjamin.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at the crisis along the Russia-Ukraine border. Russia has announced it’s pulling back some troops from the border, in a possible effort to deescalate the standoff, but Russia is moving ahead with military exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea. On Monday, Russian television aired footage of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue and intensify diplomatic negotiations. Also on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine may drop its bid to join NATO, saying membership may have only been a dream.

The United States has reportedly been warning allies Russia could invade Ukraine as soon as Wednesday — that’s tomorrow, February 16th. Ukraine’s president responded by announcing February 16th would become a “day of unity” for Ukrainians. The United States has also urged all U.S. citizens to leave Ukraine, as well as Belarus and parts of Moldova. The State Department has also moved its remaining staff from Kyiv to a temporary site in western Ukraine in the city of Lviv due to the Russian military buildup.

To talk more about the crisis, we’re joined by Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of CodePink.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Medea. Can you talk about the latest developments around Ukraine and Russia, and the role of the United States?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, unfortunately, in the midst of this crisis, the United States is sending more weapons to Ukraine, and, as the secretary-general of the United Nations said without mentioning the United States, the incendiary rhetoric, saying that “Russia is ready to invade. Russia is ready to invade.” It seems the United States is more anxious for Russia to invade than Russia is to invade, and this is not helpful at all.

I think it’s a very positive development that Zelensky has basically recognized that Ukraine will not enter NATO, and that is a positive thing. And all of the diplomatic efforts that are going on are extremely helpful and necessary, and we hope there will be an off-ramp, because the possibility of war is just unacceptable. Our members, our friends in Congress are trying to say to the administration that they cannot go into any military conflict without first going to Congress, which is something that would back up the administration. And so, we’re hoping that diplomacy will prevail, but we have to recognize that things continue to be extremely, extremely tense.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, you mentioned that Zelensky appears to recognize that the membership in NATO will have to be postponed or, as he says, may be a dream. But it was actually — it’s in the Constitution. Back in 2019, the Ukrainian government actually amended its Constitution to say membership in NATO is a goal of the country. Is it your sense that Zelensky also has to deal with more right-wing elements within the Ukraine that continue to push him for the NATO membership?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, but NATO has not been ready to invite Ukraine in. There are a number of different issues, including the lack of territorial integrity, as well as issues of Ukraine’s corruption, issues of the lack of a economic system that is compatible, issues about even the military. So, there was never an idea that Ukraine would quickly join in, but, as you said, it is in the Constitution, and it had been promised to Ukraine. But this is a — seems to be one of the ways out of this impasse is for Ukraine not to ask for membership. That means that NATO does not have to close the door; it just means that Ukraine itself would stop the process.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, what do you think of the mobilization of peace movements in different countries in the areas? Have you been communicating with them? And what are their demands?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: There have been peace mobilizations in Russia, in Ukraine, in the Western European countries. There is a group called No to NATO that has been going on for years and communicating, and we in the United States are part of that. And this is all efforts by the people to call on our governments to step back.

And we need to continue to build up this international movement, recognizing that a war would be disastrous for all of the countries, and particularly, of course, for Ukraine, but to recognize what it would mean economically in terms of the rise of prices because of the cutoff of energy sources. The Europeans recognize this well. What we have to do is get more people in the United States involved in the peace movement, because I think people are much more concerned about domestic issues than they are about foreign policy, but, as we know, international conflicts will affect us here at home, certainly in terms of things like inflation. And that’s why we have to care about these issues and try to stop this war from happening.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of now this latest announcement of a billion dollars in loan guarantees to Ukraine, seems Congress is ready and willing to shell out money despite the claims of some Republicans that there’s too much debt in the country.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we see that, Juan, time and time again when it comes to issues that relate to a military buildup, whether it’s the Pentagon budget or giving money or loans to countries: When we’re in the midst of a crisis, there is not a question of not enough money. So, I think it’s both the giving of weapons, as well as these loans, that is part of making this situation more and more tense. And it is unfortunate that both Democrats and Republicans usually come together at times like this to escalate the crisis, give away our tax dollars, instead of stopping the flow of weapons, the flow of money, and putting the majority of our emphasis on negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Medea Benjamin, we’re going to ask you to stay with us, co-founder of CodePink. As we face the possibility of a new war, we look at a country that’s been ravaged by war for decades. President Biden is facing mounting criticism for seizing $7 billion of Afghanistan’s federal reserves frozen in the United States. Biden is giving half the money, he says, to September 11th victims. We’re going to speak with a mother of a young man who died in the 9/11 attacks. She says the money should stay in Afghanistan. Stay with us.

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