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Can Peace in Ukraine Be Achieved Without War? Extended Debate Between Medea Benjamin & Barbara Smith

Web ExclusiveOctober 11, 2023
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So far this year, U.S. spending on Israel, typically the largest annual recipient of U.S. military aid, has been outstripped by military aid to Ukraine, though that balance could begin to change as President Biden plans to ask Congress to approve emergency funding to support Israel’s retaliatory campaign against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip following Saturday’s attack by Hamas militants. For more on U.S. policy in Ukraine and Israel, we host a discussion with CodePink’s Medea Benjamin and the Ukraine Solidarity Network’s Barbara Smith.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

President Biden said Tuesday he’ll ask Congress to approve emergency funding to bolster Israel’s retaliation on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after the surprise attack by Hamas. On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress could pass a single emergency defense spending bill in coming weeks for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. In order to vote, Congress must move past political chaos after hard-right Republican lawmakers who oppose aid to Ukraine ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week and have yet to approve his replacement.

For more, we host a debate on Ukraine military spending with two leading progressive activists. We’ll also talk about increased spending for Israel. Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the antiwar group CodePink, author of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict. CodePink is calling on U.S. lawmakers, push for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine instead of sending more weapons. Last week, 11 members of CodePink were arrested as they occupied the office in D.C. of Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders to call for peace talks.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: “So let’s sit down. Let’s negotiate. And let’s come up with a diplomatic solution.” That is the good Bernie. That’s the Bernie we want, not the other Bernie who is OK’ing billions and billions of dollars in weapons and says you can’t talk to Putin. And we have a one-word answer to Bernie when he says you can’t talk to Putin, because he’s said that to us. We say, “Try.” Right? Try. We want to see what the result of Biden talking to Putin is, right?

AMY GOODMAN: Also with us, Barbara Smith, an author, activist and scholar who’s part of the Ukraine Solidarity Network, co-founder of the Black feminist organization Combahee River Collective and author of many books, including The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Barbara, let’s begin with you. You are a Black feminist organizing in solidarity with Ukraine. Can you talk about why?

BARBARA SMITH: I know that some people — thank you for having me, Amy. And hi, Medea, even though I can’t see you.

I know that many people might wonder about that, because I am so known for the Black feminist politics that we started building in the 1970s. But if people read The Combahee River Collective Statement, which was written in 1977 and published about a year later, one of the things that’s even in the statement is our talking about solidarity with other people around the world. We, from Combahee, not every Black feminist, by any means, but my politics have always been internationalist.

So, because of where I live — I live in — well, it’s actually Haudenosaunee, Mohican and Mohawk land, unceded land, in the capital region of New York, known as Albany. But because of where I live, I have friends — I’ve been politically active here for all the decades that I’ve lived here, and I have friends who were involved in issues around Ukraine. Last year, I was very mindful of what was going on in Ukraine, but I wasn’t in any organization. And they were telling me about the fights in and among people in our progressive and left communities right here locally and how it was really very, very painful and very upsetting that people who had worked together for years, even decades, were now in disagreement about Ukraine. So, there were informal meetings here, and they told me when they were, and these meetings were on Zoom. I didn’t have to leave home. And I went to those local meetings, started going to those local meetings. We didn’t have a name at that time. And then, people from our capital region were also participating. Some people were participating in the Ukraine Solidarity Network. So that’s how I got involved.

But as far as why I got involved, it’s because my politics have always been about fighting oppression wherever it might be and whoever is targeted by oppression. And in this case, this war, this is an invasion. This is an invasion by an imperial power, namely Russia. And I stand with the people of Ukraine.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea Benjamin, could you talk about why you have been persistently now calling for peace negotiations in Ukraine and also why you oppose the funding of further weapons to Ukraine? Of course, much of that money is being spent to pay for U.S. weapons, basically for the defense industry. But there are reports now that President Biden is going to increase his request for Ukraine from the initial $24 billion additional he was asking to as much as another $100 billion that he is going to request from Congress.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Especially after your last segment, Juan, in hearing about the atrocities in Palestine and Israel, I just feel such a heavy heart about this military madness. There is no military solution in the case of Palestine. There is no military solution in the case of Ukraine. I think the sanest voices are coming from the global majority around the world that are calling for peaceful solutions to both of these crises. In fact, the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, at the United Nations, before this latest round of violence in Palestine, came out and said that the U.N. needs two urgent peace conferences — one to deal with Ukraine and one to deal with Palestine — because the world needs to come together to deal with what he called the mother of all crises, which is climate change. We have to get off this treadmill of military madness that only benefits the weapons companies and brings horror, suffering, death, destruction to people who are the victims of militarism.

So, as progressives, I think we have to come together and say to the Democrats, like Bernie Sanders, like to the Squad, you know in your heart of hearts — in fact, Bernie Sanders, we read his own words right before the Ukraine invasion saying there needs to be negotiations. There are no military solutions to these crises. And I think for all progressives — and I’m happy to be on with you, Barbara, about this, but I think you know in your heart of hearts that we have to find diplomatic solutions to these crises. And in the case of Ukraine, we have seen from Pentagon documents, we’ve seen from this latest counteroffensive, that the Ukrainians are not, quote, “winning” this war. They are losing so many of their soldiers, of their civilians. And that’s why we formed this Peace in Ukraine Coalition, to bring groups together, from veterans’ groups like Veterans for Peace, World Beyond War, Progressive Democrats of America, DSA International, to build more of a movement in the United States to force the Democrats to join with those in the right wing of the Republican Party who are saying, “Enough is enough. Stop funding and fueling this war. Let’s find a solution.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, I wanted to ask you — we never hear — we almost always, when the war in Ukraine is referred to, the Russian invasion as an unprovoked invasion. We’re hearing the same now about the Hamas attack on Israel, that it was unprovoked. You have a clear stand on this issue.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, absolutely. It’s ridiculous to say it’s unprovoked. And let’s remember, unprovoked doesn’t mean that it’s justified. We say that this is a provoked invasion that the United States and NATO, whether it’s from violating their agreement not to expand NATO eastward and now surrounding Ukraine, whether it’s the U.S. involvement in the internal affairs to be supporting a coup in 2014 that overthrew a democratically elected government that had good relations with Russia, and put one in that was anti-Russia, or whether it was the funding of anti-Russian groups that Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state, crowed about the U.S. spending $5 billion to create this kind of civil society — the U.S. has been heavily involved in trying to shape Ukraine to be a pro-Western, anti-Russian government.

And, of course, the U.S. would never tolerate having an anti-U.S. military alliance on its borders. We saw what happened in the 1962 Russian missile crisis. And there, we should learn from the lessons of JFK, who negotiated and came up with a compromise with Khrushchev, and also said, “When you’re in a conflict with a nuclear-armed country, never leave them with the option of either a humiliating retreat or the use of a nuclear weapon.” And that’s exactly what we are setting up in the case of Ukraine.

We should be very, very concerned about more funding of this, because it is so dangerous. We’ve already sent in cluster bombs. We’ve sent in depleted uranium. We’re sending in longer-range missiles. It will be inevitable, if this keeps going, that it will affect directly a NATO country, which will invoke Article 5 of all of NATO countries getting more directly involved, U.S. troops getting involved, and increase the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons. We must stop the military madness.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Smith, I wanted to get your response to Medea. Yesterday in the afternoon, you were at an anti-occupation protest — that was anti-Israeli occupation of Palestine. As Medea talks about Ukraine, your final thoughts?

BARBARA SMITH: So many things that were just said are about what should happen in an ideal world. Sadly, we do not live in that ideal world. We are dealing with Putin. You just said, Medea, that what we should be guarding against is a nuclear conflagration, because — if we don’t go to peace talks. Why are we afraid of nuclear war? It’s because Putin is a monomaniacal, autocratic, imperialist ruler. That’s why. And if we — one of the things we do in the Ukraine Solidarity Network is that we are in direct contact with people on the ground in Ukraine. Also we are in direct contact with dissident Russians who don’t live in Russia because if they did, they would either be in prison or dead. But these are socialists. These are people with whom we share politics. I’m a socialist. The Combahee River Collective was a Black feminist socialist statement, or a Black socialist feminist statement. We’ve listened the people who are actually on the ground in those nations.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Smith, I want to read part of a piece you co-wrote headlined “Why African Americans Should Support Ukraine.” You wrote, “Putin is courting African countries with hypocrisy, lies, and false promises of economic aid. He is offering countries in the Global South a type of 21st-century neo-colonialism. Most assuredly, he and his gang are no lovers of Black, Brown, Yellow, and Indigenous peoples anywhere in the world,” you wrote. How does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fit into a broader historical relationship, Barbara, with Russia and the Global South?

BARBARA SMITH: Well, Russia, under Putin, is an imperialist nation. And I guess it’s a superpower, or at least near being a superpower. Of course, its status in the world has changed since the breakup of the Soviet Union. But Putin’s goals and agenda are imperialist. And there are — of course, there’s a huge history that goes back centuries of imperialism in the Global South, not necessarily Russia being the major player in that. It was other European countries. But at this point, he definitely has his sights on the Global South, because the Global South has resources that Russia needs. And also, by getting nations — I’m thinking, in particular, of African nations — by getting nations indebted to and enmeshed with Russia, that changes, you know, the cards on the table, or whatever, the pieces on the table. And that’s to his benefit. If he can get more nations from the Global South in his pocket, then that’s bargaining power and just raw power against the West.

So, that’s how I see it. I am not an expert on the history of Russia, and I am not — the only real expertise I have is the history of Africans in America, Africans in North America, because my field is African American studies. I’ve been teaching African American studies since the early 1970s. So, I am not an expert on Russian history, etc. Of course, I’ve studied the history of the globe. That’s necessary. That, of course, was necessary. But what I see is a thug. What I see is a thug who wants to get as many people into his gang or either under his thumb as possible. And Ukraine is actually considered by many to be the northernmost country in the Global South, because they’re a very poor country. And they are, of course, under — you know, they’re under siege.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, Barbara, I wanted to follow up. You mentioned your origins in terms of a Marxist outlook. And I would assume that you believe that the United States is itself an imperial power, as well.

BARBARA SMITH: Absolutely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’ve done, over the many years, considerable reading into Marxism. One of my favorite books is Lenin’s Imperialism and the Split in Socialism. And Lenin wrote that just after World War II — or, in the process of World War I, I’m sorry, developing. And his main point there was that the socialists of Europe had sold out the working class by backing their own imperial governments in imperial war, and that the stance of socialists would be to oppose all imperial wars, and that workers in each of these countries should oppose imperial war. How do you believe that backing the United States’s effort in Ukraine against Russia is a Marxist position?

BARBARA SMITH: We are absolutely not backing the U.S.'s position about Ukraine, or about any other thing, probably, that they have their tentacles into around the globe. This is not about us being in favor or in bed with the United States hegemony, the power structure of the United States. That's not what this is about it.

I think of it as like a Venn diagram. People in Ukraine wish to fight for the autonomy of their homeland. They have a right to self-determination. They were invaded. They did not start making war on themselves. They were invaded in February of 2022. They were invaded militarily by a nation that has mighty military power. What were they to do? Were they supposed to sit there and say, “Oh, yeah, come on in, Russian troops. Come on in, Putin’s troops. Come on in and decimate us. We’re just going to sit here and let you do that”? No, they decided to fight for their homeland, as have many people throughout history around the globe.

And there is no socialist democracy from which Ukraine can get weapons. That would be ideal. But there’s not that socialist democracy that has that kind of world power status and economic wherewithal to be able to loan — or, not loan, loan or give funds, in the billions, for military weapons. That country does not exist. The United States, for its own insidious reasons, does wish to send. And they’re not our reasons. It’s not the Ukraine Solidarity Network’s reasons. They have their own motivations for why they are sending weapons to Ukraine.

We listen to the people on the ground in Ukraine. And there’s a recent poll done by a science — a social science institute or entity in Ukraine that — and it was, as I said, recent. And at least 80% — my recollection is over 80% of people in Ukraine said that they wish to keep on fighting. And they said that within the last few weeks. So, they weren’t saying it like in February of 2022. They’re saying it now, despite the fact that they have undergone the horrors of the annihilation, the savage annihilation, of their infrastructure, of their homes, and, of course, most importantly, most signally, of human life. Despite the fact that that’s what they have endured from Putin’s regime, they still want to continue to fight. And that is why we are in solidarity with them. We actually listen to them, as opposed to sitting over here in the United States, where there has only been one war on U.S. soil in U.S. history. That was the Civil War. And that was about whether people like me should continue to be considered property, or if we were going to actually be considered to be the human beings that we were. We have never had an invasion. We have never had that kind of thing happen here. So for us to sit over here and say, “Well, I think that Ukraine should do this,” just on that level, I find it to be rather specious. But this is a very complicated issue. But I’m glad I got to say a few words about the analysis, you know, that we have.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, I’m wondering if I can ask you: What do you say to those who are alleging that in your position to demand negotiations, you’re, in essence, being a stooge for Putin and Putin’s invasion?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think that in terms of negotiations, we saw, in the first month after the war started, there were negotiations, and they were going very well, mediated by the president of Turkey. And a 15-point plan was drawn up that included Russian troops out. It included neutrality for Ukraine, with support from outside powerful countries. It included a internationally monitored referendum in the Donbas. This was all being worked out, until the U.S. came in and said, “No, we would rather you keep fighting.” And this has become more and more of a proxy war.

So I think it’s important to recognize that the U.S. is taking the position to try to stop negotiations, and not listening to all of the efforts of the global community, that range from the seven African nations, led by South Africa, to the pope, to the leaders in Latin American progressive countries, to China, that have put forth ideas for a peace proposal that have been squashed by the United States. So I think we have to recognize the role that our government has played not only in setting the context for this war, but in keeping this war going.

And anybody who supports now a new huge tranche of money, whether it’s $70 billion or $100 billion that they’re now talking about, I find it hard to call those people progressive. I think if you’re a progressive, you have to be looking for solutions, not a way to keep a war going that will just mean more slaughter of the soldiers on both sides, more harm to civilian, more destruction of Ukraine. It’s very cruel to keep a war going, especially when we know there is no winning on the battlefield.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, can you respond to the Republican Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene shocking many last week when she came to your protest at Senator Sanders’ office, sharing a photo of herself with CodePink members and tweeting, “The war in Ukraine must END! Today, I met brave @codepink activists who protested for peace in Bernie Sanders’ office. He had 11 of them arrested! Peace & free speech shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We don’t agree on most things, but we do agree Congress should stop fueling the war in Ukraine!”? If you can respond to Taylor Greene, and also talk about what President Biden is attempting to do right now? I mean, it’s a crippled House of Representatives, but he is trying to link increased funding for Israel, increased military funding, with increased funding for Ukraine. Your thoughts? Start with the congressmember.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, she’s — her staff opportunistically snapped a picture with a couple of our volunteers. We don’t support Marjorie Taylor Greene, but I think it’s very sad that she has one of the most sane voices when it comes to Ukraine. Why aren’t the progressive Democrats, like Bernie Sanders and the Squad, standing up? Because they’ve been told by the leadership of their party that they must follow the line of Biden. That’s why 30 of them, after they signed a letter that called for negotiations over a year ago, and were stomped down by their party and rescinded that letter within 24 hours, have not been talking ever since. And we talk with them personally. We know that they agree that there have to be negotiations. And yet they’re not courageous enough to stand up.

And so, with Biden now calling for, it looks like, a new huge package — and they’re talking about combining it with a package of more money for weapons for Israel — the weapons for Israel combination is designed to get some of those right-wing Republicans, who want to support Israel but are against the weapons for Ukraine, to get them on board. And we feel that now is the time to stand up for and push our congresspeople, especially the progressive ones, to say no to any new package of weapons, whether it’s for Israel or whether it’s for Ukraine.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and, Barbara, on this funding issue, what would be your perspective on linking the funding of Ukraine assistance to — it to assistance to Israel? And there’s even talk of including some funding for Taiwan, as well.

BARBARA SMITH: I do not know about the funding for Taiwan. But as far as I’m concerned, linking funding for Ukraine with funding for Israel is absolutely nonsensical, if you see those two countries and those two situations as parallel. If we’re going to do any parallel constructions around who’s who and who lines up with who, how I see it — and I’m sure many others would share this, as well — Ukraine and Palestine are in parallel situations, because they are the targets of imperialism. In the case of Palestine, they are the targets of settler colonialism. And if the United States was going to do, “Well, we’re going to, you know — we’re going to do funding for people who are suffering under the same kinds of egregious, egregious attacks, warfare, genocide, etc.” — if they were going to do parallel funding, they would be funding Palestine and Ukraine.

People, please do not pretend that Ukraine and Israel are a parallel and in the same situation. Israel is the aggressor, as far as I’m concerned. And I know that might make people’s, you know, heads roll back, or whatever, their eyes roll back. The reason they’re the aggressor is because they have maintained an apartheid state for the Palestinians for decades. People describe Gaza as the largest — the world’s largest open-air prison. That’s on Israel. Listening to this show before we came on, I heard the person who I believe is — the newspaper, is it Haaretz? — in Israel, and he was basically saying the same thing, you know, that if we want to look for blame for why the horrific, indefensible attack happened last Saturday, there’s one person — that’s exactly what he said. He said you have to look to Netanyahu.

AMY GOODMAN: Yeah, you’re talking about Gideon Levy, who is on the editorial board of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Finally, Medea Benjamin, your response to the linking of those two funding — of the funding of Ukraine and of Israel?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s very opportunistic and cynical on the part of the Biden administration to try to link those. And we don’t know if, in the end, they’re going to be linked. As I said, one of the reasons is to try to get those Republicans who wouldn’t vote for Ukraine aid to vote for it, if it’s in a package with Israel money. And there are some progressive Democrats who might well vote against money going to Israel, if they’re brave enough to do that, but would vote in favor of money to Ukraine. So, it’s trying to mix those things up to get as many people on board for more militarism, more weapons.

And I just also want to say, Amy, something that Barbara mentioned about public opinion. One, in the United States, public opinion is now the majority against sending more weapons to Ukraine. And in Ukraine, where I’ve been this summer — so, I want to say that, Barbara, when you say we don’t listen to Ukrainians, not only do we — are we in touch with them on a daily basis, but I was there this summer. And the opinion polls there show —

BARBARA SMITH: I know that you were. I know that you were.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: The opinion polls there show that more and more, despite censorship of the government, that there are more Ukrainians who are saying there needs to be a negotiated solution. And the most support for a negotiated solution comes from the area where most of the fighting is happening. It’s been a year and a half. People are exhausted. We have to find a negotiated solution, which is why we are pressing, and we will continue to press this week, the members of Congress to vote no on any more money to either Ukraine or to Israel.

BARBARA SMITH: I just want to respond. I saw a interview with you after you had gone to Ukraine. I watched every single minute of it. I was very interested that you had gone there. And what I want to say is that — and I’ll say it again, because I’ve already said it — that the Ukraine Solidarity Network — and there’s a big solidarity network in Europe, as well, so it’s not just — you know, there are European nations. One of the huge trade unions in the United Kingdom passed, at their convention, a — well, it wasn’t just a statement of support. I think there were practical, you know, implications for what they passed. But they are standing — a huge trade union in the United Kingdom — standing in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

We talk to our like kind, our parallel, you know, comrades on the ground in Ukraine. You had — Amy, you had Hanna Perekhoda, and you had Ilya Budraitskis on a few weeks ago, in September, when we had a national — the Ukraine Solidarity Network did a national speakers tour. And they were sharing the perspective that I am trying to convey as someone sitting in the United States today. That’s where we get our insights from. And, you know, that’s really all I can say about that. That poll that I mentioned, the one with 80%, at least, of people in Ukraine saying that they were still in favor of continuing to fight the war, was conducted by a social science, probably academic institution. So, as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough for me.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, there’s a new Gallup poll that just came out that showed it’s down to 60%. And it’s been decreasing, the ones who want to fight until victory.

And one thing I do want to say is that there has been a Republican amendment, that is now a bill, that is asking three very critical questions to the Biden administration: What is your definition of victory? Is it going back to the 1991 borders, to the 2014 borders, to the 2022 border? What is your diplomatic path? And how much is this going to cost the American people? And we feel it’s important to make that a bipartisan bill and to force our government to tell us what is the end game, because, as far as we see, there is no end game except more suffering, more death, more destruction.

BARBARA SMITH: Yeah, what I would ask you, Medea, is: What do you think would happen to the people of Ukraine if the war ended tomorrow? Think about that. What would happen is that Putin would run roughshod over the rights and well-being of everybody in Ukraine. They have some sections that they have claimed, that are under Russian rule now, as a result of this war. Stopping this war at this point is saying, conceding, “Russia, you won. You can do whatever you want to with the people of Ukraine.” That’s facts, because he’s a viper. You know, he’s not going to be anything except for a viper. He’s not going to become a teddy bear because this war stops. He’s going to, like, just puff out his chest and look at what else in the region he can conquer next.

So, this is — we are in a situation, Medea, you and I, and everybody else who’s concerned about these issues, we are not running this country. Would that we were, things would not be, I think, as they are now. We are reacting to what the country and what this political economy and this ruling class — we react to what they are doing around the globe. That’s where you and I are. That’s one thing we share. We’re concerned about what’s up with, you know, the U.S. government in relationship to global peace, etc. But you and I are not running it. We have to figure out solutions, our stances, that will be helpful. If the war ended tomorrow, there would continue to be slaughter of people in Ukraine, because that is what the Russian agenda is about.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, if the war continues, there will be slaughter every day that that war continues, which is why we say cut off the weapons and move from the battlefield to the peace table. And also, just think of what we are doing to Ukraine in terms of the depleted uranium, the cluster bombs, the destruction of the environment. We want to preserve Ukraine as a country. And I think we we should think of it being cruel to continue this war, to put another $100 billion in to guarantee that this war will go on for another year, every day knowing that there are hundreds of people who are dying and being wounded.

There is no military solution. And I think you should think about that, Barbara. Where will we be in a year from now? If we’re not in a nuclear war or in a World War III, we will be in the same position where we have to go to the negotiating table again with Ukraine in an actually worse position than now to come up with pretty much the same things that they came up with back in April of last year — neutrality for Ukraine, Russian troops out, international supervised referendum in the Donbas, and the issue of Crimea being put off, because the government in Ukraine understands that the majority of people in Crimea do not want to be part of Ukraine.

BARBARA SMITH: So, what I would suggest to you — thank you for that, Medea. But what I would suggest to you is that you watch any of the interviews that people on our speakers’ tour — I mentioned two of them, Hanna Perekhoda and Ilya Budraitskis. There is also Ilya Matveev from Russia and Denys Bondar, who is from the Ukraine. And Ilya Budraitskis is from the — is originally from Russia. So we had two people from Ukraine and two people from Russia. When does that ever happen? These people are from warring countries, and they’re sitting down with each other, because they basically share politics and a vision of a world where there is justice, where there’s freedom, where there’s the cessation of violence. They cannot make it happen, because they’re not running their governments, either. But that’s who we listen to. And I would ask you, Medea, and other people who share your perspectives, I would ask you, listen to any of those interviews, starting with the one that Amy did with those people in the beginning of September, see what they have to say.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: And I would ask you to look at the interviews of the Russians and the Ukrainians that we had at our peace conference that was — took place in Austria, in Vienna, this summer. And they came together, along with people from 32 different countries, to all say we must find a diplomatic solution. Unfortunately, both the Ukrainians and the Russians then, consequently, had problems with their own governments, because there is censorship in both places. People in Ukraine who are calling for an end to the fighting are considered treasonous. And so, yes, we can listen to the Ukrainians and the Russians that we want to listen to, but I think it’s important to listen to those who say, “Help us find a diplomatic solution. Stop your countries from turning this into what has become now a proxy war and keeping this war going because they want to weaken Russia, so they can then turn their sights on China.” This is insanity. It must end.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, let me ask you something. Let me ask you a quick question. What would diplomacy look like? How do you see it taking place? Who would come to the table?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: There are many options. Of course, it has to be the governments of Ukraine and Russia. Who would push them both to the table? I think that we should be calling upon the Chinese to put pressure on Putin, because they have a lot of leverage because of the tremendous economic ties now. And I think we should be putting the pressure on Biden to put — to get Zelensky to the table. I think what Colombian President Petro put forward is a very good idea, to have an urgent U.N. peace summit on Ukraine, to get the parties to the table.

There has to be a way that Ukraine would be a neutral country, not part of NATO, but it does need security guarantees from powerful countries. And that will come up in the negotiating process. And we see from whether it’s the 15-point peace plan that they were negotiating or the Minsk agreements that came up in 2015 dealing with Donbas and autonomy for that region, there are solutions that are available. I mean, this war hopefully will end with a negotiated solution. But why not do it sooner than later, so that more people are not killed?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask, Barbara, in terms of — you said you’ve talked to and you’ve had numerous representatives from both Russia and Ukraine speak in your speakers’ tour. But are you satisfied what is happening within Ukraine in terms of the squashing of dissident views within Ukraine, the fact that so many political parties within Ukraine have been decertified by the Zelensky government, the changes in the labor laws that have made it much harder for workers within Ukraine to organize, and, of course, the pretty well-documented involvement of neo-Nazi groups within the Ukrainian military, as the Azov Battalion and others were integrated into the Ukrainian military structure? Do you feel this is a democratic country that is involved in this war against Russia?

BARBARA SMITH: What I would say, Juan, is that you asked me — the first question you asked was, like, how did I feel, you know, about the things that you just described. We don’t feel good about that, because we are socialists. Some people describe themselves as Marxists. I have not used that term to describe myself. I’m a socialist. I won’t talk about the distinction here. But we are all people on the left, and we are people who are anti-capitalist.

We are not in solidarity with Zelensky. Zelenky is a neoliberal. Just like I’m not in solidarity with neoliberals in my own country, neither are — am I, and, by extension, my comrades in the Ukraine Solidarity Network, we are not in solidarity with Zelensky. And, in fact, one of the issues that we talk about, quite pointedly, is, like, what’s going to — what is happening now with trade unions and repression of rights from the Ukrainian government that’s happening now, and also, after this war ends, what’s going to happen to Ukraine, Ukrainian society, you know? Is it going to go toward a democratic socialist state, where there’s a social safety net, widespread human rights, including for LGBTQ people and women? Or is it going to go into a neoliberal tailspin, which is what, of course, the neoliberals and finance capitalists, whoever they are around the world, that’s what they would like to see happen. So we’re not with Zelensky. We are critical of Zelensky, just as the people who we communicate with from Ukraine, just as they are critical of him.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. We thank you for taking this time to hash out this issue. Barbara Smith is a scholar, activist with the Ukraine Solidarity Network, co-founder of the Black feminist organization Combahee River Collective. And we want to thank Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the antiwar group CodePink, author of, among other books, War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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