On January 12, Sacramento played host to the NATO Expansion – NO! Peace in Ukraine – Yes! Community Forum co-sponsored by Peace Action, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement AFL-CIO, ANSWER Coalition, and the Party for Socialism & Liberation (PSL) as well as the Peace & Freedom Party.

Speaking at the event was longtime PFP member C.T. Weber. Below runs the text of his talk.

Thank you for inviting me. I am with Peace and Freedom Party, the only permanent ballot qualified socialist party west of New England.

I would like to pause for a moment to reflect on Dr Martin Luther King and his accomplishments.

What side are we on? What side are you on?

The Left is divided on this question. Some say that Russia is a capitalist country and invaded its helpless neighbor. Some even say Russia is an imperialist country that had sent troops into Georgia, Moldova, Syria, and now Ukraine. On the other hand, some other activists point out that the U.S. and NATO are major threats to Russia, that Ukraine joining NATO was unacceptable, and that Russia warned the West against it. They argue that Russia is on the right side of history. Still others are saying “no” to NATO and “yes” to a negotiated peace.

There is a debate among historians on the question of who starts a war. Is it the country who fires the first shot? Or is it the country that causes the first shot to be fired? I should note that the United Nations has concluded that it is the country that crosses the border and attacks another country.

So, let’s take a look at the Cold War of the second half of the 20th century. In 1949, 12 countries from North America and Western Europe formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in reaction to what they saw as the growing threat of the USSR (Soviet Union).

The USSR then saw the 1955 inclusion of West Germany into NATO as a direct threat, and as a result, joined with seven other eastern European nations to sign the defensive Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, forming what is referred to as the Warsaw Pact.

In 1990, in order to get the USSR to withdraw its 380,000 troops from East Germany so that Germany could be reunified and as a result become a member of NATO, Secretary of State James Baker promised that NATO would not expand any further eastward.

Then the USSR broke up into 15 republics. Under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, it was decided to encircle Russia, as if it were not already encircled.

In 2014, Ukraine president Victor Yanukovych dropped negotiations with the European Union because of their unwillingness to make up for the $160 billion loss of Russian trade over three years and the inflexibility of the International Monetary Fund. Russia’s offer of some $15 billion in investment plus reduced cost for Russian fuel made better economic sense to Yanukovych.

Pro-EU demonstrators gathered for months of peaceful protests in Maidan Square, or Independence Square, in Kiev. It is suspected that far-right activists climbed unto the roofs of buildings around the square and fired into the crowd killing scores of antigovernment protesters. This led to protesters occupying government buildings.

Eventually, Yanukovych fled to Russia. The far-right leadership took control in Ukraine and passed several anti-Russian laws. Many Russian speaking people in eastern and southern Ukraine were beaten and/or killed. Donetsk and Luhansk seceded from Ukraine and formed their own independent countries. Civil war broke out in the Donbas region.

Ukraine and separatists met in Minsk, Belarus, to sign a 12-point plan to resolve the grievances and end the fighting. It did not last. Angela Merkel, the former Chancellor of Germany, admitted that the Minsk Agreements were signed to give Ukraine time to arm itself and train to fight.

Had the security concerns of Russia had been taken seriously, this war could have been avoided. In fact, in March last year, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators met in Turkey and were near a settlement to end the war. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdoms traveled from London to Kiev where he met with Zelensky and told him that the U.S. and U.K. did not want this agreement and would continue to fund the war because they wanted to weaken and divide Russia. It could still be resolved if NATO would drop their efforts to incorporate Ukraine into their military alliance.

Unlike many of my Democratic Party friends, I recognize the aggressive expansion of NATO from 12 member states in North America and Western Europe in 1949 to 30 member states today, including former Warsaw Pact countries and former Soviet Socialist Republics, has helped create the current crisis.

At the start of 2022, the United States had 70,000 troops in Europe (not counting the additional 10,000 recently authorized), other NATO countries had another 70,000 troops in Europe, and Ukraine itself had 250,000 troops. Even before this crisis started, there were thousands of NATO troops and weapons on the border with Russia.

NATO expansion into Eastern Europe must stop and Ukraine needs to be a neutral state. Recall when the USSR moved missiles into Cuba, and we almost entered into a third world war as a result. Can you imagine NATO missiles in Ukraine on the Russian border with Ukraine as a member of NATO and determined to take Crimea away from the Russians?

As a side note, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that Ukraine is fighting for their own land and will not allow foreign interference in their country. However, about a third of the land in Ukraine is owned by foreigners. I’m afraid that foreigners are already pulling the strings in Ukraine.

The Omnibus Appropriations Bill of 2023 is for $1.7 trillion. Of that, $858 billion – over half – is allocated to the war budget, a 10% increase over the previous budget. That does not include the nearly $45 billion in aid to Ukraine and NATO. Domestic sending increased 6%, but inflation rose 7% so there will be less buying power for healthcare, education, housing, mass transportation, and social benefit programs. All the Democratic Party Senators, including Bernie Sanders, voted for the Omnibus Appropriations Bill of 2023, and every Democratic member of the House, except for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, vote for the Omnibus Bill.

Unfortunately, many progressive Democrats are for funding the fight between Russia and Ukraine – so our task is to organize and build the movement for peace in Ukraine. That will need to be a negotiated peace. We also need to demand that NATO be abolished. Ask Yugoslavia, Libya. and Iraq if NATO should be abolished and I think the answer will be “yes.”

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