When will the United States join the global call to end the war in Ukraine?

Must our leaders bring us to the brink of World War III, with all our lives at stake in an all-out nuclear war, before allowing a cease-fire and a negotiated peace? When will the United States join the global call to end the war in Ukraine?

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies

When Japan invited the leaders of Brazil, India, and Indonesia to attend the G7 summit in Hiroshima, there were glimmers of hope that it could be a forum for these rising economic powers of the global South to discuss their demand for peace in Ukraine with the wealthy Western G7 countries that are militarily allied with Ukraine and have so far remained deaf to calls for peace.

But this has not been the case. Instead, the leaders of the Global South were forced to sit and listen as their hosts announced their latest plans to tighten sanctions against Russia and further escalate the war by sending U.S.-built F-16 warplanes to Ukraine.

The G7 summit stands in stark contrast to the efforts of leaders around the world who are trying to end the conflict. In the past, Turkey, Israel, and Italy leaders have come forward to try to mediate. Their efforts were bearing fruit as early as April 2022, but they were blocked by the West, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, which did not want Ukraine to conclude an independent peace agreement with Russia.

Rather than recklessly facing World War III
or watch in silence this senseless loss of life,
we are building a global grassroots movement to support the initiatives of leaders around the world that will help bring a swift end to this war

Now that the war has dragged on for more than a year with no end in sight, other leaders have stepped up to try to push both sides to the negotiating table. In an interesting new development, Denmark, a NATO country, has stepped forward to offer to host peace talks. On May 22, just days after the G-7 meeting, Danish Foreign Minister Lokke Rasmussen said his country would be ready to host a peace summit in July if Russia and Ukraine agreed to talks.

“We need to make a commitment to create a global effort to organize this meeting,” Rasmussen said, pointing out that this would require gaining the support of China, Brazil, India and other nations that have expressed interest in brokering peace talks. The fact that an EU and NATO member is promoting the talks could reflect a change in the way Europeans see the way forward in Ukraine.

Another news story reflecting this change is one reported by Seymour Hersh, who, citing U.S. intelligence sources, [says] that the leaders of Poland, Czechia, Hungary and the three Baltic countries, all NATO members, are talking with President Zelenskyy about the need to end the war and begin rebuilding Ukraine so that the five million refugees now living in their countries can begin to return home. On May 23, right-wing Hungarian President Viktor Orban said, “If you consider that NATO is not ready to send troops, it is obvious that there is no victory for the poor Ukrainians on the battlefield” and that the only way to end the conflict is for Washington to negotiate with Russia.

Meanwhile, China’s peace initiative has made progress, despite U.S. distrust. Li Hui, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs and former ambassador to Russia, has met with Putin, Zelenskyy, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and other European leaders to pursue dialogue. Given its position as Russia and Ukraine’s top trading partner, China is in a good position to engage with both sides.

Another initiative came from Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who is creating a “peace club” of countries from around the world to work together to resolve the conflict in Ukraine. He has appointed renowned diplomat Celso Amorim as his peace envoy. Amorim was Brazil’s foreign minister from 2003 to 2010 and was named “best foreign minister in the world” by Foreign Affairs magazine. He was also Brazil’s defense minister from 2011 to 2014 and is now President Lula’s top foreign policy adviser. Amorim has already had meetings with Putin in Moscow and with Zelenskyy in Kiev and was well received by both sides.

On May 16, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and other African leaders entered the fray, reflecting how seriously this war is affecting the global economy through rising energy and food prices. Ramaphosa announced a high-level mission of six African presidents, led by Senegalese President Macky Sall. The latter was until recently president of the African Union and, in that capacity, spoke strongly for peace in Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022.

The other members of the mission are Presidents Nguesso of Congo, Al-Sisi of Egypt, Musevini of Uganda and Hichilema of Zambia. African leaders call for a cease-fire in Ukraine and serious negotiations to arrive at “a framework for lasting peace.” U.N. Secretary-General Guterres was informed of their plans and “welcomed the initiative.”

Pope Francis and the Vatican are also trying to mediate the conflict. “Let us not get used to conflict and violence; let us not get used to war,” the Pope preached. The Vatican has already helped facilitate the exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine, and Ukraine has asked for the Pope’s help in reuniting families separated by the conflict. One sign of the Pope’s commitment is the appointment of veteran negotiator Cardinal Matteo Zuppi as his peace envoy.

Zuppi was instrumental in mediating the talks that ended the civil wars in Guatemala and Mozambique.

Will any of these initiatives bear fruit? Whether Russia and Ukraine can engage in dialogue depends on many factors, including the perceived potential gains from continued fighting, the ability to maintain adequate arms supplies, and the growth of domestic opposition. But it also depends on international pressure, which is why external efforts are so critical and why U.S. and NATO countries’ opposition to the talks must somehow be overcome.

The U.S. rejection or abandonment of peace initiatives illustrates the gap between two diametrically opposed approaches to resolving international disputes: diplomacy and war. It also illustrates the disconnect between the growing public sentiment against war and the determination of U.S. politicians, including most Democrats and Republicans, to prolong it.

A growing grassroots movement in the United States is working to change this:

–  In May, foreign policy experts and grassroots activists placed paid ads in the New York Times and The Hill urging the U.S. government to be a force for peace. The ad on The Hill was endorsed by 100 organizations across the country, and community leaders organized in dozens of congressional districts to deliver the ad to their representatives.
–  Religious leaders, more than 1,000 of whom signed a letter to President Biden in December calling for a Christmas truce, are showing their support for the Vatican’s peace initiative.
–  The U.S. Conference of Mayors, an organization representing some 1,400 cities across the country, unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the President and Congress to “maximize diplomatic efforts to end the war as soon as possible by working with Ukraine and Russia to reach an immediate ceasefire and negotiate with mutual concessions in accordance with the United Nations Charter, knowing that the risks of a wider war increase the longer the war continues.”
–  Key U.S. environmental leaders have recognized how disastrous this war is for the environment, including the possibility of catastrophic nuclear war or a nuclear power plant explosion, and have sent a letter to President Biden and Congress urging a negotiated settlement.
–  On June 10 and 11, U.S. activists will join peace activists from around the world in Vienna, Austria, for an international summit for peace in Ukraine.
–  Some of the presidential candidates among both Democrats and Republicans support a negotiated peace in Ukraine, including Robert F. Kennedy and Donald Trump.
–  The initial decision by the U.S. and NATO member countries to try to help Ukraine resist the Russian invasion had wide public support. However, the stalling of promising peace negotiations and the deliberate choice to prolong the war as an opportunity to “press” and “weaken” Russia have changed the nature of the war and the role of the United States in it, making Western leaders active participants in a war in which they will not even put their own forces on the line.

Should our leaders wait until a murderous war of attrition has killed an entire generation of Ukrainians and left Ukraine in a weaker negotiating position than it was in April 2022 before responding to the international call for a return to the negotiating table?

Or must our leaders take us to the brink of World War III, with all our lives at stake in an all-out nuclear war, before allowing a cease-fire and a negotiated peace?

Rather than sleepwalking into World War III or silently watching this senseless loss of life, we are building a global grassroots movement to support initiatives by leaders around the world that will help bring a swift end to this war and usher in a stable and lasting peace. Join us

Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies are the authors of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, available from OR Books in November 2022.

Common Dreams