30 Nonviolent Things Russia Could Have Done and 30 Nonviolent Things Ukraine Could Do

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, March 15, 2022

The war-or-nothing disease has a firm grip. People literally can’t imagine anything else — people on both sides of the same war.

Every time I suggest that Russia might have done anything nonviolent to resist NATO expansion and the militarization of its border or that Ukraine might do anything nonviolent right now, my inbox fills up in almost exactly equal measure with rather angry missives denouncing the idea that there was or is anything that Russia, in the case of half of the emails, or that Ukraine, in the case of the other half of the emails, could possibly do other than kill.

Most of these communications don’t seem to seriously be asking for a response — and of course I’ve pre-responded with a mountain of articles and webinars — but some of them rhetorically insist that I “name just one!” thing Russia could have done other than attack Ukraine or “name just one!” thing Ukraine could do other than fight the Russians.

Never mind that what Russia has done has strengthened NATO beyond anything NATO could ever have done on its own. Never mind that Ukraine is dumping gasoline on the fire of its own destruction. Supposedly there was and is no choice but the counterproductive choice of violence. Nothing else is even thinkable. However . . .

Russia could have:

  1. Continued mocking the daily predictions of an invasion and created worldwide hilarity, rather than invading and making the predictions simply off by a matter of days.
  2. Continued evacuating people from Eastern Ukraine who felt threatened by the Ukrainian government, military, and Nazi thugs.
  3. Offered evacuees more than $29 to survive on; offered them in fact houses, jobs, and guaranteed income. (Remember, we’re talking about alternatives to militarism, so money is no object and no extravagant expense will ever be more than a drop in the bucket of war spending.)
  4. Made a motion for a vote in the UN Security Council to democratize the body and abolish the veto.
  5. Asked the UN to oversee a new vote in Crimea on whether to rejoin Russia.
  6. Joined the International Criminal Court.
  7. Asked the ICC to investigate crimes in Donbas.
  8. Sent into Donbas many thousands of unarmed civilian protectors.
  9. Sent into Donbas the world’s best trainers in nonviolent civil resistance.
  10. Funded educational programs across the world on the value of cultural diversity in friendships and communities, and the abysmal failures of racism, nationalism, and Nazism.
  11. Removed the most fascist members from the Russian military.
  12. Offered as gifts to Ukraine the world’s leading solar, wind, and water energy production facilities.
  13. Shut down the gas pipeline through Ukraine and committed to never building one north of there.
  14. Announced a commitment to leaving Russian fossil fuels in the ground for the sake of the Earth.
  15. Offered as a gift to Ukraine electric infrastructure.
  16. Offered as a gift of friendship to Ukraine railway infrastructure.
  17. Declared support for the public diplomacy that Woodrow Wilson pretended to support.
  18. Announced again the eight demands it began making in December, and requested public responses to each from the U.S. government.
  19. Asked Russian-Americans to celebrate Russian-American friendship at the teardrop monument given to the United States by Russia off New York Harbor.
  20. Joined the major human rights treaties it has yet to ratify, and asked that others do the same.
  21. Announced its commitment to unilaterally uphold disarmament treaties shredded by the United States, and encouraged reciprocation.
  22. Announced a no-first-use nuclear policy, and encouraged the same.
  23. Announced a policy of disarming nuclear missiles and keeping them off alert status to allow more than mere minutes before launching an apocalypse, and encouraged the same.
  24. Proposed a ban on international weapons sales.
  25. Proposed negotiations by all nuclear-armed governments, including those with U.S. nuclear weapons in their countries, to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons.
  26. Committed to not maintaining weapons or troops within 100, 200, 300, 400 km of any borders, and requested the same of its neighbors.
  27. Organized a nonviolent unarmed army to walk to and protest any weapons or troops near borders.
  28. Put out a call to the world for volunteers to join the walk and protest.
  29. Celebrated the diversity of the global community of activists and organized cultural events as part of the protest.
  30. Asked the Baltic states that have planned nonviolent responses to Russian invasion to help train Russians and other Europeans in the same.

Ukrainians could do a great many things, a lot of which they are in fact, in a limited and unorganized and underreported way, doing:

  1. Change the street signs.
  2. Block the roads with materials.
  3. Block the roads with people.
  4. Put up billboards.
  5. Talk to Russian troops.
  6. Celebrate Russian peace activists.
  7. Protest both Russian warmaking and Ukrainian warmaking.
  8. Demand serious and independent negotiating with Russia by the Ukrainian government — independent of U.S. and NATO dictates, and independent of Ukrainian right-wing threats.
  9. Publicly demonstrate for No Russia, No NATO, No War.
  10. Use a few of these 198 tactics.
  11. Document and show the world the impact of war.
  12. Document and show the world the power of nonviolent resistance.
  13. Invite brave foreigners to come and join an unarmed peace army.
  14. Announce a commitment never to align militarily with NATO, Russia, or anyone else.
  15. Invite the governments of Switzerland, Austria, Finland, and Ireland to a conference on neutrality in Kyiv.
  16. Announce a commitment to the Minsk 2 agreement including self-governance for the two eastern regions.
  17. Announce a commitment to celebrating ethnic and linguistic diversity.
  18. Announce an investigation of right-wing violence in Ukraine.
  19. Announce delegations of Ukrainians with touching media-covered stories to visit Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and a dozen other countries to draw attention to all victims of war.
  20. Engage in serious and public negotiations with Russia.
  21. Commit to not maintaining weapons or troops within 100, 200, 300, 400 km of any borders, and request the same of neighbors.
  22. Organize with Russia a nonviolent unarmed army to walk to and protest any weapons or troops near borders.
  23. Put out a call to the world for volunteers to join the walk and protest.
  24. Celebrate the diversity of the global community of activists and organize cultural events as part of the protest.
  25. Ask the Baltic states that have planned nonviolent responses to Russian invasion to help train Ukrainians, Russians, and other Europeans in the same.
  26. Join and uphold major human rights treaties.
  27. Join and uphold the International Criminal Court.
  28. Join and uphold the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
  29. Offer to host disarmament negotiations by the world’s nuclear-armed governments.
  30. Ask both Russia and the West for non-military aid and cooperation.

19 thoughts on “30 Nonviolent Things Russia Could Have Done and 30 Nonviolent Things Ukraine Could Do”

  1. For Russia, you need to re-word #22 to “Denounce their official first-use nuclear policy”.
    Also, you might have included Russia’s commitment to Minsk-2 which called for the removal of all foreign fighters and weapons from the conflict zone and allowing Ukraine to re-gain control of its border. Russia continued to deny having any personnel and equipment in Donbas, so that condition was never met. And the separatists refused to relinquish control of the border unless/until they lost the referendum vote.
    On the other hand, Ukraine is using most of those tactics you suggest, including non-violent demonstrations in Russian occupied cities such as Kherson.
    There is predation in this world and humans are the most dangerous predators. While Mahatma Ghandhi’s principles are the ideal, It is also worth reading Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita to uphold the dharma through selfless action, which may not always be limited to non-violence.

    1. I find the notion of “Selfless Action” to be a strange segue to not practicing nonviolence, though I’m not as familiar as I should be with Bhavagad Gita. What Chapter should I look up? Less the self (ego) “I”, all personal acting/action have no cause or existence. We either act on our own thoughts/thinking individually or opt not to. There can be no volitious action without a self (person) to think it and then perform it. Therefore, even what we think is in the interest of others (or ourselves) can only be experienced as a thought first – to act upon or not. While the notion of “selflessness” itself seems a noble aspiration, there can be no not-self to an existing self. So, there is no selfless action. Not acting at all – simply “witnessing” or not, just being – can approximate acting without a self. We all have instincts of self-preservation making us naturally somewhat defensive, etc. Really though, selflessness to most people means “I think I am acting more in the interests of someone else or other people than myself” but if I’m to find a person or particular group of people to not extend nonviolence towards, I’m acting on behalf of myself as I see myself in relation to the rest of humanity. Existence itself often seems a contradiction… Anyways, thank you for sharing your thoughts, hope I made at least a little sense here. Peace and Goodwill

      1. Scott,
        I was referencing chapter 3. However, the Bhagavad Gita is part of a much larger epic. So you might want to read a synopsis to understand the context.
        Also, chapters 1 & 2 set up the discussion in chapter 3.
        I understand what you are saying. It is certainly a slippery notion, especially when applied to nation-states. But in this case, the existential threat is not only to the nation, but to individuals.
        Who are we to tell Ukrainians to sacrifice their independence and resign themselves to the inevitable crackdown rather than resist the invasion? Putin and Lukashenko have, so far, been quite effective in crushing non-violent dissent in Russia and Belarus. Ukrainians know from experience what awaits them if they surrender. They have made up their minds, or, at least, so they say in the last line of their national anthem.
        Sincere regards.

    2. Thank you, Joe Kozak. As usual, you are a voice of reason. (Which is more than I can say for a lot of other people around here.)

  2. Thank you, Joe. For the record, I’m not suggesting Ukrainians do anything in particular except know that nonviolence is always an option — I don’t think it my place, especially at this time; also I’m not suggesting Ukrainians “surrender” through my advocacy of nonviolence. On your concluding comment, I find that lumping a group of people together and making blanket generalizations about what that group’s intentions are (using the word “they” to mean “all Ukrainians” making up their minds to fight) is usually not a good idea in my experience. But I see what you’re saying… Thanks for the response, I hope to get to the Bhagavad Gita at some point… Peace and Goodwill

  3. Scott,
    My comments were not directed at you personally. I have been hearing a lot of ‘westsplaining’ by commentators who do not understand the Ukrainian experience. And, I find myself filled with anger, frustration and guilt as a result of Putin’s invasion. The guilt is from my desire to see Putin held responsible for his actions, while knowing that the price is being paid in Ukrainian blood.
    So, thank you for making me examine my own motivations.
    The last line of the Ukrainian National Anthem (which was banned during the Soviet era) proclaims their commitment to fight for their freedom. But, it doesn’t preclude non-violence. The 2014 Maidan events started as non-violent demonstrations, and only escalated in response to an increasingly violent government crackdown. This invasion has united the people in solidarity across the entire political spectrum. That is the one bright spot in an otherwise tragic situation.

    1. Indeed, Joe.

      “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
      -George Orwell

  4. I am afraid that the sensible things you are proposing in these two lists are for an imaginary or at least future humanity. For the moment we are stuck with superpowers pushing against each-others, trying to delimit and secure their area of comfort and power, dominance. Of course, everything is served and painted in all sorts of catchy pretexts: democracy, human rights, independence, national pride, existential threats, etc.
    I still hope that somehow we’ll get out of this war .better sooner than later and that we, as peace-loving and cherishing people from all sides, can start promoting and educating future generations about such solutions.
    Superpowers tend to surface from time to time, history is a constant turmoil, and it won’t get better without watching above it constantly. In this tragic war at our doorsteps, everybody has their part of right and wrong. There are no Angels involved, just humans, and interests that never include the needs, dreams, and hopes of the citizens, but are constantly draining the money they are working to produce.
    I can’t say I am optimistic; I still feel that we, as species, we are a provocation to ourselves and that we are far from an intelligent solution.

    1. not sure the tiny governments of nations whose entire populations are under 10% of humanity (4% for the US) tell you universal facts about humanity

  5. I’m sorry but many of these proposals are beyond naive as if written by a child who still lives in a make-believe world instead of the real one.

    Due to being from the region, I’m someone who can follow the events in their original languages and also understand the mindset of the warring parties.

    The Russians would never undertake most of the actions proposed for them. They’ve been heading toward war for many years and most of their explanations and justifications for it are simply not supported by facts. The real reason for the invasion was Putin’s false belief that most Ukrainians would like to restore Russia and Ukraine as one country and he’d go down in history as the great uniter of Russian lands.

    Everything about Donbas and defending people there is nonsense. Russia is responsible for any violence there at all. Donbas would be at peace had Russia not invaded it in 2014 using paramilitaries and later an active Russian army while pretending it was an internal conflict. One of the masterminds of that invasion, former Russian intelligence officer and a self-proclaimed Russian nationalist Igor Girkin, admitted himself that the opposition to the new, post-Maidan government in Kyiv in Eastern Ukraine would not last for more than a couple of weeks had it been not for him and his people (you can watch that interview on Youtube). Putin’s people stoked the violence by importing all kinds of unsavory characters from Russia into Eastern Ukraine and supplying them with weapons. Once these units started losing the conflict to the regular Ukrainian army Putin sent the regular Russian army without ever admitting to doing so. Had this been an internal conflict it would be over a long time ago.

    Your proposals for the Ukrainians are even more naive. Talk to Russian troops? Seriously? Protest Ukrainian militarism? At a time when the country is under a full-on assault by Russia? I can go on but just these two are enough to stop taking you seriously.

    I would love for the killing to stop as soon as possible but you try way too hard to be even-handed to the point of ignoring a very basic fact that can’t be explained away no matter how much Russia and its sympathizers twist it upside down. The Russian army crossed the border and attacked internationally recognized foreign territory and is fighting the war of aggression. The Ukrainian military actions are purely in defense of their sovereignty. There’s a massive difference between these.

  6. I should add, for context, that I was a vehement opponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This war is different. Ukraine is fighting a just war. Heroically, I might add. Absolutely no one gave them a chance to last even a week (including Western military experts or me) and here we are a year later with Russia controlling only a fifth of the Ukrainian territory after sustaining a horrendous number of casualties (around 10 times of their losses in 9 years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan), an enormous amount of lost military equipment, tremendous financial cost and even having been forced into a partial mobilization. It’s truly awe-inspiring what the Ukrainians have managed to do. To say that they are a David in this fight against a brutal, unscrupulous Goliath would be a massive understatement. The West is supporting Ukraine in this just defensive war. The Russian territory has not been attacked in response, with a few small and perfectly justified exceptions. Russia can end the war and the bloodshed any time they want. All they have to do is pull their troops back to their internationally recognized borders.

    So please, stop with the false equivalency nonsense. It’s infuriating.

    1. Fantasizing strawmen of “equivalency” and getting infuriated by them is a favorite pastime I’m always proud to have been imagined to be contributing to.

  7. The source of the problem is what happened in the negotiations over the 2015 Minsk II Agreement, which was a framework for shutting down the conflict in the Donbass. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel played the central role in designing that framework, although they consulted extensively with both Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Those four individuals were also the key players in the subsequent negotiations. There is little doubt that Putin was committed to making Minsk work. But Hollande, Merkel, and Poroshenko – as well as Zelensky – have all made it clear that they were not interested in implementing Minsk, but instead saw it as an opportunity to buy time for Ukraine to build up its military so that it could deal with the insurrection in the Donbass. As Merkel told Die Zeit, it was “an attempt to give Ukraine time … to become stronger.” Similarly, Poroshenko said, “Our goal was to, first, stop the threat, or at least to delay the war — to secure eight years to restore economic growth and create powerful armed forces.”

    Shortly after Merkel’s Die Zeit interview in December 2022, Putin told a press conference: “I thought the other participants of this agreement were at least honest, but no, it turns out they were also lying to us and only wanted to pump Ukraine with weapons and get it prepared for a military conflict.” He went on to say that getting bamboozled by the West had caused him to pass up an opportunity to solve the Ukraine problem in more favourable circumstances for Russia: “Apparently, we got our bearings too late, to be honest. Maybe we should have started all this [the military operation] earlier, but we just hoped that we would be able to solve it within the framework of the Minsk agreements.” He then made it clear that the West’s duplicity would complicate future negotiations: “Trust is already almost at zero, but after such statements, how can we possibly negotiate? About what? Can we make any agreements with anybody and where are the guarantees?”

  8. Purple Library Guy

    I’m open to the idea that something could have been done to avoid war. And I certainly don’t think that states always make the best moves or anything. But I think we need to define what we’re talking about a bit. I’m going to talk about the Russian case. To start with, what would it mean to say that some action or policy represented an alternative to going to war with Ukraine? It would mean that action or policy had a significant chance of achieving the foreign policy objectives Russia is trying to achieve through war with Ukraine. The main foreign policy objective involved is to stop Ukraine from becoming a heavily armed NATO country, and more generally to make it more difficult for NATO to endanger Russia. Stuff about, say, protecting ethnic Russians in the Donbass is tertiary–it’s not like they don’t want that, but they wouldn’t do a whole lot for it.

    Given that, I’d like to note a key kind of thing that would not achieve those objectives: Russia being nice is not going to change NATO’s objectives or tactics in any way. NATO is not going after Russia because Russia is not nice, NATO is going after Russia because Russia existing as a sizable nation with the reality or even potential for an independent foreign and economic policy, particularly one aligning with China, is seen as a threat. So while I thoroughly support the idea of Russia doing various nice things, they would make no difference to Russia’s security situation. Another related kind of thing very unlikely to achieve those objectives is any kind of public relations move. Such moves will not sway the key decision makers in the United States or Europe, and the media is unlikely to give them enough play for them to sway much of the populations of those countries, certainly not enough or strongly enough for those populations to change the calculations of the leaders.

    Bearing that in mind, let’s look at all 30 proposals:
    1. Would have no effect.
    2. Would be good for the evacuated people, but would have no positive effect on Russia’s security environment, and would weaken the Donbass as a buffer zone.
    3. Would again be nice for the evacuees, but have no effect on Russia’s security environment.
    4. Would not pass and if it did, the results would be either zero or bad for Russia’s security.
    5. Considering the track record of Venezuelan elections and the US and EU’s steadfast refusal to send observers in case they found out those elections are actually democratic, I would say this would be nearly impossible to make happen and would be undermined and ignored if it did.
    6. Positive, but irrelevant.
    7. Sure, they could ask. It wouldn’t happen, and the US would literally sanction any enterprising prosecutor that tried anything. They’ve done it before.
    8. This would achieve nothing and the Western media would describe them as spies, provocateurs, and/or terrorists.
    9. As above. Nobody would care and if the Donbass were invaded they would be killed.
    10. That would be a nice thing for Russia to do and it would be nice if someone did it. Not relevant to the issue at hand though.
    11. Again, nice, not relevant. Perhaps worse–it would make Russia look weak, emboldening its enemies and pushing waverers back to the US fold, and might strengthen factionalism in Russia.
    12. They wouldn’t take them, get real.
    13. And this would do what? Lose Russia a bunch of money and what else? I suppose it would have lost Ukraine a fair chunk of cash too, and made them scramble for heating in the winter, but I can’t see it having a positive political result. I can’t even figure out what the point of this one is supposed to be.
    14. Also nice. And financial suicide. But I don’t see the security gains here. What is this supposed to do for Russia? It is off topic.
    15. Again, they wouldn’t take it. There is no case where Russia would be able to give infrastructure of any sort to Ukraine. Most of the Ukrainian leadership hate Russia’s guts and would reject it, but even if they wavered NATO would lean on them to say no. And the whole thing would receive zero publicity.
    16. As per 15.
    17. This would accomplish nothing at all.
    18. Announcing again the demands that were ignored or mocked the first time just makes you look weak. There was zero possibility that they would suddenly be paid attention to.
    19. This would accomplish nothing.
    20. This would be nice, but would be ignored. It would accomplish no security objectives.
    21. As above.
    22. As above.
    23. This one might actually invite an American first strike. There are quite a few high ups in the Pentagon and other bits of the security establishment who have long wanted to do it if they thought they could survive.
    24. As 20, 21, 22 and 23.
    25. As above
    26. Pointless, and might actually invite an attack, although at least just a conventional one.
    27. Uhhh . . . nobody would join. And it wouldn’t do anything if they did.
    28. They could put out a call, sure. And then? Crickets.
    29. How exactly is this stuff supposed to affect US foreign policy?
    30. What on earth?!

    So, item by item, not a single one of these proposals does anything to achieve a single Russian security objective. I’m open to the idea that such proposals exist, but they would have to be ways of persuading NATO leaders that their best interests lay in letting Russia be an independent regional power. Or, if they were more “soft” in nature, they would have to be accompanied by some very effective way of circumventing the existing media and PR structures of the Western countries. None of this stuff comes close to qualifying.

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