What Russia and Ukraine Could Do Better

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, February 19, 2022

There are a number of things that have to be said first. They have to be said because virtually no U.S. television viewer knows or is likely ever to know them. They have to be said because if I’m going to suggest any flaws in the actions of the Russian government, I have to establish at least the possibility of doubt that I’m bought and owned by NATO or the Pentagon. Here are those things:

Ukraine has in common with Yemen, Iran, Taiwan, Korea, Syria, and every other global hotspot, a central role by the U.S. military.

The U.S. globally dominates weapons sales, base building, military alliance building, dictator-arming, coup-facilitating, and war launching.

Russia’s military costs 8% what the U.S. military does.

The U.S.-driven expansion of NATO and militarization of Eastern Europe is at the root of the crisis.

The new U.S. bases in Slovakia, tank sales to Poland, and giant weapons sales to Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe are not incidental here.

Russia’s demands to get the weapons and troops and war pacts out are perfectly reasonable and exactly what the U.S. would demand if there were Russian troops and missiles in Ontario, and exactly what it did demand when there were Soviet missiles in Cuba.

That being said, there remains the problem of my lack of permission to say anything to Russians or Ukrainians. Having the particular responsibility that is bestowed on anyone who lives in the United States to go after the dominant military machine on Earth, it might be reasonably supposed that I don’t have any free moments to outrageously dare to criticize any of the victims of the massive death force that my neighbors and I fund, generally fail to restrain, and — truth be told — in most cases know virtually nothing about. And yet, even as I devote myself to shutting down U.S. militarism and implore the rest of the world to help, I find that I can spare a few moments for Russian militarism too.

Both sides have predictably escalated violence in Donbas. The immediate cause of this is each side piling up arms, each side swearing that the other will attack at any moment, each side promising to counter-attack, each side piling on nationalistic and ethnic identity and hatred, and each side either stupidly imagining that peace can survive such actions, or imagining that machismo requires mirroring the other side’s militarism, or imagining that non-military alternatives don’t exist, or actually wishing for war.

Each side has enough nukes to destroy all life on Earth. Each side has been massing armies and engaging in war rehearsals — even nuclear war rehearsals, and talking about moving nuclear weapons into new countries (Belarus on the one hand and Ukraine on the other).

The most effective moves by the Russian government have not involved its military. They have been: (1) making clear their very reasonable demands, (2) mocking the ridiculous predictions of a Russian invasion on particular dates by the U.S., and (3) evacuating people from Donbas to protect them from war as violence escalated at the Western border of Donbas.

These most powerful actions have been overshadowed by quite counterproductive military posturing and preparations. For what Russia spends on its military, it could do all of the following:

Fill Donbas with unarmed civilian protectors and de-escalators.

Fund educational programs across the world on the value of cultural diversity in friendships and communities, and the abysmal failures of racism, nationalism, and Nazism.

Fill Ukraine with the world’s leading solar, wind, and water energy production facilities.

Replace the gas pipeline through Ukraine (and never build one north of there) with electric infrastructure for Russia and Western Europe.

Kick off a global reverse arms race, join human rights and disarmament treaties, and join the International Criminal Court.

Yes, but then couldn’t the U.S. do all of that for 8% of what it spends on its military? I’m glad you asked. Why, yes, it could. And that should be the top demand of every person on Earth. But we shouldn’t be blind to the fact that Russia could do it too, that Russia is not a model for sainthood, and that pretending Russia can do no wrong pretty well eliminates the possibility of making anyone in the U.S. or Europe believe that it is possible to oppose war without supporting the Enemy in war.

Yes, but how dare some ignorant idealistic jackass in the United States sit comfortably at his key board and ask people living in a war zone to kneel down and politely ask to be smacked? I’m not asking anyone anywhere to ever do that. And I’m not asking anyone in Ukraine or Russia to do a damn thing. But, just as there is a danger in denying that the Earth’s climate is collapsing, there is a danger in denying the evidence that nonviolence succeeds more often than violence does, that it works better against dozens of oppressive governments, that it works better than war in Palestine, that it works better than war in Western Sahara, that it works better than war in the streets of the United States, that . . .

In Lebanon, 30 years of Syrian domination was ended through a large-scale, nonviolent uprising in 2005.

When French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr in 1923, the German government called on its citizens to resist without physical violence. People nonviolently turned public opinion in Britain, the U.S., and even in Belgium and France, in favor of the occupied Germans. By international agreement, the French troops were withdrawn.

In Germany in 1920, a coup overthrew and exiled the government, but on its way out the government called for a general strike. The coup was undone in five days.

In Algeria in 1961, four French generals staged a coup. Nonviolent resistance undid it in a few days.

In the Soviet Union in 1991, Gorbachev was arrested, tanks sent to major cities, media shut down, and protests banned. But nonviolent protest ended the coup in a few days.

In the first Palestinian intifada in the 1980s, much of the subjugated population effectively became self-governing entities through nonviolent noncooperation.

Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia freed themselves from Soviet occupation through nonviolent resistance prior to the USSR’s collapse.

Nonviolent resistance in Western Sahara forced Morocco to offer an autonomy proposal.

In the final years of German occupation of Denmark and Norway during WWII, the Nazis effectively no longer controlled the populations.

Nonviolent movements have removed U.S. bases from Ecuador and the Philippines.

Gandhi’s efforts were key to removing the British from India.

When the Soviet military invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, there were demonstrations, a general strike, refusal to cooperate, removal of street signs, and persuasion of troops. Despite clueless leaders conceding, the take-over was slowed, and the credibility of the Soviet Communist Party ruined.

Even within Donbas within recent years, we’ve seen nonviolent action free areas from military occupation by one side or the other.

Now, we have absolutely no business whatsoever expecting the lousy governments of Russia or Ukraine to act with the enlightenment of nonviolent activists, when merely raising the idea of the lousy U.S. government or some lousy Western European government modeling such behavior could risk causing fatal laughter among local citizens.

I’m not expecting anything, apart from absolute catastrophe. But we should at least be aware of what is possible. We should be clear that if either the U.S. or Russia had invested, not in winning Ukrainians to its side, but in educating and training people in nonviolent noncooperation, there would be little possibility of either side effectively occupying and controlling any part of Ukraine even without a single weapon of war in the country.

For the price of what either the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. spent destroying just the one little impoverished nation of Afghanistan, Ukraine could be made a paradise on Earth. We ought to be capable of recognizing how unlikely that is to happen without losing the ability to be aware of it as a road available and not taken.

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