We “Stand” with Ukraine, but how exactly?

What is the substance behind the sentiment of “We stand with Ukraine,” what demands for defense and roads towards resolution are we supporting?

Like many of you, I am really struggling with these questions, particularly around sanctions and the role of NATO. I’d love to see what resources folks are finding helpful. We are caught in the rub between the vital importance of preventing more deaths immediately, and the vital importance of not expanding the tools that get used to kill on a massive scale like NATO and sanctions. We are working with a sparse and divided antiwar movement that hasn’t yet the capacity to address this empire in a coherent, proactive way so we are still reacting to each intervention absent a bigger strategy about how we’re engaging with demilitarization as a global project that is key to human survival. 

Protest against the invasion of Ukraine, St Petersburg Thurs 24th Feb

Bottom lines I’m working with:

  1. This is Putin/his cabinet’s war of choice, around which NATO and the US and EU all had destructive roles in creating the conditions where the Kremlin chose to invade sovereign Ukraine. We bear responsibility too, while it’s imperative that history deliver an unequivocal message of “this was a terrible idea don’t ever do this again” to Putin and all the governments… and war profiteering companies… who are watching. 
  2. Everyone in Ukraine right now deserves international support for their safety and survival. That includes the African and Indian students and families who have been beaten and turned away from the border to make room for fleeing Ukrainians. That includes everyone who is staying, whether by choice or necessity, whether to hole up and pray or pick up a gun or detourn street signs. All the refugees need safe passage & landings. Russian antiwar protestors, including the thousands arrested last week, also need support. They’re showing great courage in public demonstrations against their repressive state, and their example also provides more social space for soldiers to resist. Support political prisoners and resisters within the military in Russia as we do in the US.
  3. NATO is done. There’s no role in a healthy global ecosystem for an alliance using the disguise of a security pact to engage in interventionist wars, to use Gilbert Achcar’s description of post-80s NATO. People have long been rightfully organizing against NATO, from within and outside, to dissolve it and re-allott that oxygen towards cooperative solutions. 
  4. Sanctions are commonly used tools of war by imperial powers. Even more so in the current phase of hybrid wars. I’m trying to catch up on the history the pattern where even sanctions targeted at individual politicians/oligarchs tend to expand into broader sanctions whose pain is felt exponentially by the working class and poor people of a country whose rulers will always manage to escape it. Sanctions have also been demanded by progressive grassroots justice movements, as by South Africans and Palestinians, as mechanisms for solidarity to be expressed through global leverage against repressive regimes, and they’ve explained the difference. We have to get more precise about how we relate to those differently from sanctions initiated by hegemonic world powers. See Madeline Albright, “the cost was worth it” of half a million Iraqi children killed by US sanctions. 
  5. No surprises, this war reveals things we already knew. We do not yet have a functional grassroots safety alternative to deploy here to protect the humans who are dying in Ukraine. Or Yemen. Etc. No more than we did in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else. There will be handfuls of people who will go, either to stand empty handed in front of tanks or the front doors of homes, or who will go to bring arms to civilian militias. A percentage of those will be white nationalists, but most of them will be justice-minded folks wanting to use their bodies to defend other humans under attack, and we must not confuse these two. People in the US will continue to be surprised by the bravery of Ukrainians defending their streets, fields and homes, and will continue to regard as subhuman people doing exactly in same in Palestine (even when video clips of Palestinians are televised with a Ukrainian label, and an Arab girl will be called a hero when thought to be a blond European when actually Ahed Tamimi was imprisoned and branded a savage terrorist for slapping a soldier). All the embedded racism, as well as the deep “American exceptionalism” and historical amnesia is stirred up in the execution and coverage of this war. 

Faris Odeh in Gaza, 2000

The fragments of an US antiwar movement struggle to update what anti-imperialism means in 2022. We are splitting over some peoples’ “enemy of my enemy is my friend” reluctance to condemn Russian aggression (no shocker after Syria). We stumble over what it means to center the leadership and demands of the targeted people. We don’t have much to offer, to be real. I don’t say this to throw up my hands but as an assessment that we have major tasks on our hands. Currently we can’t offer options for safety or much pressure towards diplomatic resolution. What can we do? What are our best offerings?

Relabeled road sign in Ukraine where all roads now lead to the Hague (International Criminal Court)

There hasn’t been, to my knowledge, unified demands or even majoritarian demands coming from mass grassroots outlets giving voice to Ukrainian, Russian and Belarussian people.  We definitely hear some calls to join NATO, the EU, to receive military support, for no-fly zones, for sanctions. I hear some support from anti-war/anti-Putin Russians for these broad sanctions.

What do we do when we don’t support a demand from people who are literally under the gun? How do we fulfill a core political commitment to support the self-determination of targeted people, while that solidarity is also shaped by adjacent political commitments? Like not supporting a no-fly zone where shooting down Russian planes could end in nuclear war?

It feels very clear to me that we can focus on supporting asks for solidarity supplies and humanitarian aid; support calls for refugee passage and resettlement (not just Ukrainians); political prisoner aid including Russian antiwar activists; and lifting up analysis, perspectives, statements from antimilitarists in the region. Especially in the US (particularly those of us who are not war survivors/not from diaspora communities), trained into such deep and provincial exceptionalism, we need to remind ourselves every day it’s not possible to understand what’s happening in an echo chamber and we need to be constantly taking in international perspectives to show us what we are missing— particularly people telling us about their own lives and conditions. 

We don’t have a lot of power right now but still have the responsibility to do the best we can with what we’ve got. And this is part of that responsibility: to be meticulous about doing the best we can while building more leverage, as our mistakes will only get more costly the more weight we can put behind them so we need to build the muscles of analysis and discernment along with strategical and tactical capabilities.

So what feels clear to you? Where are you stuck? Does it feel like we’ve got more mid-term solutions that short or long?

Thank you to the people who I’ve been trying to sort this through with, particularly Sarah Lazare, Donna Willmott and my comrades in About Face Veterans Against the War. I will revise this as I can sharpen, which means please share your perspectives, your feedback, your resources. I’ve shared some recently and will drop a few more.

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