In June, Kathy Kelly was among a delegation, listed in the Syria statement below, who had the opportunity to tour in Russia and to identify points of friction between the United States and Russia and what might be done to reduce the stress between the two countries. As her report suggests, the world would benefit from a great deal more person-to-person contact between Russians and U.S. citizens and education within the U.S. on political realities in Europe and Russia.
After Kathy’s article is a statement issued by the delegation while in Russia aimed at discouraging an expanded U.S. assault on Syria, a statement that, sadly, remains extremely appropriate.
What’s at Stake
by Kathy Kelly
In the historic port city of Yalta, located on the Crimean Peninsula, our delegation to Russia visited the site where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, in February of 1945, concluded negotiations ending World War II.
These leaders and their top advisors were also present at the creation of the United Nations and other instruments of international negotiation and non-military cooperation. Tragically, the creation of the “Cold War” was underway soon after. Reviving tensions between the United States and Russia make it seem as though the Cold War might not have ended.
We also met with groups of young adults, teachers, and veterans of foreign wars. At each meeting, participants readily agreed that new peace agreements are needed.
Olga, a tour guide, told me that she was fairly sure most young people here in Yalta would know what NATO is, what the acronym stands for, and they would know about recent NATO developments. Our delegation has been wondering how to cope with a quite different reality in the U.S., where many people may be poorly informed about NATO and would know even less about the Anti -Ballistic Missile treaty that the U.S. more or less tore up in 2001.
The Federation of American Scientists, in its 2016 inventory of nuclear forces, states that Russia and the U.S. own approximately 93 percent of all nuclear warheads. Each country has roughly 4,500-4,700 warheads in its military stockpiles.
Konstatin, a veteran from the USSR war in Afghanistan, now a grandfather, spoke to us about Yalta’s history during World War II. “Many people perished here,” he said. “More than a million perished during WWII. This tourist resort was founded on the bones of people killed in the war.” An estimated 22 to 27 million Russians died during World War II. Konstatin urged all of us to find ways for avoiding further war, and he spoke about how funds spent on weapons are crucially needed to help heal children afflicted by disease or hunger.
Julia, a University student who wants to become an interpreter working with diplomats, said that she is glad and grateful never to have lived through a war. “I always want to choose words instead of weapons,” she said.
We asked university students what they thought about prospects for abolishing nuclear weapons. Anton, who studies engineering, told us that he believes “the youth of different countries would like to bridge the gap and work out ways to unite people.” His words are extremely important now, as Russia and the U.S., possessing such huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, engage in intensifying conflict. “All of us should soften the geopolitical relations between our countries,” Anton continued, “and try to get together on the same level, on the same ground. The idea of this future should be attractive to everyone and enable us to solve ecological problems. And if we all put efforts into reaching this idea of development and creativity, in the future, then the nuclear abolition will be something we can accomplish”
In 1954 the Soviet government transferred this largely Russian-speaking area from Russia to the Ukraine. In 2014, Ukraine's elected president was ousted and its new government formed in part by avowed neo-Nazis. Russia occupied the Crimea and after overwhelmingly winning an uncomfortably hasty vote, annexed or “reunited” the Crimean peninsula with Russia, depending on who describes the history. The Ukraine ouster is widely believed here and in much of the world outside the United States to have been engineered by the United States and NATO. What plays in the U.S. as Russian aggression is seen by many here as a response to antidemocratic NATO interference along the Russian border.
It can be credibly argued that at its creation NATO’s mission was essentially defensive. Stalin was a terrifying dictator, suffering from increasing psychosis, with a long history of betraying even those who seemed to be his closest allies. Yet, as one Russian World War II veteran noted, the Russians had not tried to take over other countries far from their borders. They actually had been very cautious and conservative about extending the boundaries or reach of the Soviet empire by military force. After World War II, Russia needed to focus on rebuilding the internal Soviet economy and society.
The continuously assertive military posturing of NATO undermines and conflicts with the mission and development of instruments for international negotiation and constructive cooperation. Among the most striking examples in recent years are:
i--the decision to expand NATO into eastern and southern Europe by accepting the membership or candidacy of countries as far south as Georgia;
ii-the 2001 decision by George Bush to abrogate the U.S. – Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems treaty and to build a so-called ballistic missile shield system in East European countries, allegedly intended to protect against prospective Iranian missile launches directed toward Europe;
iii-the 2001 to the present decisions by the U.S. and NATO to invade Afghanistan and to establish long term military bases there, anchoring a military presence in the center of Central Asia.
New conflicts around the Ukraine are still brewing.
Milan Rai, writing for Peace News, helps put this conflict in context:
“Since Vladimir Putin’s first ascendancy to the Russian presidency in 2000, the Russian state has used its armed forces against other countries twice: against Georgia, in 2008; and now against Ukraine…
In the same time period, the US has used its armed forces in a criminal fashion against a number of countries, including: Afghanistan (2001-present); Yemen (drone attacks, 2002-present); Iraq (2003-present); Pakistan (drone attacks, 2004-present); Libya (2011); Somalia (2011-present)….
The western powers are in no position to lecture Putin, whose actions in Crimea look like a Gandhian direct action when compared to the normal US-UK mode of operation. From 28 February to 18 March, Russian forces captured over a dozen Ukrainian bases or military posts without the loss of a single life. Compare this to the US use of tank-mounted ploughs to bury alive perhaps thousands of Iraqi conscripts in desert trenches during the opening moves of the 1991 invasion of Iraq. (US colonel Lon Maggart, in charge of one of the brigades involved, estimated that between 80 and 250 Iraqis had been buried alive.)
When one thinks of the number of deaths caused by US-UK aggression since 2000, including the grim ongoing tragedy of the Iraqi civil war, it is difficult to listen to the wave of western outrage.”
We carry no brief for the policies and actions of the Russian Government. Our task is to advocate for negotiations and peaceful relations on all issues, rather than escalating military and political confrontation
I believe that the greatest threat to the long range peace and security of Europe and the United States is the reality that the military sectors of western governments and the military spending sectors of western economies are so huge and bloated, like incurable cancers, that they cannot give up on inventing military threats and advocating military solutions which powerfully undermine diplomatic efforts to secure peace.
I hope Anton’s ideas will echo in the U.S. and help steer his generation toward pursuit of acutely needed new agreements.
Call for a National Debate on U.S. “Regime Change” Policy
June 20, 2016
by Center for Citizen Initiatives delegation currently visiting Russia
On June 16, the New York Times reported :
“More than 50 State Department diplomats have signed an internal memo sharply critical of the Obama administration’s policy in Syria, urging the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad to stop its persistent violations of a cease-fire in the country’s five-year-old civil war.
The memo, a draft of which was provided to The New York Times by a State Department official, says American policy has been “overwhelmed” by the unrelenting violence in Syria. It calls for “a judicious use of stand-off and air weapons, which would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”
We are a group of concerned U.S. citizens currently visiting Russia with the goal of increasing understanding and reducing international tension and conflict. We are appalled by this call for direct U.S. aggression against Syria, and believe it points to the urgent need for open public debate on U.S. foreign policy.
We note the following:
(1) The memo is inaccurate. There is no ‘cease-fire’ in Syria. The ‘cessation of hostilities’ which was agreed to has never included the major terrorist groups fighting to overthrow the government in Syria. This includes Nusra (Al Qaeda), ISIS and their fighting allies.
(2) A U.S. attack on Syria would be an act of aggression in clear violation of the UN Charter. (Ref 1)
(3) The supplying of weapons, funding and other support to armed groups fighting the Syrian government is also a violation of international law. (Ref 2)
(4) A U.S. attack on Syria would lead to more bloodshed and risk potential military confrontation with Russia. With arsenals of nuclear weapons on both sides, the outcome could be catastrophic.
(5) It is not the right of the USA or any other foreign country to determine who should lead the Syrian government. That decision should be made by the Syrian people. A worthy goal could be internationally supervised elections with all Syrians participating to decide their national government.
(6) The memo reportedly says, “It is time that the United States, guided by our strategic interests and moral convictions, lead a global effort to put an end to this conflict once and for all.” Similar statements and promises have been made regarding Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. In all three cases, terrorism and sectarianism have multiplied, the conflicts still rage, and huge amounts of money and lives have been wasted.
In light of the above, and the danger of escalating global conflict:
- We urge State Department officials to seek non-military solutions in conformity with the U.N. Charter and international law.
- We urge the U.S. Administration to stop funding and supplying weapons to armed ‘rebels’ in violation of international law and end the policy of forced “regime change”.
- We call for an urgent nation-wide public debate on the U.S. policy of “regime change”.
The Center for Citizens Initiative (CCI) delegation currently visiting Russia includes:
Ann Wright, retired United States Army Colonel and U.S. State Department official. Ann received the U.S. State Department Award for Heroism in 1997 after helping evacuate several thousand persons during the Sierra Leone Civil War. She was one of three U.S. State Department officials to publicly resign in direct protest to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Elizabeth Murray, retired Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council. She is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.
Raymond McGovern, retired CIA analyst (1963 to 1990) who worked in the Washington, DC White House and prepared daily briefs for seven Presidents. In the 1980s Ray chaired the National Intelligence Estimates and the U.S. Presidents’ Daily Briefs. Ray is the founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Kathy Kelly, peace activist, pacifist and author. She is a founding members of Voices in the Wilderness and is currently a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Kathy has traveled to Iraq 26 times, notably remaining in combat zones during the early days of the US-Iraq wars. Her recent work took her to Afghanistan and Gaza.
David Hartsough, co-founder of the Nonviolent Peaceforce and the “World Beyond War.” David is a life-long peace activist, peace maker, and author “Waging Peace: Global Adventurers of a Lifelong Activist.”
William H Warrick III, retired Family Physician and 25-year member of Veterans For Peace. Former US Army Security Agency Intelligence Analyst (1968 – 1971).
Sharon Tennison, President and Founder of the Center for Citizen Initiatives. Sharon has 33 years of experience working in USSR/Russia (1983 to present).
Robert Alberts, MBA, Accountant. Bob volunteers with Voices for Creative Nonviolence.
Peter Bergel, Oregon PeaceWorks Board member and PeaceWorker news magazine editor.
Karen Chester, optometrist by vocation and a peace activist volunteer for two decades. Karen’s greatest concern has been and is the plight of Central American peoples, supporting those who come to the U.S. fleeing violence and poverty.
Jan Hartsough is an educator and community organizer. Jan worked for American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) for many years and currently works at the grassroots level to help African women gain access to safer water.
Paul Hartsough, Ph.D., clinical psychologist. Paul focuses on conflict resolution and how we can survive as one global family in the nuclear age.
Martha Hennessy, retired occupational therapist. Martha volunteers at the New York Catholic Worker.
Bob Spies, website developer, technical support for CCI, and activist for a number of non-violent causes. Bob previously was a participant in Beyond War.
Rick Sterling , retired aerospace engineer, Vice-Chair Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center, co-founder Syria Solidarity Movement, Board President Task Force on the Americas.
Hakim Young is a Singaporean medical doctor who lives in Afghanistan part of the year. He is active with Afghan Peace volunteers and is deeply concerned about US-Russia relations.
(1) UN Charter Preamble: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other matter inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”. The first purpose of the United Nations is “To maintain international peace and security, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace.”
(2) On June 27, 1986 the International Court at the Hague issued its legal ruling in the case of Nicaragua vs. United States. The ruling was as follows:
Decision of the International Court at the Hague
Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the “contra” forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.
By “training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying” the military rebel groups waging war against the Damascus government, the US and “friends” are committing the same crime that the USA was responsible for committing against Nicaragua in the 1980’s.