Guest columnist John Berkowitz: End Ukraine war before it ends us

The sun sets over a destroyed building in Izyum, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 24.

The sun sets over a destroyed building in Izyum, Ukraine, Tuesday, Oct. 24. AP PHOTO/BRAM JANSSEN

By JOHN BERKOWITZ

Published: 12-04-2023 10:01 AM

Despite the awful carnage of the war between Israel and the Palestinians, and its risk of becoming an even more lethal regional conflagration, I’m deeply concerned that if the war between Ukraine and Russia isn’t brought soon to a negotiated end, it also could escalate into something far worse.

By that I mean a direct confrontation between U.S./NATO forces and Russia, which could easily turn into a nuclear war. That would not only devastate Ukraine and Russia but also the U.S. and the rest of the world, ending most if not all life on earth.

Recently, mainstream news media sources such as Time, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and NBC News have reported that many top Ukrainian military and government officials are acknowledging the failure of their counteroffensive to defeat the Russians in the past six months.

They also question whether Ukraine can win this war against a country with so much more manpower, military industrial production capacity, and advanced technology, and with an economy that has survived Western sanctions.

What happens if the Russians go on the offensive this winter or spring and push the Ukrainians back, seizing even more territory than the 20% of the country it currently controls? Could this lead to a Ukrainian military and political collapse, like what happened in Afghanistan?

What would the Biden administration do to try to prevent such a humiliating debacle in a critical election year, by sending in U.S./NATO troops, more advanced weaponry, or even use the Air Force to challenge Russia’s near-total air superiority?

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We’ve got to avoid these frightening scenarios by starting immediate negotiations to resolve this conflict on the best possible terms for the Ukrainians. Here’s why:

■The Ukrainians have suffered huge losses already — estimates range from at least 100,000 to 400,000 deaths, many more wounded, and their country’s economy, environment, and infrastructure devastated. Ukrainian children, already traumatized by nearly two years of war and displacement, need to grow up in peace with fathers (and increasingly mothers) not killed or maimed in the war, even if it means conceding some territory and political autonomy to the Russians, such as in the Crimea and Donbas regions.

■The risk of damage to the huge Zhaporizhia nuclear power plant. If it exploded and released poisonous radioactivity like Chernobyl did 38 years ago, it would be catastrophic for Ukraine, Europe and the world.

■The climate emergency. This war’s huge carbon footprint is undermining worldwide efforts to address this far greater threat to the planet.

■Nuclear disarmament. Whether we agree or not with Russian policies and military action toward Ukraine, we absolutely must get back to respecting it as a nuclear-armed superpower and negotiating with it to reduce nuclear weapons. President George W. Bush (2004) and President Trump (2017) pulled out of long-standing treaties with the Russians, and the most important one, START, expires in 2026.

■The destruction of the Nordstream Pipeline in September 2022. Not only was it an environmental disaster, releasing a huge amount of methane, which is far more climate-damaging than carbon, it’s also having a very negative impact on the economies of our European allies due to the sudden loss of cheap natural gas.

■Funding urgent domestic priorities. As with the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the soaring costs of the Ukraine war keep us from spending more of our tax dollars on critical needs like health care, housing, education, racial justice, child care, elder care, rebuilding infrastructure, and environmental protection.

It’s time for the U.S. and Ukraine to finally accept what Russia has repeatedly warned for the last 30 years, and is now fighting for: Its security is too threatened if Ukraine joins NATO and stations U.S. missiles and forces so close to Moscow and the Russian heartland. We should agree to keep Ukraine a neutral country, just as Switzerland, Austria, and other European nations have been in the past.

If you agree, I urge you to contact President Biden and our legislators in Washington, and call on them to support a cease-fire and immediate negotiations to end the Ukraine war. For more information: peaceinukraine.org.

John Berkowitz of Northampton is a lifelong advocate for peace and economic, racial and environmental justice.