After Nuland, the Chances for Peace in Ukraine

Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies hope the exit of the senior State Department official will open the door to a badly needed Plan B for Ukraine.

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies
Common Dreams

President Joe Biden began his State of the Union speech with an impassioned warning that failing to pass his $61 billion dollar weapons package for Ukraine “will put Ukraine at risk, Europe at risk, the free world at risk.”

But even if the president’s request were suddenly passed, it would only prolong, and dangerously escalate, the brutal war that is destroying Ukraine. 

The assumption of the U.S. political elite that Biden had a viable plan to defeat Russia and restore Ukraine’s pre-2014 borders has proven to be one more triumphalist American dream that has turned into a nightmare. Ukraine has joined North Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and now Gaza, as another shattered monument to America’s military madness.

This could have been one of the shortest wars in history, if Biden had just supported a peace and neutrality agreement negotiated in Turkey in March and April 2022 that already had champagne corks popping in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian negotiator Oleksiy Arestovych. Instead, the U.S. and NATO chose to prolong and escalate the war as a means to try to defeat and weaken Russia.

Two days before Biden’s State of the Union speech, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the early retirement of Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, one of the officials most responsible for a decade of disastrous U.S. policy toward Ukraine.

[See: Nuland-Pyatt Video Restored to YouTube]

Two weeks before the announcement of Nuland’s retirement at the age of 62, she acknowledged in a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that the war in Ukraine had degenerated into a war of attrition that she compared to the First World War, and she admitted that the Biden administration had no Plan B for Ukraine if Congress doesn’t cough up $61 billion for more weapons.

We don’t know whether Nuland was forced out, or perhaps quit in protest over a policy that she fought for and lost. Either way, her ride into the sunset opens the door for others to fashion a badly needed Plan B for Ukraine. [Nuland had be serving as acting deputy secretary of state, the No. 2 position at the State Dept. and a launch pad to become secretary of state, but lost the chance for the permanent position when Kurt Campbell was appointed No. 2 on Feb. 12.]

The imperative must be to chart a path back from this hopeless but ever-escalating war of attrition to the negotiating table that the U.S. and Britain upended in April 2022 — or at least to new negotiations on the basis that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy defined on March 27, 2022, when he told his people, “Our goal is obvious: peace and the restoration of normal life in our native state as soon as possible.” 

NATO’s Direction 

Instead, on Feb. 26, in a very worrying sign of where NATO’s current policy is leading, French President Emmanuel Macron revealed that European leaders meeting in Paris discussed sending larger numbers of Western ground troops to Ukraine. 

[See: SCOTT RITTER: The Minds of Desperate Men]

Macron pointed out that NATO members have steadily increased their support to levels unthinkable when the war began. He highlighted the example of Germany, which offered Ukraine only helmets and sleeping bags at the outset of the conflict and is now saying Ukraine needs more missiles and tanks.

“The people that said ‘never ever’ today were the same ones who said ‘never ever’ planes, ‘never ever’ long-range missiles, ‘never ever’ trucks. They said all that two years ago,” Macron recalled. “We have to be humble and realize that we (have) always been six to eight months late.”

Macron implied that, as the war escalates, NATO countries may eventually have to deploy their own forces to Ukraine, and he argued that they should do so sooner rather than later if they want to recover the initiative in the war. 

The mere suggestion of Western troops fighting in Ukraine elicited an outcry both within France — from extreme right National Rally to leftist La France Insoumise — and from other NATO countries. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz insisted that participants in the meeting were “unanimous” in their opposition to deploying troops. Russian officials warned that such a step would mean war between Russia and NATO.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in 2022. (NATO, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

But as Poland’s president and prime minister headed to Washington for a White House meeting on Feb. 12, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told the Polish parliament that sending NATO troops into Ukraine “is not unthinkable.” 

Macron’s intention may have been precisely to bring this debate out into the open and put an end to the secrecy surrounding the undeclared policy of gradual escalation toward full-scale war with Russia that the West has pursued for two years.

Macron failed to mention publicly that, under current policy, NATO forces are already deeply involved in the war. Among many lies that Biden told in his State of the Union speech, he insisted that “there are no American soldiers at war in Ukraine.” 

The Pentagon Leak 

However, the trove of Pentagon documents leaked in March 2023 included an assessment that there were already at least 97 NATO special forces troops operating in Ukraine, including 50 British, 14 Americans and 15 French.

[See: PATRICK LAWRENCE: The Russians in Ukraine]

Admiral John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, has also acknowledged a “small U.S. military presence” based in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to try to keep track of thousands of tons of U.S. weapons as they arrive in Ukraine. 

But many more U.S. forces, whether inside or outside Ukraine, are involved in planning Ukrainian military operations; providing satellite intelligence; and play essential roles in the targeting of U.S. weapons. A Ukrainian official told The Washington Post that Ukrainian forces hardly ever fire HIMARS rockets without precise targeting data provided by U.S. forces in Europe.

All these U.S. and NATO forces are most definitely “at war in Ukraine.” To be at war in a country with only small numbers of “boots on the ground” has been a hallmark of 21st Century U.S. war-making, as any Navy pilot on an aircraft-carrier or drone operator in Nevada can attest. It is precisely this doctrine of “limited” and proxy war that is at risk of spinning out of control in Ukraine, unleashing the World War III that Biden has vowed to avoid.

The United States and NATO have tried to keep the escalation of the war under control by deliberate, incremental escalation of the types of weapons they provide and cautious, covert expansion of their own involvement. This has been compared to “boiling a frog,” turning up the heat gradually to avoid any sudden move that might cross a Russian “red line” and trigger a full-scale war between NATO and Russia. But as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned in December 2022, “If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong.”

We have long been puzzled by these glaring contradictions at the heart of U.S. and NATO policy. On one hand, we believe Biden when he says he does not want to start World War III. On the other hand, that is what his policy of incremental escalation is inexorably leading towards. 

Biden’s Contradictory Policy

U.S. President Joe Biden with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev on Feb. 20, 2023. (White House, Adam Schultz, CC BY-ND 2.0)

U.S. preparations for war with Russia are already at odds with the existential imperative of containing the conflict.

In November 2022, the Reed-Inhofe Amendment to the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) invoked wartime emergency powers to authorize an extraordinary shopping-list of weapons like the ones sent to Ukraine, and approved billion-dollar, multi-year no-bid contracts with weapons manufacturers to buy 10 to 20 times the quantities of weapons that the United States had actually shipped to Ukraine.

Retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian, the former chief of the Force Structure and Investment Division in the Office of Management and Budget, explained, “This isn’t replacing what we’ve given [Ukraine]. It’s building stockpiles for a major ground war [with Russia] in the future.”

So the United States is preparing to fight a major ground war with Russia, but the weapons to fight that war will take years to produce, and, with or without them, that could quickly escalate into a nuclear war. Nuland’s early retirement could be the result of Biden and his foreign policy team finally starting to come to grips with the existential dangers of the aggressive policies she championed. 

Meanwhile, Russia’s escalation from its original limited “Special Military Operation” to its current commitment of 7 percent of its GDP to the war and weapons production has outpaced the West’s escalations, not just in weapons production but in manpower and actual military capability.

One could say that Russia is winning the war, but that depends what its real war goals are. There is a yawning gulf between the rhetoric from Biden and other Western leaders about Russian ambitions to invade other countries in Europe and what Russia was ready to settle for at the talks in Turkey in 2022, when it agreed to withdraw to its pre-war positions in return for a simple commitment to Ukrainian neutrality. 

Despite Ukraine’s extremely weak position after its failed 2023 offensive and its costly defense and loss of Avdiivka, Russian forces are not racing toward Kyiv, or even Kharkiv, Odesa or the natural boundary of the Dnipro River. 

Reuters bureau in Moscow reported that Russia spent months trying to open new negotiations with the United States in late 2023, but that, in January, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan slammed that door shut with a flat refusal to negotiate over Ukraine.

The only way to find out what Russia really wants, or what it will settle for, is to return to the negotiating table. All sides have demonized each other and staked out maximalist positions, but that is what nations at war do in order to justify the sacrifices they demand of their people and their rejection of diplomatic alternatives. 

Serious diplomatic negotiations are now essential to get down to the nitty-gritty of what it will take to bring peace to Ukraine. We are sure there are wiser heads within the U.S., French and other NATO governments who are saying this too, behind closed doors, and that may be precisely why Nuland is out and why Macron is talking so openly about where the current policy is heading. 

We fervently hope that is the case, and that Biden’s Plan B will lead back to the negotiating table, and then forward to peace in Ukraine.

Medea Benjamin is co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace. She is the co-author, with Nicolas J.S. Davies, of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, available from OR Books in November 2022. Other books include, Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran (2018); Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection (2016); Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control (2013); Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart (1989), and with Jodie Evans, Stop the Next War Now (2005).

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist and a researcher with CODEPINK. He is the co-author, with Medea Benjamin, of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, available from OR Books and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

This article is from Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

30 comments for “After Nuland, the Chances for Peace in Ukraine

  1. wildthange
    March 16, 2024 at 21:10

    The military industrial protection racket is just too lucrative to give up as well as western civilizations addiction to war and dominance behavior. Defamation of enemies are required for warfare maintenance by generational release of social tension on other people somewhere in the world and their leaders. It is also needed to test new weapons and use up old ones and for military fitness testing.
    This mode of civilization stress relief is an imminent threat to all of civilization in this age for global society.

  2. John H Corr
    March 15, 2024 at 20:30

    “Reuters bureau in Moscow reported that Russia spent months trying to open new negotiations with the United States in late 2023, but that, in January, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan slammed that door shut with a flat refusal to negotiate over Ukraine.”

    (If we could find out why Jake Sullivan took this action we might know and be very surprised about the thinking behind U.S. Ukraine policy.)

  3. Peace Frog
    March 15, 2024 at 10:48

    Its amazing the way that America refuses to listen. Russia in Ukraine has made its goals quite clear. Likewise, Hamas in Illegally Occupied Palestine.

    Russia’s stated goals in Ukraine are the “de-nazification” and “de-miliarization” of Ukraine. The amount the Americans stick their fingers into their ears and shout ‘nah-nah-nah’ at the world is illustrated by the fact that a search for this string ‘nazi’ does not find the string in this text. If even the phrase used by Russia officially, stated by both President and Foreign Minister, was mentioned in this text, then the string ‘nazi’ would have gotten at least one hit.

    Its gonna be very hard to reach peace when you refuse to listen to the other side or to even acknowledge what they have said was their original goal. That’s just the beginning, because wars are never settled for ‘only’ what the victors wanted in the beginning. But, since the Americans don’t read history, they will learn this the hard way. But, acknowledging what Russia has said from the beginning is the cause of this war would be at least a required minimum to begin talks.

    I know its hard to look in the mirror America, but you need to at least be able to type the word ‘n-a-z-i’ if you are going to acknowledge what this war was all about. I know it will shake foundations, for Democrats to realize that they themselves are exactly what they call their political opponents on the other half of the war machine. But, until the Democrats admit to themselves that they’ve been spending $billions, killing hundreds of thousands of people, while fighting a war to “Make Europe Safe For Swastikas Again”, I don’t see how any understandings can be reached.

  4. Peace Frog
    March 15, 2024 at 10:09

    Shall we mention the favorite word of the Woke Left …… Reparations?

    The Woke Left loves that word when they think that it means a check will be in the mail to them. But wait till they get the bill for the costs of rebuilding Ukraine? Building entire cities? Rebuilding Nordstream? Returning that money that was ‘frozen’? Talk about eyes popping out of sockets like a cartoon character!

    Karma’s a lovely lady who makes a good friend and companion, as long as you respect her. I suspect the Woke Left will be using some swear words that are no longer politically correct towards Lady Karma when they get this bill.

  5. Peace Frog
    March 15, 2024 at 09:37

    Here’s what the exceptionally arrogant Americans don’t get ….. the losers of a war do not get to set the peace terms. This will surprise the Americans, who now believe that wars do not have costs. Silly Americans think that losing a war is only a domestic political issue.

    This is why ‘peace talks’ usually take a long time. What the loser of the war is willing to first offer in exchange for peace, rarely matches what the victor feels like they need to compensate for the costs they’ve had to pay to win the war. When the victor feels that the loser was the arrogant jerk who started the war in the first place, that gets added to the “Reality Bill” that the loser will have to pay. The loser is usually slow to accept Reality, and this is why peace talks are usually slow and drawn out.

    The amount of arrogance that the losers have to shed before they can accept reality is directly related to the length of the peace talks. I think we can predict that these will be exceptionally long peace talks, as the amount of arrogance that the Americans have to shed is quite exceptional. They still believe that the loser of a war controls the losing of the war. Silly rabbits.

  6. Uxe
    March 15, 2024 at 06:04

    Hello from Russia.
    My first comment here, so I hope you’ll understand that I deem this as important, and I’m not the only one on our side of this mess. Peace talks, when done in good faith is a good, great even thing. But.
    There’s always a but.
    We, as in Russians, no longer believe there is such thing as ‘ good faith ‘ on West. General population have that notion as long as 2004, 2008, 2014 et cetera.
    Not after Merkel blatantly and openly admitted, that Minsk accords meant only as a way to prepare, fund and arm Ukraine for a fight with Donbass and Russia in the future. Feb. 24 was a way to prevent that fight on our territory, which WOULD HAVE inevitably happened after Dondass fall.
    So, I have a question, I really do. Why do you think Russian people will accept peace talks without crippling any future possibility of that happening again? To be lied, cheated and murdured again in the next ten years, when there’ll be another hot war NATO vs Russia.
    After deaths of so many our soldiers and mobilised citizens, civilians in Donbass and Belgorod?
    Yes, we did cripple NATO arsenals, but this isn’t nearly enough. Not even close. People on the ground all feel that. Our President, I’m sure knows this too.

    • hetro
      March 15, 2024 at 10:31

      Hello and thank you for this message. I believe there are many here in the US and “the West” who also seek peace talks done in good faith that will work and survive. We are not all self-interested, hideous thugs. That is, we seek an end to the lies and the treachery of those pursuing the rancid goals of full spectrum dominance and benefits to the few, the oligarchy. To this end, communication, honesty, friendship! Is the human able enough for this task? This is the challenge.

    • Laurie Holbrook
      March 16, 2024 at 14:24

      Hello from Canada. I agree with you. The “West” has never acted in good faith when it comes to Russia. Britain and the US will never forgive Russia for its revolution in 1917. There are many of us the “West” who know and understand this. I am a post-war (WW2) individual who grew up being taught to hate the Soviet Union and Russia. The biggest propaganda machine in the world: the White House, CIA and US military and mainstream media (MSM) lackeys have been lying to the masses for decades. The “West” is still locked into the cold war, this is version 2.0.
      However, we do have independent journalists, social scientists and commentators who are still able to get the facts out to people, like Consortium News, but you do have to look for them.

    • Peredon
      March 16, 2024 at 21:19

      Since you are Russian I would assume you would agree with Andrei Sakharov’s characterization of how the hostilities were started in the Donbass. It is a worthwhile source of info for anyone interested in the events of that region. The tragedy of war is, of course, on both sides. Millions of displaced Ukrainians (among them many ethnic Russians), appalling physical destruction, and families on both sides scarred for life. As a speaker of Russian, I have listened to Russian soldiers’ accounts of their time in Ukraine, what they saw, what they felt, how that squared or didn’t square with their expectations. I feel so sad for anyone who has had to be involved in this horrible tragedy. And I cringe every time I read coldhearted analyses by “military experts” sitting in the comfort of their home offices far from the “theater of action”, speculating on the significance of the latest attack or withdrawal, with zero mention of the immense human suffering that is taking place. Ordinary people, no matter where they are, should be able to freely decide their futures via a ballot box. Period.

  7. wildthange
    March 14, 2024 at 21:01

    It is not like boiling a frog it is more like parboiling human civilization in our full spectrum dominance hot tub!
    The new NATO members indicates a fear of losing the grip we thought we had at the fall of the USSR for our control of a globalized world and then realizing the western civilization of religious fantasy of cultural dominance is losing its on Asia and the rest of the world disorder of the last 2000 years of empire and genocidal profiteering. All the countries are banding together for fear of being isolated outside of our military industrial economic power protection racket.
    We have been the permanent war profit center for ages of atrocity and now we are an imminent threat to all of human civilization in the super powered immorality of going further on the dark side than the World War & Cold War 20th Century.

  8. Cratylus
    March 14, 2024 at 17:48

    This article is a tad too light in its assessment of the future. The plan is to assure that both Russia and the EU cannot be powers that can challenge the US in any way – neither economically in the case of the EU nor militarily in the case of China.
    Plan A is to weaken them both and it has succeeded to some degree in the case of both. Russia made the wise decision to shift to the East – and Putin is quite conscious that this is what he was doing as he built his friendship with China going back at least to 2014 or even 2012.
    Plan B is the same Plan A, and the Dem and GOP Establishments agree on it. Genocide Joe and his neocon buddies are leading it now. But Trump is a possible threat to that plan – thus the hatred of him and his noninterventionist base.
    Going back to China, it has provided Russia with an alternative to the West. In turn Russia was a great prize for China – strategically located and rich in the resources that are a near perfect complement to China’s economy. And a great loss for the EU -a loss richly deserved by the old Colonial missionary powers.
    Macron is simply introducing EU troops into the mix for plan A and driving the confrontation into the nuclear arena. What a worthless, egotistical twerp.

  9. bardamu
    March 14, 2024 at 17:07

    I suppose none of us are holding our breath, but it was worth a try, as they say.

    Meanwhile, US rulers are used to boiling frogs at home and in client states. They don’t seem know that they themselves are in the pot.

    There are other fools. Anyone supporting most administrations in NATO is complicit. It’s time to flush.

  10. evelync
    March 14, 2024 at 14:06

    Expert retired intelligence and military people are shaking their heads sadly when they point out that Plan A to cynically use the people of Ukraine to defeat Russia was delusional, strengthened Russia as she skirted the sanctions and accelerated the advance of the Global South/BRICS countries to fashioning a system designed to shield themselves from the tiresome bullying and sanctions by our declining Empire.

    There is no PLAN B by the warmongering WEST and NATO wrt Ukraine.

    But these egomaniacs, devoid of any humility, full of hubris are incapable of admitting that diplomacy is necessary in this multipolar world come up with new harebrained schemes.

    Thank you Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies for this excellent article. And of course thanks to Joe Lauria and Consortium News for sharing it here.

    • TurningIntoFlowers
      March 15, 2024 at 08:28

      “After Nuland, the Chances for Peace in Ukraine”

      Perhaps it would be wiser to stop looking in the mirror and largely seeing yourselves?

      As Mr. Burns observed approximately

      Ach Lord
      What a gift tae gie us
      To see oorsels as ithers see us.

      • Em
        March 15, 2024 at 09:42

        Sadly, seeing truth through the looking glass, this cynic sees only artifice, in mutated blooms!

  11. Selina Sweet
    March 14, 2024 at 12:58

    All of us here in this world would be considerably safer were the rest of the mediocrity for the USA bullishness today masquerading as diplomacy – Blinken and Sullivan -be released into the farthest pasture. Pitiful.

  12. Renate
    March 14, 2024 at 11:45

    If NATO members provide boots on the ground and Europe as a battleground before the election in the USA, that would take Biden off the hook and could help him win the election. Macron is a faithful US vassal.

    • joey_n
      March 14, 2024 at 16:26

      Macron is also a Rothschild/WEF puppet as well, unless it’s one and the same as being a faithful US vassal.

  13. Robert Shillenn
    March 14, 2024 at 11:44

    This is a good summary of the present state of the conflict in Ukraine. It repeats the truths that too many Americans still do not want to hear. However, at the same time, it expresses true empathy with the Ukrainian people who have paid such a heavy price, particularly after the US and Boris Johnson forced the Ukrainian government to reject the peace deal that they worked out with Russia in March and April 2022.

  14. Renate
    March 14, 2024 at 11:28

    Zelensky the clown and a deranged confessed Zionist President Biden, is the best Democracies can come up with? Add to that all the incompetent NATO democracies, how can that be possible?
    Putin is the only adult in the room, the USA is the elephant in the china shop.

  15. Susan Leslie
    March 14, 2024 at 11:18

    Good riddance Nuland – don’t let the proverbial door hit you in the ass…

  16. Vera Gottlieb
    March 14, 2024 at 10:53

    Good luck! The chosen one (he or she) most probably just as devilish. America’s foreign policies are conducted/executed through force.

  17. Em
    March 14, 2024 at 10:23

    Is there any real hope for a New land, simply because the lead architect of its implosion departs the crime seen, while the sitting, immovable duopoly continues to redraw the defunct nuland plans?

    • TurningIntoFlowers
      March 15, 2024 at 08:37

      “Is there any real hope for a New land, simply because the lead architect of its implosion departs the crime seen”

      Daydream beleivers purporting to be strategists are singing – Maybe this time, I’ll be lucky , whilst reliance on hope remains the second greatest weakness, the greatest weakness remaining certainty.

      • Em
        March 16, 2024 at 13:19

        … and very definitely YES, I am weak, weak in the knees!

  18. Daedalus
    March 14, 2024 at 10:17

    One problem is that ‘after Nuland’ we still have Blinken.

  19. March 14, 2024 at 10:15

    NATO is a fool’s paradise. Destroying the very Europe it was meant to protect.

    • NotAsItWantsToAppear
      March 14, 2024 at 14:37

      “Destroying the very Europe it was meant to protect.”

      It was always meant to be a food source and human shield, and if necessary, a source to canabalise in times of trouble.

      NATO is a fool’s Gladio through which they are complicit in their own transcendence.

  20. Jeff Harrison
    March 14, 2024 at 09:20

    Not a snow ball’s chance in hell. Jabba the Hutt wasn’t a decision maker; she was an implementer. Take her out and she’ll be replaced by another neocon fanatic and then it’ll just be SSDD.

  21. Michael Aston
    March 14, 2024 at 01:04

    The game plan has succeeded, Europe is very weak, Uncle Sam made a bundle.

Comments are closed.