Ukraine, Russia, and Peace:
A Response to Dillard Through the Perspective of Vanden Heuvel
by Elliot Benjamin, Ph.D. March, 2022
Upon reading Joseph Dillard’s controversial essay Is Putin Red and the West Green? , I shared the negative reaction that some people strongly conveyed in their comments to Dillard’s essay , which Frank Visser skillfully transformed into an intelligently rational and much appreciated Dillard response essay . I certainly felt disturbed by Dillard’s equating the faults of Russia and Ukraine, but what was most distressing to me was how Dillard made no specific mention of Russia killing hordes of innocent civilians, inclusive of children, arresting and likely giving stiff prison sentences to anti-war demonstrators, and threatening journalists who speak out against the government with 15 year prison sentences . However, given my perspective that what is most important here is to end the senseless horrific killing as soon as possible, I think Dillard has also made some points that should be seriously considered, some of which are consistent with an editorial in The Nation by Katrina Vanden Heuvel .
In Dillard’s much more extensive follow-up essay, The Ukraine Crisis: An Opportunity to Wake Up Out of Groupthink, I made the following comment to his essay :
“I found this follow-up essay to be exceptionally stimulating and informative with an impressively extensive informed perspective that should without a doubt be taken very seriously and further investigated, inclusive of all of Dillard’s claims about the neo-nazi element in Ukraine, the manufacuring of chemcial weapons in Ukraine with the help of the United States, etc. Dillard has certainly strengthened his previous essay considerably but I still have the same concerns. Dillard somewhat acknowledges the faults of the Russian invasion and the suffering of the Ukrainian people, but I still do not see any genuine empathy on his part, or human indignation, at the targeting and killing of multitudes of Ukrainian civilians, inclusive of children, by Russia, as well as the jailing of anti-war demonstrators and threatening with 15 year prison sentences to journalists who write against Russia. It is not enough for me to hear Dillard say that bad things happen in other countries that we support — I still want to see that he truly and humanly feels the atrocities that Russia have committed in Ukraine.“
In her own essay, Vanden Heuvel  initially emphasized Russia’s responsibility for invading Ukraine:
“War is a tragedy, a crime, and a defeat — The Nation condemns the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon the path of diplomacy by brutally attacking and invading Ukraine, a blatant violation of international law. We urge Russia to agree to an immediate cease-fire and all parties to seek a diplomatic solution to avert the risk of an unthinkable direct conflict between the world’s two largest nuclear powers — a peril made worse by Putin’s move to place Russia’s nuclear forces on alert.”
However, Vanden Heuvel went on to view the situation from a wider perspective, in a way that is at least partially consistent with Dillard’s essay:
“The Nation has consistently called for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine that respects international law and international borders. While Putin’s actions are indefensible, responsibility for this conflict is widely shared. This magazine has warned repeatedly that extending NATO to Russia’s borders would inevitably produce a dangerous reaction. We have criticized NATO’s wholesale rejection of Russia’s security proposals. . . . In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky [sic] promised voters he would end the war in the Donbas. Upon taking office, however, his government refused to implement essential provisions of the 2015 Minsk Protocols (signed by Russia, Ukraine, the Russian-backed separatist leaders, and the OSCE) that would have guaranteed sovereignty and territorial integrity for Ukraine in exchange for its neutrality — a status similar to that of Austria, Norway, and Finland.”
Vanden Heuvel then proceeded to emphasize the dangers of the conflict escalating into a prolonged and extended war:
“Sadly, Russia’s illegal actions will only embolden the hawks and armament-mongers. . . . Amid the drums of war, we must not lose sight of the human horror that will follow: from the war, the massive displacement, and the impact of the sanctions. . . . A revived Cold War will ravage domestic budgets here [the United States] and in Europe — and sap the resources and attention needed to address pandemics, the climate crisis, nuclear instability, and debilitating inequality.”
And finally, Vanden Heuvel made a plea for an intensive focus on peace:
“What is needed now is not a rush to arms or to hawkish bluster, but a return to intense negotiations — and a recognition of the facts of geography and history. . . . As we go to press, Ukraine and Russia continue talks. The work already done by the UN, the OSCE, and the signatories to the Minsk Protocols provides options that, if pursued in good faith, can bring the crisis to a peaceful conclusion. We have also been heartened by the brave stand for peace within Russian civil society. Though the situation is extremely perilous, we believe the crisis can still be resolved by the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine — including the Donbas — alongside a declaration of Ukrainian neutrality. . . . We urge President Biden and his administration to encourage the latest talks and, if need be to help facilitate the hard but necessary work of diplomacy.”
Now I am certainly not knowledgeable enough about the history and politics of Ukraine and Russia to make any concrete detailed suggestions about how to end the war, but I think that Vanden Heuvel’s urging President Biden to encourage and facilitate peace talks and diplomacy is an obvious right course of action for Biden to take. However, I do not see Biden taking this course of action, as what I see is his focusing on sanctions against Russia and giving military equipment to Ukraine, both of which I understand and am in agreement with, but rather than also focusing upon peace talks and diplomacy, I see Biden making explosive statements that are alienating Russia and reducing the chances of peace in any foreseeable future. What I am referring to is Biden publicly calling Putin a “war criminal” and a “butcher” and a “murderous dictator”, and saying that he “cannot remain in power” . Without a doubt I think what Biden said is true, but I also think that his publicly saying these things was completely antithetical to his goal of avoiding a nuclear war with Russia, which would likely become World War III , .
In regard to specific ways of ending the conflict, Vanden Heuvel made it sound almost easy: “We believe the crisis can still be resolved by the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine — including the Donbas — alongside a declaration of Ukrainian neutrality.” Although Putin has now accepted that it is not working for him to continue to engage in a wide war all over Ukraine, I don’t see him agreeing to withdraw his forces from the Donbas any time in the near future, as this would be an obvious sign of humiliating defeat for him . Both Dillard  and Visser  gave informed accounts of the complexity of the situation in the Donbas, and it is not my purpose in this essay to discuss this in any kind of detail. Rather, I want to reinforce Vanden Heuvel’s plea that Biden focus more on peace talks and diplomacy, and I will add that I would like him to refrain from making public statements that increase the danger of a nuclear war with Russia. Of course I understand Biden’s sentiment and I feel the same as he does, but just as I have chastised Trump in many essays about his dangerous rhetoric , in all fairness I must now say the same thing about Biden in this regard.
Nearly half the United States believe that we should institute a no-fly zone in Ukraine , and Biden has resisted this action because he is afraid that it could lead to shooting down Russian planes, which would elevate the risk of a nuclear war with Russia . I am very glad that Biden has stuck to his resolve to avoid the world catastrophe of a nuclear war, but it makes no sense to me when he negates his goal with his uncontrolled public anti-Putin statements that I believe are working against any kind of prospect of peace in the Ukraine in the near future. I realize that a good portion of the United States like it when Biden lets himself say what he believes about Putin without restraint , just as a good portion of the United States think that we should institute a no-fly zone over Ukraine even if it risks a nuclear war with Russia . But I disagree with this perspective, as what I think is most important here is to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine while avoiding a nuclear war with Russia, i.e., to work for peace in Ukraine without a world catastrophe, and in this regard I think that Biden’s unrestrained remarks about Putin are both counterproductive and dangerous.
Notes and References
1) See Joseph Dillard (2022), Is Putin Red and the West Green? www.integralworld.net/dillard64.html
2) See Frank Visser (2022), Hubris and Hyprocrisy Are Present on Both Sides. www.integralworld.net/visser217.html
3) See Sam Jones (2022), More Than 4,300 People Arrested at Anti-War Protests Across Russia.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/06/4300-people-arrested-anti-war-protests-across-russia-decounce-vladimir-putin-war-ukraine; and Ann M. Simmons & Alexandra Bruell (2022), Russia Targets Media Outlets with “Fake News” Law, Blocks Facebook. https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-targets-media-outlets-with-fake-news-law-blocks-facebook-11646442530
4) See Katrina Vanden Heuvel (2022, Putin’s Invasion. March 21/28, TheNation.com
5) See Joseph Dillard (2022), The Ukraine Crisis: An Opportunity to Wake Up Out of Groupthink. www.integralworeld.net/dillard65.htl and see my comment to the essay.
6) See Kyle Blaine (2022), Biden Calls Putin “A Butcher” After Meeting with Refugees in Poland. https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/26/politics/joe-biden-vladimir-putin-butcher/index.html; and Maureen Groppe & Michael Collins (2022), Was It a Gaffe Or An Escalation? Biden Prompts Concern After Saying Putin “Cannot Remain in Power.” https://sports.yahoo.com/gaffe-escalation-biden-stirs-concern-013458740.html
7) See Umair Haque (2022), What Does Putin Want? A Worldwide Fascist Apocalypse: Will Putin Go Nuclear? Does He Want a World War? The Answer Is Even Darker Than You Think. https://eand.co/what-does-putin-want-a-worldwide-fascist-apocalypse-f54f40362594; MARCA (2022); and Luke McGee & Claire Calzonetti (2022). Putin Spokesman Refuses to Rule Out Use of Nuclear Weapons if Russia Faced an “Existential Threat.”
8) See Umair Haque (2022), Is This the Beginning of the End of the War — Or just a New Chapter? https://eand.co/is-putin-beatenf2f9da3478a4; MARCA (2022), Vladimir Putin Lays Out Six Conditions For Ending the War in Ukraine. https://www.marca.com/en/lifestyle/world-news/2022/03/16/6231e91022601ddc368b4593.html; and Morgan Winsor et al., (2022), Russia-Ukraine Live Updates: Zelenskyy Outlines Goals for Peace Agreement. https://www.marca.com/en/lifestyle/world-news/2022/03/16/6231e91022601ddc368b4593.html;
9) See for example Elliot Benjamin (2019), The Merging of Progressive Politics and Humanistic Psychology with an Application to the Dangerous Leadership and Rhetoric of President Donald Trump: Part 2. AHPB Magazine for Self & Society,3, 1–10; and Elliot Benjamin (2021), Trump, the Coronavirus Pandemic, Asian American Xenophobia, and Humanistic Psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 61(2), 244–259.
10) Apparently Dillard’s stated percentage of 74% of Americans favoring a no-fly zone over Ukraine was taken from a Reuters poll on March 4, 2022; see Jason Lange (2022), EXCLUSIVE Americans Broadly Support Ukraine No-Fly Zone, Russia Oil Ban — Poll. https://www.reuters.com/world/us/exclusive-americans-broadly-support-ukraine-no-fly-zone-russia-oil-ban-poll-2022-03-04/; however, this does not seem to be an accurate percentage, as more recent polls give the percentage in the mid-40’s; for example see Emily Gowddy-Backus & Nancy Cicco (2022), Poll: 46% of Americans Want No-Fly Zone Over Ukraine Even If It Risks Nuclear War. https://www.uml.edu/News/press-releases/2022/NationalPoll03242022.aspx
11) See Susan Milligan (2022), Biden Stands Firm Against No-Fly Zone as Zelenskyy Prepares to Address Congress. https://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2022-03-15/biden-stands-firm-against-no-fly-zone-as-zelenskyy-prepares-to-address-congress
12) See for example the comments to the articles in , and Rule of Claw (2022), I Am Proud the President Said It and I Don’t Want Them to Walk It Back. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2022/3/27/2088426/-I-Am-Proud-The-President-Said-It-And-I-Don-t-Want-Them-To-Walk-It-Back