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As Ukraine Gets “Closer Than Ever” to Joining NATO, Does Peace Get Further Away?

“While this issue of Ukraine being a member of NATO is on the table, [Russia] will keep fighting,” says Medea Benjamin.

During a major summit in Lithuania, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine is “closer than ever” to joining NATO, but the military alliance is resisting calls to give Kyiv a timeline to membership. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is attending the NATO summit and is meeting with President Biden and other world leaders. This comes as a number of nations have announced new military assistance for Ukraine. “The main condition for Ukraine membership [to NATO] is an end to this war,” says Andreas Zumach, defense correspondent for the left-wing German daily Die Tageszeitung. We also speak with CodePink’s Medea Benjamin, who has just returned from a visit to Ukraine, where she says people are “being fed a daily diet of irrational expectations” by the government about how Ukrainian forces are winning the war. The truth, she says, is “there is a stalemate on the ground,” and calls for countries to come to the negotiation table.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: NATO is saying Ukraine is, quote, “closer than ever” to joining the military alliance, but NATO nations are resisting calls to give Kyiv a timeline for membership. NATO leaders are meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, today for the second day of talks. In a communiqué issued Tuesday, the 31 nations in NATO said, quote, “We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met.” This is NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

JENS STOLTENBERG: We reaffirmed that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and agreed to remove the requirement for a membership action plan. This would change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step process to a one-step process. We also made clear that we will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when allies agree and conditions are met.

AMY GOODMAN: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is attending the NATOsummit and is meeting today with President Biden and other world leaders. Zelensky has criticized NATO for failing to give Ukraine a timeline to join the military alliance.

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY: On our agenda, we have, I think, for today three priority questions. The first one is weapon packages, new weapon packages for supporting our army on the battlefield. And that is one. The second, I think, the invitation to NATO, and we want to be on the same page with everybody, with all the understanding. And for today, what we — what we hear and understand, that we will have this invitation when security measures will allow. Yes, so I want to discuss with our partners all these things, and should. We’ll speak today and fight for this, its security guarantees for Ukraine on the way to NATO.

AMY GOODMAN: Over the past 48 hours, a number of nations have announced new military assistance for Ukraine. France has agreed to send Ukraine long-range cruise missiles. A group of 11 NATO nations have pledged to begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly U.S.-made F-16 warplanes. Germany has finalized a new $770 million military package that includes more tanks and Patriot missiles. G7 leaders are also expected to announce today a new wide-ranging security pact with Ukraine.

We’re joined now by two guests. In Washington, Medea Benjamin joins us, co-founder of CodePink, co-author of the new book War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict. She’s just back from visiting western Ukraine. And in Berlin, we’re joined by Andreas Zumach. He’s a defense correspondent for the left-wing German daily Die Tageszeitung.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Andreas, let’s begin with you. Can you respond to what’s happened at the NATO summit in Vilnius so far? And particularly also talk about Germany’s position vis-à-vis Ukraine and the United States.

ANDREAS ZUMACH: Well, both Germany but also the U.S., the Biden administration, were against making a clear-cut commitment to Ukraine’s membership at this point of time. The main reason is the calculation in Washington that by fall this year, the so-called spring offensive of the Ukrainian forces might have made some gains, and then it will be possible to call for negotiations. Whether this calculation will work or not, I am very skeptical. But the hope is in Washington that Putin will be prepared then to talk. But if now NATO would have given a clear signal to a NATOmembership of Ukraine, Putin would not have joined. This is a concern.

And I think the dilemma is even bigger than it has been already before this NATOsummit. The main condition for Ukraine membership is an end to this war. And I am convinced as long as the issue of Ukrainian NATO membership is on the table, this war will not end. And this dilemma has become even bigger after this NATO summit. And so far, all the public statements we have heard are somewhat dishonest.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Andreas, what is your sense of the public sentiment in Germany as the war drags on? Obviously, the European Union is facing even more economic dislocation as a result. How is public sentiment in Germany evolving?

ANDREAS ZUMACH: The latest serious poll has been taken at the end of May by the public television network ARD. And according to this poll, only 43% support further weapons deliveries to Ukraine. This figure is way down from well above 75% during earlier months of the war. And the other result is 55% think that the diplomatic efforts to put an end to the war are not sufficient. This number has steadily climbed from literally zero at the beginning of the war, and I expect it will climb even further in the upcoming weeks and months.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, there have been reports of back-channel meetings between former U.S. national security officials and Russian officials with the aim of laying a groundwork for negotiations. Could these back-channel talks be a way of actually moving forward while claiming still to be providing all-out support to Ukraine militarily?

ANDREAS ZUMACH: Well, first, we have to remember all efforts to end wars, since the end of the Second World War, have begun with, more or less, secret back-channel efforts, sometimes through mediation of third parties. And let’s hope that this will at some point be successful.

But this is part of the dishonesty I’ve talked about. Secretary of State Blinken already 10 weeks ago has said publicly, quote, “The Ukraine government of President Zelensky has to be prepared to make territorial concessions at the new negotiation table,” which means, for instance, to give up either the Crimean Peninsula or even, perhaps, of the eastern provinces, the Donbas. On the other hand, the publicly declared goal of the Zelensky government is to reconquer all territories currently controlled or occupied by Russian forces, and which includes Crimea and the whole of the Donbas. This doesn’t fit together. So, it remains to be seen how the Biden administration will be able to bring Zelensky to this point to accept whatever kind of territorial concessions.

I don’t think principally that it is good if this war would result in territorial concessions, and I think it would be much better to have some kind of referendums held both in the Crimean and in the Donbas, not referendums like back in 2014, not controlled and organized by Russia, but controlled and organized by the United Nations. And there should be a question on the voting sheet, which was not on the sheet back in March 2014, and this would be the option of a far-reaching autonomy both for the Crimean Peninsula and also for the disputed Donbas areas, which would mean where you have Russian-majority population, Russia should be the language, but also the possibility to raise your own taxes, and which you don’t have to give up to the central government in Kyiv, and also decentralization, federalization of the Ukraine, which would not only be necessary for the Crimean and the Donbas but for the whole Ukraine. I think we have been at this point before at the Minsk agreements in February 2015.

And I also want to remind our viewers and listeners that the Zelensky government in March last year, at the last official negotiation round between Russian and Ukrainian government delegations in Istanbul, the official proposal of the Zelensky government was, number one, to give up the idea of NATO membership; number two, neutrality for the Ukraine; number three, no foreign military bases, neither Russian nor NATO-Western; number four, binding and reliable security guarantees by a number of countries; number five, we would be prepared to freeze the issue of the Crimean Peninsula for another 15 years, have another 15 years of time to negotiate with Russia; and, number six, a similar scenario for the Donbas. I think there is no way around somehow one has to get back to this position.

AMY GOODMAN: Andreas, I described your newspaper, Die Tageszeitung, as “left-wing.” Would you describe it in that way? And if you could say whether it would be accurate to say that the Green Party, the party of the country’s current foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, are the most sympathetic to Ukraine and the least likely to favor territorial concessions, and the majority of the supporters of the far-right populist Alternative for Germany, AfD, believe Ukraine should relinquish territory?

ANDREAS ZUMACH: Well, the question, Amy, what is left and what is right, has been more and more distorted since the end of the Cold War 33 years ago. Die Tageszeitung has always been very progressive on human rights issues, on women’s and feminist issues, and mainly on environmental issues.

For the last 16 months, I would not describe the position the mainstream in the paper has taken on the Ukrainian war as a left position, and therefore, I am somewhat isolated maybe with the position I just spelled out. But the paper is pretty much supporting the official Western government policies, and as does the Green Party, totally, with very few exceptions of some people who are now pushed to the fringes of the party. And they use a rhetoric, for instance, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, describing their approach as feminist foreign policy, and now try to legitimize even military support, even stronger military support, up to nuclear deterrence for the Europeans, as a part of feminist foreign policy. I have many problems with this kind of arguments.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring Medea Benjamin into the conversation, of CodePink. Medea, you’ve recently visited Ukraine. Could you talk about what you saw there?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes. I was in the western part of Ukraine and talked to many people about their visions for the future. And they are being fed a daily diet of irrational expectations that Ukraine is winning this war, that Ukraine can win the war, that winning means taking back every inch of Donbas and the Crimea, and, of course, terrible hatred of Russia, that even translates into stores having signs on them, “The language of the oppressor will not be allowed in here,” people saying they hate just hearing the sound of the Russian language.

I understand, in the midst of a war where we saw funerals taking place every day, when we went to the freshly minted graveyard and saw hundreds of graves of young men whose family members were there weeping, how people feel. But this is not the reality on the ground. As we saw in the leaked Pentagon documents, and as we see in the daily attempts by Ukraine to win this counteroffensive, there is a stalemate on the ground. Ukraine is not going to win back every inch of the country.

And so, those who have more realistic views of this, I think, have prevailed at the NATO summit of saying that it is impossible to give a date for Ukraine to enter NATO, because you can’t enter NATO while there is a war going on. And while this issue of Ukraine being a member of NATO is on the table, the Russians will keep fighting. So, the tragedy is that the poor Ukrainians are in this catch-22, and there must be cooler heads prevailing to say that the only way to solve this problem is to call for a ceasefire and negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Medea — you went to Lviv after your taking part in the Vienna International Summit for Peace in Ukraine. Can you describe what happened there, having venues cancel on you?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, yes, first of all, the Vienna summit was a tremendous success, but that was despite efforts by the Ukrainian community, and particularly the Ukrainian ambassador to Austria, to try to cancel our event. And, in fact, they were successful in getting the Trade Union Confederation, two days before the event, to pull the plug and not let us use the venue, just as they managed to get the Press Club to not let us have our press conference there. The press in Ukraine was extremely hostile to us, characterizing our speakers as Putin apologists, which is absolutely ridiculous. So, despite all of that, we did have this event, and it went off extremely well, with representatives of 32 countries there, including representatives from Ukraine and from Russia.

But I must say that those from Ukraine and Russia were afterwards attacked by their own people. And this shows the kind of censorship and hostility that exists. I traveled throughout many countries in Eastern Europe and found that journalists who were calling for negotiations were losing their jobs. People were afraid to speak out. I also attended a gathering in Ireland where there has been a pushback, just like in Austria, to stop those countries, the few left, that are still neutral. And so, there is a tremendous pall all over Europe in which it’s very hard for people to speak out.

And I must say that the same thing is happening to some extent in the United States, where people like myself at a number of venues have been attacked both by protesters, but — in one case, got violent. But on the other hand, I think there is more space being created for discussion here in the United States, thanks to the fact that there are a number of presidential candidates, from Republicans like Trump and DeSantis to Democrats like Robert Kennedy to Cornel West, who wants to be the Green Party representative, that are opening up space for a different discussion, and the fact that, as in Germany, the public opinion polls are showing that this is becoming a less and less popular position for the Biden administration. I think this opens up space for those of us who want to push our government to take the position that we must move to the negotiating table.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, I’m wondering if you could talk about the refugee situation. Since the start of the war, Poland has absorbed a staggering 5 million refugees from Ukraine without the establishment of any refugee camps. And could you talk about that, compared to other war zones you’ve visited? And interestingly, just, for instance, right here in Chicago, in the last six months, 29,000 Ukrainian refugees have been resettled in Chicago. That’s three times the number of asylum seekers from the border who have come to Chicago, yet all the Ukrainians have been resettled without much fanfare and much media attention, while we still have these asylum seekers from the border housed in police precincts. They can’t get work permits. They have no prospects for any kind of a peaceful resettlement here while their cases are being judged. Could you talk about Poland’s amazing response to the refugee crisis?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, people say that the Polish people should be given a Nobel Peace Prize for the way that they opened their homes and welcomed the refugees from Ukraine. The way the refugees from Ukraine have been treated around the world is an example of how refugees should be treated from anywhere. But this is absolutely not the case. Because the vast majority of the Ukrainians are white, we can see this as a very racist policy, where countries have opened their borders, have welcomed the Ukrainians, while they have closed their borders and, in fact, led to the deaths of so many refugees who were trying to come from war-torn areas of Africa. We see it happening on the shores of Europe right now, horrible situations where refugees are being kept out, and, as you say, Juan, the refugees that are coming to the borders of the United States, fleeing very violent situations in Central America, often created by U.S. policies over the years, and not being allowed into this country. So, yes, it’s a very different situation for the white Ukrainians, but I think we should see that as a model and say that all refugees should be treated like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Andreas Zumach in Berlin, who do you see, if there were these negotiations to take place — Andreas, I don’t know if you can hear me right now. Ah, I think we lost his audio. So, we’re going to leave it there, but, of course, we’re going to continue to cover this. I want to thank Andreas Zumach, the defense correspondent for the German daily, Die Tageszeitung, who was speaking to us from Berlin, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, just back from western Ukraine, speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

Coming up, the United Nations is warning Sudan is on the brink of a full-scale civil war that could destabilize the entire region, with over half a million people already displaced. We’ll be back in 30 seconds.

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