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For ‘Peace Activists,’ War Is About America, Never Russia

Their own hard-left worldview is so absorbing that they will take the side of any aggressor in the anti-Western camp.

By , a Berlin-based investigative journalist.
Anti-war protesters gather in front of the White House in Washington to demonstrate against escalating tensions between the United States and Russia.
Anti-war protesters gather in front of the White House in Washington to demonstrate against escalating tensions between the United States and Russia.
Anti-war protesters gather in front of the White House in Washington on Jan. 27. Win McNamee/Getty Images

As the war in Ukraine drags closer to the one-year mark, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to end, eventually, in some kind of negotiations. The crucial point is where one places the onus of responsibility for starting and ending the war. For a certain segment of the progressive Western left, “peace through diplomacy” means one thing, even if they will rarely say it openly: Ukraine’s surrender on Russia’s terms.

As the war in Ukraine drags closer to the one-year mark, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to end, eventually, in some kind of negotiations. The crucial point is where one places the onus of responsibility for starting and ending the war. For a certain segment of the progressive Western left, “peace through diplomacy” means one thing, even if they will rarely say it openly: Ukraine’s surrender on Russia’s terms.

At some point in the future, negotiations are bound to take place. The window of opportunity for Russia to achieve its aims on the battlefield has long passed—if it ever existed at all. But unless Ukraine gets more and additional types of offensive weapons from its Western partners, it will be very difficult for Ukrainian forces to mount large-scale counteroffensives to liberate the rest of their land, like they did so impressively in Kharkiv and Kherson oblasts. At some point, therefore, one or both sides will run out of resources to wage war, and both countries will end up at a table to discuss terms for a ceasefire. But Russian President Vladimir Putin still does not recognize Ukraine’s very right to exist as a sovereign state and separate people, and his commitment to negotiate in good faith and abide by any agreements is debatable at best.

Support for Ukraine in most Western countries is a mainstream consensus. This includes Ukraine’s biggest and most reliable partner, the United States, where protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty has firm bipartisan support, as standing ovations across the aisle during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s historical address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Dec. 21 showed.

But Western support for Ukraine has invited hostility on both fringes of the political spectrum. For the Western hard left, opposed to “U.S. hegemony” or “U.S. militarism,” their own anti-American and anti-Western worldview is so absorbing that they will readily take the side of any aggressor in the anti-Western camp. Similarly, they will eagerly oppose any country supported by the United States. This is where persistent sympathies among a segment of the left for repressive regimes like Russia’s and Iran’s come from—it’s not that they approve of repression per se, but the reflex to align with the anti-American camp is stronger than any disapproval.

For the hard left, demands for a diplomatic solution always seem to come down to “stop helping Ukraine and let Russia have what it wants.”

The hard left’s holy war against its own governments tolerates no distractions—never mind that Ukraine’s case is a clear-cut struggle of a sovereign, previously colonialized nation defending itself against an imperialist invader that is entirely honest about its genocidal intent. These progressive far leftists—often self-styled as activists for peace—will ignore such evidence even when it comes from their own ideological comrades, such as Ukrainian socialists.

Instead, their arguments on Ukraine are often indistinguishable from those of the West’s extreme right, which is making a similar case for withdrawing support for Ukraine. Former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, an icon of the progressive left, and Fox News host Tucker Carlson both liberally echo the Kremlin’s favorite talking points, including the cynical claim that helping Ukraine unnecessarily prolongs Ukranians’ suffering.

In terms of obvious consequences, what hard leftists really mean with their demand to “stop the war in Ukraine” is “stop helping Ukraine defend itself.” As they gloss over well-documented Russian atrocities, Putin’s declared goals in Ukraine, and the nakedly colonial nature of the invasion, there’s never a moral imperative to their self-styled anti-war stance. This allows only one logical conclusion: It’s not war these leftists oppose, but the fact that there is a war in which one side enjoys U.S. support.

This twisted worldview—where Ukrainians have no agency and Russia is the victim of a proxy war—was on full display at a Manhattan cultural center event last month. There, some of the most prominent figures of this subculture discussed a “Real Path to Peace in Ukraine,” as the event was called. The line-up included several icons of the progressive left: linguist Noam Chomsky, former U.S. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, and Medea Benjamin, a prominent self-styled peace activist.

In the course of more than three hours of debate, streamed to a modest online audience, not a single speaker proposed anything resembling even a first step to peace in Ukraine. Despite the event’s subtitle—“Negotiation—yes! Escalation—no!”—not one speaker bothered to address who would negotiate, what their negotiating positions might be, and who would give up what to achieve any sort of lasting peace. Ukrainians were not represented at the event, for which one speaker’s trite defense was that “you don’t have to be Ukrainian or Russian to call for peace.”

Whenever these activists call for “peace” or a “diplomatic solution” in Ukraine, they’re invariably vague about the details. For Stein, a ceasefire is only “a click of a pen” away—but she quickly moved on to other subjects, as did other speakers. Of course, the content of any future negotiations is purely theoretical at this point, but at least some other proponents of negotiations are coming up with concrete proposals, whether thought-through or not. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, for example, has called for a return to the pre-Feb. 24 status quo ante.

But for the hard left, demands for a diplomatic solution always seem to come down to “stop helping Ukraine and let Russia have what it wants.” Consider, for example, the British Stop the War Coalition’s November petition. While acknowledging the war’s terrible human cost in Ukraine, it calls on the British government to “stop sending arms”—and only then implores “all sides to heed the growing calls for an immediate ceasefire and peace negotiations.” The implication is clear: “Peace to Ukraine” means peace at Ukraine’s expense and on Russia’s terms.

Give “pro-peace” activists a microphone for long enough, and their pro-Russia slant comes out. It’s not a coincidence that Max Blumenthal, a co-founder of Grayzone, a blog that follows the dictum that the United States is bad and anti-U.S. dictators are good, didn’t heckle any Russian officials in Washington on the day Zelensky arrived, demanding that they do what they could to stop the war. Instead, Blumenthal and his comrades focus their efforts on denigrating Zelensky personally, while either denying or downplaying Russian atrocities.

Many other Western “anti-war” activists don’t even bother to hide their pro-Kremlin bias. Brian Becker, the spokesperson for the ANSWER Coalition, an umbrella group for various far-left activist organizations, said he considered Putin’s revisionist treatise and war justification document, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” one of his sources of inspiration.

Even when a Western “anti-war” voice acknowledges Russian atrocities and expresses sympathy with Ukrainian civilians bombed in their homes, it’s invariably shoehorned into yet another anti-United States diatribe, where the atrocities are blamed on anything but Russian aggression. A prime example of this moral blindness is Chomsky, the patron saint of the “anti-militarist” left. Time after time, he opens his interviews and public speeches by condemning Russia’s “criminal invasion”—only to pivot quickly to blaming the war on the United States, whose military-industrial complex is supposedly foisting weapons on Ukraine. His worldview not only denies agency to Ukraine, but also to Russia, which is portrayed as a sort of natural disaster one can avoid only by not standing in its way. In this pragmatically defeatist school of anti-war thought, Ukraine is screwed no matter what. For Chomsky, it seems, the only choice is to agree to all Russia’s demands simply because it has the capacity to destroy the world. By refusing to do so, he says, the West is engaging in a “ghastly gamble” (as he called it at the New York event).

Fortunately for Ukraine and other countries invaded or bullied by their bigger neighbors, the West’s self-described anti-war left is no longer as influential as it was in, say, the 1970s and ‘80s. Its niche events rarely draw in more than a few hundred attendees. It doesn’t command an audience large enough to affect Western support for Ukraine, at least not in the United States. But it will manage to poison a few minds as it grasps for influence.

Alexey Kovalev is a Berlin-based investigative journalist. Twitter: @Alexey__Kovalev

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