Democratic Socialists in Missoula: Deny arms to Ukraine, don’t expand NATO, U.S. partially to blame for war
While Russia cuts off humanitarian corridors for Ukrainian refugees fleeing its invasion and indiscriminately shells population centers, a handful of Missoula residents gathered downtown on Sunday to criticize both sides of the conflict, laying blame on Russia, NATO and even the U.S.
Organized by the Western Montana Democratic Socialists of America, a crowd of roughly 50 people joined together holding Ukrainian flags and signs calling for peace over war. Their message was mixed with calls for peace and Ukranian freedom, but also a willingness to sacrifice those currently in harm's way to avoid a wider conflict.
“Our obvious message is that Russia has to withdraw from Ukraine,” said co-organizer Robby Liben. “But we also want to make sure that as we're supporting the people of Ukraine, we're not supporting NATO expansion. That's a problem in itself. Militarism worldwide is a serious problem.”
Those behind the rally said the Russian invasion of Ukraine can't be an excuse to further militarize the U.S., Europe or any of its allies. Doing so, Liben believes, would make matters worse.
That includes denying Ukraine its request for arms so it can defend itself against its invaders.
“If we pour large amounts of weapons into Ukraine, it will lead to massive death. It will be an insurgency,” said Liben. “I believe the Russian army will treat the Ukrainians just as brutally as the U.S. treated the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they'll just lay waste to the entire country.”
With the war already underway and Russian forces laying waste to Ukrainian cities and population centers, those at the rally said the U.S. should deny the urge to send arms to Ukraine, along with establishing a no-fly-zone.
While doing so will likely lead to the eventual fall of a free and Democratic state, experts have suggested, those at the rally contend that NATO never was a success and has only served to provoke Russia.
“It was formed during the Cold War, and its expansion into eastern Europe in some ways is a violation of Russia,” Liben said. “They have some legitimate security concerns. With NATO tanks being not that far from Moscow, there's legitimate concerns there. At some level, NATO is a provocation.”
Mark Anderlik, also an event organizer with the Democratic Socialists, said the rally sought to prevent a nuclear war. He said the Russian invasion of Ukraine amounted to a war crime but said defending Ukraine should be off the table.
In some ways, he said, the U.S. was partially to blame for current events. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn't former German Chancellor Adolph Hitler, and that American corporate media was pounding the war drums to influence foreign policy.
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a war crime,” he said. “But this country has ignored their legitimate security needs for decades. This was entirely avoidable. If we're to avoid a nuclear war, we have to establish peace right now.”
To establish peace, Anderlik said military thinkers and policy makers must “understand the reasons” Russia invaded Ukraine in the first place. He urged attendees to ask leaders not to escalate the situation.
That includes opposing a no-fly-zone or sending arms to Ukraine.
“We want them to say NATO is not going to take Ukraine as a member,” Anderlik said. “We've been pursuing something that's been trying to fight a war with Russia for decades. Our leadership is culpable in this. They're not to blame for the invasion, but they're culpable for the whole setup to it.”
Not everyone at Sunday's rally agreed with those who laid the blame on the U.S. or NATO, or the “peace at any cost” philosophy promoted by organizers.
Larry Mylnechuk, who described himself as a proud American with Ukrainian heritage, said his family has been fighting Russia in Ukraine for more than a century.
“I agree with a couple of things they're saying: Don't expand NATO, don't send U.S. troops in, but give the Ukrainians every bit of supplies we have to fight those damned Russians. The Russian people don't want this battle either,” he said.
Clutching a Ukrainian flag and a cane, Mylnechuk added, “Do you think we'd be better off right now if we hadn't expanded NATO into eastern Europe? Do you think Putin would be holding off right now if we kept NATO on the 1994 borders? Please. I guess I have a little more bellicose response than (the rally organizers).”
But those behind the rally see their way as the right way - one they believe offers a new perspective.
"Perhaps we now have better understanding of the revulsion the rest of the world felt when the United States invaded Iraq," Liben said.