War Resisters' International statement on Ukraine


War has returned to European soil, and it seems that Europeans are not capable, or not willing, to apply the lessons they try to teach in other parts of the planet. The European Union, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, put Ukraine in an impossible position when it asked it to choose between a political pact with the EU or a close economic relationship with Russia. Ordinary people in Ukraine have some of the lowest wages in the continent, and face one of the highest levels of political and economic corruption, creating hopelessness among many of them - hence the offer from the EU seemed to many like a golden opportunity to take a first step out of the mire.

The use of violence by both sides in the later stages of the Maidan protests created a precedent, and served as a justification for the use of violence in parts of Ukraine where many people disagree with the country's new political course. Also, the presence of neo-nazis in the new official Ukrainian politics, and the rise of the paramilitary units connected with them, encouraged other Ukrainians - in areas where many feel more attracted to and connected with Russia than with the EU - to consider armed struggle a legitimate method of dealing with conflict.

Russia didn't wait long to take possession of Crimea, justifying it as the will of the people - despite having overlooked such considerations in its own territories little more than a decade ago, when there was brutal repression of secessionists. Similarly, the Ukrainian government has used force against pro-secessionists. This demonstrates once again that, for the states involved, the conflict is about territory rather than about the lives of the inhabitants.

In this conflict, we see that it's hard to distinguish between civilians protesters, from whichever political perspective they come, and members of paramilitary units who often mix with the unarmed peaceful protesters. This encourages the tendency for civilians to become military targets, as happened in Odessa and elsewhere.

NATO did the only thing it knows: it started manoeuvres which looked like a threat of war, and Russia did the same by grouping its forces on the border with Ukraine. NATO's latest manoeuvres are actually planned to take place inside Ukraine. The only winners of the continuing use of arms in some contested areas of Ukraine will be the arms industry, which is now lobbying for higher military spending in European countries because of the “threat” of a larger conflict.

And the new Ukrainian president, who has received wide international legitimacy, has his answer to the situation - more violence.


We call for an immediate unconditional ceasefire by all sides involved in the conflict.

We call for NATO and Russia to stop threatening each other; to stop moving troops around the area; and to stop the rhetoric about resuming the arms race, about renewing nuclear weapons, and about the “star wars” missile shield planned in Eastern Europe. And we condemn NATO's expansion into new areas.

We call for a stop to further militarisation of the region, which takes the form of an increase in military conscription and the creation of new military forces (official and otherwise).

We call upon Ukrainians to resist the warfare nonviolently, to refuse to participate in it, and - especially if they are mobilised by force, by either regular or irregular armed forces - to express their conscientious objection to the war.

We condemn the unilateral change of ownership of Crimea and call for such issues to be resolved calmly, including by the use of accepted international legal processes, to prevent creating new “frozen” conflicts.

We call for immediate negotiations, with international mediation, and involving all sides concerned, so as to find a solution that will guarantee long-lasting peace in the region.

We condemn the inclusion of fascist groups in the Ukrainian government, thus breaching the EU's taboo on the presence of such groups in EU-connected governments.

We call for the media, from the West and from the East, to avoid the spreading of military propaganda and rumours, and to focus on accurate and professional reporting of events in Ukraine. In particular, they should avoid encouraging polarisation, neither dismissing the whole Ukrainian government as fascist nor characterising protesters in southern and eastern Ukraine as Stalinist.

War Resisters’ International stands ready to offer whatever support it can to all those who resist warfare by any nonviolent means, especially to conscientious objectors and deserters. We remind all parties involved that the right to conscientious objection is recognised by the European Court of Human Rights, and that both Ukraine and Russia are bound by its ruling.

Statement adopted by the WRI Assembly

11 July 2014

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