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Gaza war will impact support for Ukraine The Statesman 14 Nov 2023
Ukrainian military commander-in-chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, offering his blunt assessment of the current status of the war, mentioned in an interview, ‘Just like in the first world war, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate.’ He added, ‘There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.’ He was criticized Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, who stated in a press interview, ‘I don’t think that this is a stalemate.’
Simultaneously, Zelensky mentioned that he cannot hold elections in March next year and urged his countrymen to concentrate on defeating Russia. He was sending the message that he has assumed the appointment of a dictator. US Presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, countered, ‘Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy. It has banned 11 opposition parties, consolidated all media into one state TV media arm. It has threatened not to hold elections unless the US forks more money. That’s not democratic.’ International support for Ukraine is on the decline.
In a briefing alongside European commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Zelensky admitted that the war in Gaza is ‘taking away the focus’ from the ongoing conflict on his soil. Currently, Ukraine no longer dominates headlines and discussions in global media. Casualties in the Russo-Ukraine war are missing from daily news. With greater destruction expected in Gaza, Ukraine will recede further to the background.
Compared to Ukraine, the Middle East is far more geopolitically important. The region cannot be allowed to be subsumed in an enlarged war as it would impact oil prices throwing economies out of gear. Reconstruction of Gaza and aid for Gazans is currently a priority. Ursula von der Leyen recently mentioned, ‘I can announce that we (EU) are further increasing humanitarian aid to Gaza by another €25 million. By doing so, the European Union would spend a total of €100 million in humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.’
While it was not admitted, increase in aid to Gaza would come at the cost of Ukraine, which also requires funds for sustenance, reconstruction and forthcoming winters, apart from support in weapons and payment to mercenaries fighting on its side. As a sop to Ukraine, the EU invited Kiev to begin membership talks to join the union ‘as soon as it meets final conditions.’ Corruption in Ukraine is at unprecedented levels and it is unlikely that Kiev would meet laid down conditions anytime in the near future.
Zelensky, desperate for continued funds and support, attempted to play on threats to Europe in case Ukraine was not backed in the conflict. Speaking to a French television network he stated, ‘Russia needs a pause in the war to better prepare for a new and bigger invasion and to then attack Ukraine’s neighbors, which are members of NATO. I think Russia will take advantage of this situation, this tragedy (Gaza conflict).’ It is unlikely that his words would be taken seriously as it is known that Moscow has no intention of expanding the war into Europe.
There are already divisions emerging within NATO. Poland’s new government has stopped military aid to Ukraine. Hungary is also reported to be in talks with Russia, while in Romania, an anti-Ukraine party is gaining ground. Arab states sponsored peace summits are now on hold.
The US house of representatives, dominated by Republicans, is unwilling to pass a bill which seeks funding for both Israel and Ukraine, while the senate, dominated by Democrats, disagrees. Within the US there is concern at funds being diverted for Ukraine, where little has been achieved by military action. There are also reports of funneling of funds by the Ukrainian leadership. Republican Senator, Josh Hawley, stated on social media a few days ago, ‘Israel is facing (an) existential threat. Any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.’
US shift in focus is because of Israel’s religious status as also its geopolitical importance. Israel is a stabilizing factor in the Middle East and essential for US strategy in the region. As Biden put it in 2013 as the Vice President, ‘if there were no Israel, we’d have to invent one.’ While US public support for Israel has waned in recent years it is far higher than on funding Ukraine.
Without US backing, Europe would be unable to sustain Ukrainian budgetary requirements. In desperation, Zelensky has attempted to back Israel by criticizing Hamas and avoiding commenting on Israel’s relentless bombing in Gaza, but to no avail. Had Ukraine’s counteroffensive succeeded, it would have continued to garner western support, but failure, despite western armaments added to public belief that they are pumping in funds over a lost cause.
The ultimate effect on Ukraine will depend on how long the Gaza conflict continues and its regional impact. If it draws in other proxy terrorist groups such as the Houthi’s and Hezbollah as also civilian casualties anger Arab states then attention towards Ukraine would lessen. Simultaneously, with winter approaching there is unlikely to be any major offensive by either side in Ukraine.
Added is US intent on arming Taiwan to block any Chinese attempt to overrun the island. Just prior to the G7 foreign minister’s meet in Tokyo last week the US reiterated, ‘Our commitment to the Indo-Pacific remains enduring.’
US support to Kiev would be evident next summer when renewed offensives will be launched. By then, the US would also be on an election mode. In case support for Ukraine impacts public opinion or the Gaza conflict continues to simmer, Kiev would witness a drop-in support.
World attention remaining focused on Israel-Gaza is exactly what the Russians desire, since it, apart from suiting them, also benefits their close ally, Iran. Hence, they have not criticized the action of Hamas nor permitted any resolution against it in the UNSC. Further by criticizing Israel, Russia is winning support from largely Muslim nations of the global south.
Thus, while Ukraine will hope for an early termination of the Israel-Gaza conflict, Moscow, with the backing of Iran, will try expanding the conflict by drawing in other proxy groups. At the end of the day, Ukraine is likely to be relegated to the rear with Israel dominating global attention and Gaza global funding.