Patrick J. O Brien

All eyes on Gaza as focus shifts from Eastern Europe

Reporter Patrick O Brien interviews Deputy Mayor of Lviv in Ukraine (Image courtesy of author)
Reporter Patrick O Brien interviews Deputy Mayor of Lviv in Ukraine (Image courtesy of author)

For Vladimir Putin, a war in the Middle East is welcome news because it diverts international attention from the atrocities that Russia is committing in Ukraine, for Zelensky it’s a time to bolster much needed support as aid decreases and winter approaches writes Journalist Patrick O Brien

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, few thought that Ukraine would survive more than a few days, or that its President would remain at his post in Kyiv. But Zelensky, who had been an actor before his unlikely landslide election victory in 2019, defied Russian airstrikes and mobilized his countrymen, refusing Western offers of evacuation. One year on, and after my visit to war torn Ukraine, I saw first hand the carnage on the ground and its effects on the Ukrainian people.

Zelensky success is not that he has special leadership traits but what makes him extraordinary in this war comes from his very ordinariness as a Ukrainian. He inherits a tradition of dissent and fierce civic sense that is aligned into the country’s identity. Zelensky, has repeatedly affirmed his country’s support for Israel this week, comparing Hamas’s attacks over the weekend to Russia’s conduct during the war. “The only difference is that there is a terrorist organization that attacked Israel, and here is a terrorist state that attacked Ukraine,” Zelensky stated during a speech to NATO on Monday. He later accused Moscow of supporting Hamas “in one way or another.” Zelensky wants to visit Israel in a show of solidarity with the country amid the fighting in Gaza. For Ukraine, there is a real risk in order to continue its fight against Russia it needs economic support and of shift of focus could damage present aid packages.

In the meantime, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is treading a fine diplomatic line between Israel and its allies in the Middle East. Russia’s position on the current conflict in Israel is likely to be nuanced and a challenge for Moscow to navigate given its conflicting ties in the region. Russia has enjoyed warm and constructive relations with Israel in recent years. But since its invasion of Ukraine last year, Moscow has greatly increased its military ties to Iran, a sworn enemy of Israel. Russian president has reportedly not called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and did not release a message of support or condolences following the attacks on Saturday. Instead, Putin took the opportunity to blame US policy for the latest outbreak of violence. “I think that many people will agree with me that this is a vivid example of the failure of United States policy in the Middle East.”

While it is true that Israel has good relations with both Ukraine and Russia and has to carefully toe that line, Israel also wants to see a speedy end to the conflict in Ukraine. This was particularly evident when former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attempted, at the request of Ukrainian President Zelensky, to mediate a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, whose success was, unfortunately, thwarted mainly by the United States.

The Kremlin warned this week that the Israel-Hamas conflict has the hallmarks of a “hot war” right now and could potentially be “very dangerous,” especially on a humanitarian level at the same time, Ukraine’s President Zelensky was in Belgium meeting NATO defense minister and other allies, trying to bolster support and military assistance for Kyiv ahead of winter. The meeting comes amid signs of flagging support for continuing military aid Ukraine as the war drags on to its 19th month.

This war is set to change the battlefield for both Kyiv and Moscow. And while Russia may welcome that diversion, a broader conflict in the Middle East could sever its already frosty relations with Israel.

Hamas has made it clear exactly what it really stands for and what it wants. Although the massacre likely took months to plan, the decision to execute it now appears to be tied to Hamas’s fears over Israel and Saudi Arabia normalizing relations and the opportunity presented by the political and social disarray plaguing Israel.

Many observers see little prospect for a diplomatic resolution in the months ahead and instead acknowledge the potential for a dangerous escalations in both wars, which could include the use of a nuclear weapon but for now both Putin and Zelensky will need to thread cautiously in this very volatile situation as both watch things unfold in the middle east.

About the Author
Patrick J O Brien is an acclaimed journalist and Director of Exante who has been working in the media for almost 25 years. Patrick who hails from Ireland is based in Malta and a contributor to some of the world’s leading financial and political magazines. Recently he returned from Ukraine where he was reporting at ground level on the escalation of war and spent time documenting the work of the Red Cross and many human right organisations
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