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Carrie Hart
News Analyst

Diplomacy Continues While Russia Threatens Ukraine With War

Diplomacy is still possible to avert a war between Russia and Ukraine, as Russian President Vladimir Putin approves Russia’s reply to the West about security guarantees. Whether the current security guarantees offered will be enough for Russia to stop an imminent invasion of Ukraine is not clear, diplomatic channels remain open.

On a recent zoom conference call, hosted by Media Central, Professor Efraim Inbar, with the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS), spoke about a looming Russian invasion of Ukraine. He stated how the crisis shows the limits of diplomacy: There is the reluctance of the U.S. to use force; Russia is emboldened to solve the crisis in its own way; and it could prove that diplomacy is not effective without the backing of military force.

According to Inbar, part of the problem is America’s lack of commitment to get involved in the Ukrainian crisis. If one side doesn’t have an intention to fight, it gives an advantage to the other side. He pointed out his dismay regarding America’s foreign policy. “The world thinks the Americans don’t have the guts or stomach to go and fight for important interests.”

Inbar was emphatic that “perception drives behavior.” He sees the general perception, represented so far, as a reinforcement of the image of the U.S. being a declining power. What America does or doesn’t do in Ukraine has consequences, Inbar said. He emphasized Europe’s role, as well. “First of all, it is a NATO test. Putin challenges the current security structure.”

What will happen to the Baltic States, which are part of the former Soviet Union and in the security orbit of any Russian invasion of Ukraine, is still unknown. However, to survive this crisis, Inbar feels it is important that countries in Europe prepare by spending more money on defense to protect and defend weaker countries from invasion. “It is quite clear that Europe, despite the talk of strategic autonomy and establishing a European ally, still needs an American umbrella.”

Inbar explained how countries in other regions are dependent on American security assurances, yet there are no guarantees. “We see also the failure of international institutions. The U.S. went to complain against the Russians at the UNSC. Russia has veto power. Of course, salvation did not come from the UNSC. The complaint was a shouting match between American and Russian diplomats. This should be a lesson for Israel and other countries about international guarantees.”

On the same Media Central zoom call, Ambassador Shimon Stein, from the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), gave his assessment that the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine has two dimensions. One is the European dimension, and the other is the global dimension. Now, there is the intersection of both. He thinks we are in a period of global power competition between the U.S., China, and Russia. He does not think there is a threat of an American-Russian military escalation over the Ukrainian crisis. “I don’t see it happening. Don’t forget that, for the U.S., Ukraine is not a vital interest to the national security of the U.S.”

According to Ambassador Stein, American President Joseph Biden stated that America will not send military aid to Ukraine, and will not assist U.S. citizens coming out of Ukraine. Biden does not want to get involved in a world war that would involve him and Russian leader Vladimir Putin clashing — a war that Stein thinks could be open to miscalculations, which neither the US. nor Russia are interested in. Biden has called for severe sanctions on Russia. Whether it will help or not remains to be seen.

Today, the G7 group of western economies also warned Russia of massive economic consequences if it invades Ukraine. In a joint statement, the G7 ministers claimed they will, collectively, support the Ukrainian economy, while at the same time, impose financial and economic sanctions which will have consequences on the Russian economy.

Meanwhile, the implications for Israel are that its grain imports from Ukraine would be cut in half if there is a Ukrainian conflagration with Russia. Israeli bread prices would go up, considerably.

However, there are even greater implications in Israel’s relationship with Russia. Tactically speaking the coordination between Russia and Israel over Syria is an essential security issue.

The question remains about the type of military operation that might be conducted by Russia if war develops with Ukraine, and how this might affect Russia’s relationships with other countries. For example, though, publicly, Russia often warns Israel to stop attacking Iranian military bases in Syria that threaten Israel’s northern border, Russia does have an interest in continuing security coordination with Israel in the Middle East region. Assessments are that Israel’s bombing of Iranian military bases strengthens Russia’s political position inside Syria. Furthermore, Syrian President Bashar Assad, does not want Iran’s growing military interests inside his territory either.

Both Inbar and Stein are concerned that Israel would be pressured to take sides in a future war between Russia and Ukraine. They say there is the probability that Israel would side with America in whatever position it would take. According to their assessment, this is because the U.S. is Israel’s most important ally in the world. Yet, this could carry a cost in Israel’s relationship with Russia. Inbar and Stein acknowledged that a lot is at stake for Israel.

Meanwhile, as the possibility of war approaches, the Israeli government has already directed all Israeli citizens to leave Ukraine as soon as possible. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has asked neighboring countries to provide assistance to returning Israelis as the need increases.

Robert Singer, Chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact in Israel, spoke to this writer today. He pointed out that there are, currently, about 22 flights a week coming to Israel from Ukraine. He explained that the Israeli ambassador in Ukraine said there is no problem with those who are trying to get to the airport.

However, so far, only 1,000 of a potential 10,000-15,000 Israelis have responded to the call to leave Ukraine on commercial flights. In the event of war, Israel will arrange charter flights to get citizens back home. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has acknowledged Israel’s unique commitment to its citizens to get them out of crisis areas and bring them to safety.

In addition to evacuating Israelis, government officials have been preparing for the immigration and absorption of thousands of Jewish Ukrainians. Currently, more than 300,000 Jews are living in Ukraine, which has a significant Jewish population. Singer said Ukraine has the fourth largest European Jewish community in the world. (France has more than 600,000 Jews; Russia has 500,000 Jews; Great Britain has 350,000 Jews). Thousands can immigrate to Israel, according to the Law of Return. Singer also mentioned that humanitarian assistance is available through the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency, and World Jewish Relief.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry recently increased the number of diplomats in Kyiv, unlike other countries in the region who are sending their diplomats home. According to Singer, “The Israeli Foreign Minister sent additional diplomats to help with the paperwork and passports and consular services. At this stage, there is no issue, and whoever wants to come can come.” Insurance companies are scheduled to cancel insurance policies for flights, and Singer warned, “people should think about that.”

Singer is concerned about the Jewish community inside Ukraine. “It does not have strong logistics or other backgrounds to help. Some of the Jewish organizations are represented there,” but, he cautioned, “most of them will close their offices in the next few days.”

The Jewish community of Ukraine is, reportedly, not capable of taking care of tens of thousands of Jews in a crisis. Singer said, “The most vulnerable population is the elderly. Among 300,000 people there are 30,000-40,000 that are not going to move but will stay.” At this stage, Singer hopes there will be solutions found between partners.

Ukraine is a large country and there is a major difference between eastern and western Ukraine. Because of a potential conflict with Russia, there are many Ukrainians who are migrating now to western Ukraine. The U.S. is said to be relocating its Ukrainian embassy from Kyiv to Lviv in the western region.

While the Ukrainian Jewish community doesn’t have the capacity, both professionally and financially to deal with a crisis, community leaders are not rushing to do something about it. “I don’t hear that they feel an emergency to leave,” said Singer.

Though there is no organized effort for Ukrainian Jews to exit the country, the situation can change at any moment, and quick mobilization will be a key factor that saves lives.

About the Author
Carrie Hart is a news analyst reporting on political, diplomatic, military and social issues as they relate to Israel, the Middle East, and the international community.
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