Ukraine Worries That Prolonged War in Gaza May Dilute Global Support

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By Ketrin Agustine

Ukraine Worries That Prolonged War in Gaza May Dilute Global Support

Slow military progress and cracks in the backing of key allies could also drain vital attention from Ukraine’s battle with Russia, some fear.

Ukraine, still locked in fierce combat with Russia along hundreds of miles of front line, also finds itself grappling with what are seen in Kyiv as worrying shifts in the geopolitics of the war.

The attention of key allies is pivoting to the war in Gaza, military aid from the United States is bogged down in the Republican fight over leadership in Congress and cracks in European support have emerged during elections in Poland and Slovakia.

“We are now in a new phase,” Pavlo Klimkin, a former Ukrainian foreign minister, said of the international politics of the fighting in Ukraine, which in the past week has been eclipsed by the eruption of war in Israel and Gaza. “The whole geopolitical environment has become more diverse, more messy,” he said in an interview.

Ukraine, Mr. Klimkin said, will need to counter Russian efforts to fan opposition to continued military aid in Europe and the United States, as Kyiv’s democratic allies hold elections. At home, he said, Ukraine must accelerate domestic arms production, to help prepare for a long war and drifting international attention.

In the United States, Mr. Klimkin said, those “shaping decisions on foreign policy only have 24 hours in a day to care about the whole planet.” Another war, he said, means “less time for us.”

Ukrainian officials were still assessing the implications of the war in Gaza but, stacked upon other political woes and a hard month of, at best, treading water in the fighting on the front, it seemed to come as a setback.

If the Gaza fighting concludes swiftly, it will not affect aid to Kyiv, Kyrylo Budanov, the director of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, told Ukrainian news media. “But if the situation drags on,” he said, “it is quite clear that there will be certain problems with the fact that it will be necessary to supply weapons and ammunition not only to Ukraine.”

Ukrainian soldiers, with an eye on their country’s future weapons pipeline, have been posting on social media about hopes for a short war in the Middle East.

“Ukraine and Israel are in the same trench,” Gen. Oleksandr Fatsevych, a commander of an Interior Ministry unit fighting on the front, wrote on Facebook.

“We pray for Israel,” Hennadiy Druzenko, the director of a nongovernmental group providing medical care to the military, said in a post on Facebook. “The sooner the Israel Defense Force defeats Hamas, the less attention and resources of the free world will be diverted from Ukraine.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine this past week at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Since the start of the war in Ukraine last year, he has prioritized rallying international support.Simon Wohlfahrt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since Day 1 of Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly two years ago, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has prioritized rallying international support. To that end, he has argued that Ukraine’s defense is pivotal for Europe’s security, and that his country’s struggle is an emblem of the quest for freedom around the world.

Mr. Zelensky has, since last weekend, presented Ukraine as a friend of Israel and condemned the surprise attack by Hamas, which he equated with Russia’s terrorism in Ukraine. His argument is that Moscow is a malign actor in the Middle East, having intervened in Syria, and that it imports military hardware, including drones for use in Ukraine from Iran, a country that supports Hamas.

Mr. Zelensky has publicly fretted that the world’s gaze could shift away.

“If international attention turns from Ukraine, one way or another it will have consequences,” he said in an interview with France 2 television. “Russia needs a pause in the war in Ukraine to better prepare for a new and bigger invasion and to then attack Ukraine’s neighbors, which are members of NATO. I think that Russia will take advantage of this situation, this tragedy.”

Visible progress on the battlefield would bolster the argument that Ukraine’s allies make to voters — that their support is yielding results. Mr. Zelensky told a meeting of defense ministers this past week that Russia had “lost the initiative” in the war.

But since June, when Ukraine began a counteroffensive intended to divide occupied southern Ukraine into two zones, the Ukrainian army has advanced only about a dozen miles in two locations. Russia’s effective laying of mines and use of drones to target artillery slowed Ukraine’s forces, and there is little immediate prospect of achieving the military objective.

Ukrainian forces took the small village of Robotyne in late August, and infantry breached a main Russian defensive line, but the Ukrainians have not managed to push farther with armored vehicles, maneuver behind the Russian lines or advance artillery sufficiently to target the main road and rail supply lines in the south.

A Ukrainian soldier from the 65th Mechanized Brigade in a trench captured from Russian forces this month near the frontline village of Robotyne.Roman Pilipey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In recent days, Russian forces appear to have begun a concerted assault in eastern Ukraine with tank attacks on the outskirts of the town of Avdiivka, creating a sense of back-and-forth in the fighting, with little ground changing hands.

“Folks are now realizing that this is going to be a long war, that all the potential shortcuts available to have this be a shorter war have been passed,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on the militaries of Russia and Ukraine at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Planning now has to be in place for a protracted conflict.”

The military disappointments have come on top of an already bad month.

After the European Union lifted a temporary limitation on Ukrainian grain imports in September, Poland — a key ally in other respects — said it would not adhere to the E.U. decision. Ukraine’s traditional trading routes on the Black Sea for grain, a pivotal export commodity, are blocked by a Russian naval blockade. Mr. Zelensky’s suggestion in a speech at the United Nations that the Polish ban was merely pre-electoral pandering only inflamed tensions further.

Meanwhile, future military aid to Ukraine from the United States, Kyiv’s single most important supplier of weaponry and ammunition, is shadowed by new questions, as Congress remains leaderless and skepticism about the aid grows among some Republicans.

Shipments of American weapons, including Javelin antitank missiles, arriving in Ukraine last year.Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

To be sure, not all events broke against Ukraine’s interests. The war in Gaza could refocus Western attention on military-industrial development that would also benefit Ukraine, said Mr. Klimkin, the former foreign minister.

While bogged down in the ground war, Ukraine reshaped the naval battle on the Black Sea in recent weeks, striking with a newly designed sea drone and shaking the grip of Russia’s Navy over a sea it has dominated for decades. Just this past week, Ukraine claimed two successful attacks with the new drone, a satellite-controlled speedboat packed with explosives called the Sea Baby. Ukraine also hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in occupied Crimea with missiles.

There are also reasons to believe that Ukraine’s alliances are sufficiently entrenched that they are unlikely to falter, according to Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and the president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The United States and countries in Europe accept that Ukraine is playing a crucial role in blocking Russia’s aggression, he said, and they are unlikely to deviate from that view.

Military aid will continue to flow, he said, noting a suggestion in Congress that longer term aid to Ukraine be bundled with aid to Israel and Taiwan. Forums for Western aid, like the monthly Ramstein contact group of defense ministers, which funnels support to Ukraine, have become institutionalized and will continue regardless of other crises.

“Support for Ukraine has become routine,” Mr. Daalder said in an interview.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.

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