October 20, 2023
The Globe and Mail
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been raging for more than 600 days, and as the world’s attention turns to the Middle East, Ukrainian officials are warning that now is not the time to turn away from the war in their country or delay much-needed support.
Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, who is responsible for the reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories, said a conflict in another part of the world, such as the war between Israel and Hamas, is precisely what Russia was hoping for. “Russia hopes for fatigue, very much hopes for another war. It really hopes to divert the attention of international partners, and that’s why focus and help to Ukraine is the most important weapon right now,” she said in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail.
Her comments echoed those of President Volodymyr Zelensky when he told reporters in Brussels recently that, when it comes to the war in Gaza, “of course, everybody’s afraid, and I think also Russia’s counting on it, on dividing support.”
On Thursday night, U.S. President Joe Biden announced his plan to send additional, “unprecedented” military aid to Israel and Ukraine. “Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to annihilate a neighbouring democracy. Completely annihilate it,” Mr. Biden said in a televised address from the Oval Office. “When dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction. They keep going, and the costs and the threats to America and the world keep rising.”
Ms. Vereshchuk emphasized to The Globe that the world needs to understand the risks of delaying aid to Ukraine or ignoring the issue due to fatigue, internal problems, elections or other reasons. “Everyone is tired. Everyone is fed up,” she said, “But I really want people who read and hear us to understand that this is not a war between Russia and Ukraine; it is a war for the future.”
Iliya Kusa, a political analyst at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, said support for Ukraine is complex because it includes military equipment, training, financial assistance and humanitarian support. And Ukrainians appreciate that, he said. “Everyone cherishes the fact that Western partners are supporting us every day. The fact that many, many countries pay attention to what is happening in Ukraine gives people this feeling that we’re not alone; because of that we have this hope that we eventually will win,” he said.
But it’s obvious that the Israel-Hamas war is now dominating headlines. “Even in Ukraine, everyone is talking about it,” he said.
That was to be expected, Mr. Kusa said, because the international community has simply grown accustomed to the situation in Ukraine, which is what happens over time. “Every conflict, every event in the world – especially in the modern world – it has its own time, when it’s on the front page, and then it becomes sort of routine.”
Mr. Kusa said that even before the war in Gaza, Ukraine had moved out of the spotlight. However, he doesn’t see that damaging support for Ukraine in terms of military or financial aid.
The Israel-Hamas war does present an opportunity for Russia. “They try to say: ‘You see, Ukraine is not that important,’” Mr. Kusa said. “Secondly, they’re trying to exploit the situation because, from Moscow’s view, the more uprisings in the world, the better, because in their logic, at least they believe, this will compel Ukraine’s Western partners to divert resources.”
And there is the risk, he said, that the war in Gaza will escalate and become a regional war that destabilizes the Middle East and compels Europe to devote energy to two crises. In the meantime, Ukraine still needs more weapons, Ms. Vereshchuk said. “We need air defence because the enemy is preparing to strike energy infrastructure again to terrorize the civilian population throughout Ukraine and to disable our entire energy system in the winter.”
She also emphasized acquiring long-range missiles that can hit occupied Ukrainian territories “where today the enemy feels free,” such as Crimea and the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. “That’s where their warehouses with weapons are located today, which they will fire at us in the winter.”
After the interview, it was reported that Ukraine’s special forces had used M39 ATACMS ballistic missiles to destroy nine Russian helicopters, an air defence missile launcher and other equipment. Ukraine had been asking the U.S. for the long-range weapons for months.
Ms. Vereshchuk said she supports Mr. Biden’s efforts to include support for Ukraine and Israel in one package. “It is obvious that what is happening now, the brutal terrorist attack on an independent state, is unacceptable, and Israel has every right to take all the measures it takes to defend itself,” she said.
Janice Dickson is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, Janice was a reporter with The Canadian Press and before that she was a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics. Janice has also co-authored pieces for Newsweek and The Independent. While Janice’s coverage in Ottawa has focused on politics, she has also reported from Europe and the Middle East on the plight of refugees.