Alexander J. Motyl

The Messenger

Ukraine, the West, and Israel will face some tough choices in the days, weeks and months to come. It may be an exaggeration to say that the fate of the world is at stake, but not by much.

Ukraine’s choices are easiest. It must fight Russia, because to stop fighting is to commit suicide. But fighting effectively, and even victoriously, is very much a function of the West’s continued financial and military support. And that may be dwindling.

Hungary has been in Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s camp from the start of the war on Feb. 24, 2022. Its prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has hindered the provision of Western assistance, argued that Ukraine is not a key Western interest, and enjoined Kyiv to accept Russia’s seizure of Donbas and Crimea. Slovakia has joined Hungary, following the recent election of the left-wing Robert Fico as prime minister. Poland may dampen its pro-Ukrainian sympathies if the June 15 elections force the Peace and Justice party to form a coalition with the anti-Ukrainian Confederation party. And then, of course, there’s the United States, Ukraine’s greatest supporter, which has experienced, and likely will continue to experience, Republican anti-Ukraine-aid measures, especially as the 2024 elections draw near.

Ultimately, however, none of this noise matters for Ukraine, whose choice is easy. It must fight Russian imperialism because the alternative is to succumb to genocide and disappear as a nation and state. Putin recently confirmed the reasonableness of Ukrainian fears by stating at a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club that, if Western assistance were to end, Ukraine would cease to exist within a week. Not Ukrainian resistance, not the Ukrainian military would cease to exist — but Ukraine itself. Ukraine’s choice, which is really a non-choice, is thus between fighting and possibly winning and surviving, or not fighting and certainly losing and dying.

If Ukraine wins, Russian imperialism, aggression, revanchism and fascism will have been defeated. If Ukraine wins, they will be triumphant not only in Europe, but also in the rest of the world.

The West’s choices are more difficult than Ukraine’s, but only at first glance. With Hamas’s terrorist attacks and the subsequent outbreak of war, many analysts argue that the West will have to choose between supporting the Ukrainians and supporting the Israelis. Supposedly, the West in general and the United States in particular have only so much attention and so many resources to devote to crises. As a result, the thinking goes, the choice is between Ukraine and Israel, and since few Western policymakers want Israel to disappear, Ukraine inevitably loses.

In reality, this is a false choice, since it is perfectly possible to support both Ukraine and Israel — financially as well as militarily. After all, the West is rich. And Ukraine’s military needs — fighter planes and artillery — are not necessarily Israel’s. More importantly, the war in Ukraine

is inextricably connected to the war in Israel and the Gaza Strip. In both cases, Ukrainians and Israelis face forces that want their extinction and will use any means to achieve that goal.

And, in both cases, the ultimate enemy is Russia. It attacked Ukraine directly and it supported and continues to support the countries and forces — Iran, Syria and Hamas — that have attacked Israel directly. Russia enjoys excellent relations with all three, and it begs credulity to suggest that the Russian secret services knew nothing about Hamas’s plans. Indeed, the fact that Ukrainian weapons captured by Russian forces have found their way to Gaza — and have been highlighted in propaganda claims that Ukraine is actually supplying the terrorists — suggests that Russia continues to enjoy close ties with Hamas, even after hostilities began. That, in any case, is what Russian opposition analysts believe too. Just how close those ties are was revealed in a Russia Today interview with a highly placed Hamas official, who boasted that it has the license to produce Russian Kalashnikov guns and ammunition in a factory in Gaza.

In effect, to support Ukraine is to support Israel, and to support Israel is to support Ukraine. If either side of the equation is neglected, Russia will have won, and its imperialist, aggressive, revanchist and fascist agenda will become the order of the day.

Israel, in contrast to Ukraine and the West, faces a genuine dilemma, in which no choice is good. It cannot fail to respond to Hamas’s atrocities, on the one hand. But none of its responses is satisfactory, on the other hand. Invading Gaza could prove to be a humanitarian disaster that could diminish much of the sympathy that Israel currently enjoys. An invasion also would result in significant Israeli casualties, even if it ultimately resulted in success. And, of course, no one can easily state just what an Israeli success would look like. Can Hamas really be eliminated? Can Gaza be occupied and controlled? Can the war be kept from expanding to include Syria, Iran and Hezbollah?

As Israel struggles with these questions, both morality and geopolitics dictate that Ukraine and the West have no choice but to side with Israel. After all, Israel’s war is Ukraine’s war, and Ukraine’s war is Israel’s. And both wars are the West’s. The alternative — a world in which imperialism, aggression, revanchism and fascism are triumphant — is unacceptable.


Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”