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Is Ukraine the Israel-Hamas conflict’s first big casualty?

For Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the events in Israel and Gaza have largely wiped Ukraine from the discussion — for the moment at least.

Ukraine is emerging as the sore loser with the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict. Ukrainians are complaining that the US and West have turned their attention towards the Middle East, leaving Kiev starving for financial and military assistance.

Securing financial support is becoming more difficult for Kiev as the country’s Western backers shift their focus to domestic matters and geopolitical tensions, the Ukrainian finance minister Sergey Marchenko told Reuters in an interview on Saturday.

“I see a lot of tiredness, I see a lot of weakness among our partners, they would like to forget about the war but the war is still ongoing, full-scale,” the minister said, referring to the conflict with Russia.

Marchenko also pointed to next year’s elections in the US and Europe as another distraction. He stressed that “a geopolitical shift and internal political context in different countries” was making allies’ governments less focused on supporting Ukraine.

Kiev currently needs Western financial support to cover most of its $43 billion budget spending requirements in 2024.

Meanwhile, Russian and Ukrainian forces were locked in fierce fighting around the eastern frontline town of Avdiivka for a fourth straight day.

Indifference in US Congress

Among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress — the body that decides what money goes to which cause — Ukraine is losing support.

A comment in ABC news said: “Joe Biden and the Democrats remain more committed than the Republicans and Donald Trump, but it’s clear that both sides realise that in middle America there is a growing sentiment: why should we be paying for yet another foreign war?”

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll this month, which asked respondents whether Washington should provide weapons to Ukraine, 41 per cent of Americans said yes, compared to 46 per cent in May.

“The declining support is having a negative effect on congressional support, and eventually, prospects for additional aid packages,” Elizabeth Hoffman, director of congressional and government affairs at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies, told Reuters.

Reuters reported that, among Republicans, support for sending weapons to Kyiv fell to 35 per cent from 39 per cent in May while among Democrats support had fallen to 52 per cent from 61 per cent.

If the US goes cool on Ukraine, so does NATO. As the biggest funder of NATO, Washington is crucial.

‘Certain complication of Ukraine’

Professor Manjari Singh of Amity University, Noida, also feels that the war in Gaza definitely complicates the Ukraine conflict as not only the attention of the global powers is diverted towards the Middle East but also their military and economic support. “Given that Israel has America’s iron clad support, President Biden’s pledge to militarily aid Israel even more besides the already existing US$3.8 billion military aid by the US, will surely put a hold on its support to the Ukrainian cause. As the US is in a way rebuilding its ground support in the region after some signs of withdrawal, its active engagement in the regional crisis will take precedence. Apart from providing aid, military assistance including ammunition and interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome, President Biden’s statement (reported on Monday) on not supporting Islamophobia also hints towards the US along with the Middle East Quartet (UN, US, EU and Russia) in mediating the peace process once again in the Middle East which now seems to be a lengthy process, given the complexity of the situation. If the US gets too involved in the Middle East crisis for long (which it will get eventually), it is likely to put Putin’s Russia in an advantageous position in its war against Zelenskyy’s Ukraine,” said Singh.

Within days of the Hamas attack into southern Israel, the US had dispatched its largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, to sit in the eastern Mediterranean — a clear message to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, not to think about trying to take advantage of the surprise attack on Israel.

But this was only the beginning. As Associated Press reported, within hours of the attack the US began moving warships and aircraft to the region to be ready to provide Israel with whatever it needed to respond.

On the other hand, twenty months after Putin’s invasion, Ukraine still does not have the F-16 fighter jets that it needs and which the US promised.

US support for Israel has been decisive and real — no one seriously believes that with the strongest military in the Middle East Israel’s existence is under threat — while the provision of real support to Ukraine has been slow and grudging.

For Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy the events in Israel and Gaza have largely wiped Ukraine from the discussion — for the moment at least.