Yesterday’s man: Why Ukraine’s Zelensky is in danger of being left behind by the US

7 months ago 107

If faced with a choice between supporting Kiev or Israel, Washington will choose the latter in a heartbeat

Earlier this month, the world was shocked at terrorist attacks on Israel by hundreds of Hamas fighters. Not only did it signify the beginning of a new escalation in the age-old struggle between Jews and Palestinians, it also potentially marked a pivot point in political and military support for Vladimir Zelensky’s Ukraine.

Before the savage Hamas attacks and the biblically brutal Israeli response, the US and its NATO allies were almost exclusively focused on Ukraine while occasionally glancing nervously toward China. Now, as the Western media spins into overdrive with its gaze firmly locked onto the Middle East, Kiev’s woes are set only to increase as attention shifts away from Kiev and towards Israel, Palestine, and Iran.

It’s worth noting that prior to the Hamas assaults, the trajectory of support for Ukraine already showed signs of waning. Mere months ago, the idea that previously stalwart allies like Poland would be openly questioning the wisdom of their no-strings-attached support for the war-torn state – likening it to a “drowning man” – would have been unthinkable. Couple this with widespread European war weariness, Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive, and collapsing public support for the war in the West, and it was already facing an uphill battle to maintain support from its “partners,” its people, and most importantly American political elites. The last thing Zelensky needed was a globally significant escalation in the Middle East to draw precious resources further away from the proxy war he is fighting against Russia on behalf of Washington.

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(L-R )Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan sign the Abraham Accords in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020 How a US ‘peace plan’ brought war to Israel’s doorstep

Indeed, a sceptic might suggest that the Hamas escalation offers an irresistible and previously unavailable route for the US to back out of its commitments to Ukraine. Considering the imminent US presidential election, a ‘good guy vs. bad guy’ conflict with Hamas can be easily spun as an existential threat to a long-time crucial ally and partner, Israel. In contrast, the proxy war in Ukraine is becoming increasingly troublesome for US President Joe Biden, politically and financially. This fresh conflict, complete with alleged barbaric atrocities, is a far easier sell.

Meanwhile, despite public pronouncements to the contrary, enthusiasm for sending military aid to Ukraine has been diminishing. Not to mention that the West simply doesn’t have the manufacturing capacity to fuel a large-scale ground war even in Ukraine, let alone a wider conflict. 

Another crucial issue has been the calamitous cost of Zelensky’s failed counteroffensive. This long-telegraphed manoeuvre, which was supposed to defeat Russia, has depleted Kiev’s manpower, materiel, and reputation in the West without delivering any gains on the battlefield. Instead, it has done nothing but compound the quietly inevitable sense in the West that Kiev will have to seek accommodation with Moscow and concede territory in the process.

It is beyond doubt that the emerging conflict in the Middle East threatens the continuity of physical and ‘emotional’ support for the Ukrainian proxy war. That’s not to say that it doesn’t concern Russia – it does. However, it does not bode well for Zelensky. As pressure to hold elections builds, he looks increasingly vulnerable, with a distinct sense of desperation leaking into the narrative. This was subtly evident when Grant Shapps, the new British secretary of state for defence, recently parroted the stock response when quizzed on the ability to “run two wars” at the same time, he responded that “Zelensky will be reminding us all, not only why it’s very important that we still maintain this battle, and show that we can so that Putin doesn’t win, but also don’t get distracted by the wider issues.” He added, “The war in Europe is absolutely at the forefront of our minds.” This reassurance is, of course, exactly the kind of thing that ominously happens publicly when the opposite is increasingly true in the background.

While Israel’s draw on munitions of the type needed by Ukraine is limited, given the different dynamics of the conflicts, it is likely that the requirement to stockpile munitions for a potentially long war is possible. This would pit the vast Israeli defence and political lobby in the US against a smaller Ukrainian lobby, and it's exceptionally likely that the former would come out on top every time. Regarding Israel, there’s absolutely no chance it will be ‘abandoned’ to its fate by any incumbent or potential US president. As an example, take the ostensibly “anti-forever war” candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who recently came out guns blazing in support of Israeli retribution against Hamas while casting doubts on the political and financial rationale for continuing to support Zelensky.

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Compare the increasingly troublesome image of Ukraine in the Western press to that of Israel, which is seen by a large portion of the US public as a heroic island of civilization and democracy in a turbulent Middle East. You can see why it’s far easier to position Israel as a deserving recipient of increasingly scarce American military and financial aid when pitted against Ukraine, which is  mired in corruption and dysfunction. During a recent interview with Bloomberg, Chatham House CEO Bronwen Maddox summed up the situation quite succinctly when she said, “Given a choice between Israel and Ukraine, the US would in a heartbeat choose Israel,” she went on to clarify that even if Washington is not facing this decision immediately, she “can understand why President Zelensky might be worried as he was already battling to retain American attention.”

So, as Ukraine tumbles down the running order in the Western media’s newsrooms, several other issues related to the Middle Eastern escalation also look set to impact sustaining the conflict. Russian forces are holding their lines; oil prices look set to rise, destabilizing global markets, and future congressional buy-in for funding Kiev seems increasingly difficult now that Israel is at war. Then, of course, there’s the turbulent political situation in Europe with Ukraine-sceptic Robert Fico’s party winning the recent election in Slovakia. All of this without mentioning the coming winter and the challenges this will place on an increasingly fractious EU.

It seems that trouble lies ahead wherever Vladimir Zelensky now looks. While a seasoned statesman with the best interests of his people at heart might recognise this and decide to seek peace, Zelensky may simply choose to ignore all of the above in a desperate attempt to remain in the spotlight, on centre stage. All of this while Kiev tries to persuade a dwindling audience that Russia is somehow culpable for the woes of the Middle East, even ridiculously suggesting that Russia is attempting to “frame” Ukraine by giving captured Western weapons to Hamas.

So, as time runs out for Kiev’s proxy war against Russia, it now seems obvious that the tragic events of October 7 in Israel may define not only the escalation of one conflict but also the beginning of the end of another.

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