Israel’s war against Hamas has deepened the international faultlines set during Russia’s war in Ukraine, as both sides seek to entrench an increasingly polarised pattern of global allegiances during the 87th week of the Ukraine war.
US President Joe Biden tarred Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Hamas, which the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist group, with the same brush after visiting Israel on October 18.
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“Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighbouring democracy,” Biden said in a primetime Oval Office speech watched by 20 million people.
Washington’s European allies, who have stood behind Ukraine, also paid visits to Israel in a show of solidarity that simultaneously cemented their geopolitical allegiance.
Biden further joined the Ukrainian and Israeli causes in Congress last week by seeking $105bn in new funding for them in a single bill, calling it “a smart investment that’s going to pay dividends for American security for generations”.
“They used to call it ‘fighting for freedom and democracy’,” Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova lashed back in a message on the Telegram platform. “Now it turns out it is just calculations.”
China and Russia, too, have sought to close ranks, saying they will focus on a “close coordination of efforts” to solve crises in the Middle East. Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov met Zhai Jun, China’s special envoy for the Middle East, in Doha on the same day as Biden’s speech – October 20.
Russia has also been tightening relations with Iran. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on October 24 to “further build” their “multifaceted” partnership, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
While supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, a sworn enemy of Israel, Iran is also a supplier of Shahed kamikaze drones to Russia in its war in Ukraine. Russia now produces its own Shahed drones and, according to Russian news sources, it may have begun on October 23 to deploy a new type of Iranian drone, the Italmas, which is said to have a longer range and is harder to detect.
Advanced military hardware – giving Ukraine an edge
Diplomacy, military technology and money are intimately connected. Ukraine has relied heavily on Western aid. The US spent nearly $77bn to support Ukraine against the Russian invasion between February 24 last year and July 31 this year, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, and Biden wants Congress to agree to $60bn more. The EU has spent 82 billion euros ($86.7bn) since the beginning of the war.
Some of this has come in the form of advanced military hardware, which has given Ukraine an edge.
This month, Ukraine started using Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) from the US arsenal. Putin dismissed it as a weapon that “only prolongs the agony”, but Ukraine used it to damage at least five Russian helicopters at the Luhansk city airfield and cause further damage at an airfield in occupied Berdyansk.
Putin is also in increasing financial difficulty. On Monday, Britain’s military intelligence said he had raised next year’s defence spending by 68 percent, bringing it to $82bn or 6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), possibly to cover increased medical and retirement costs for soldiers.
Last week, Estonia’s military intelligence chief estimated Russia’s artillery ordnance at four million shells, which would allow it to continue a “low intensity” war for another year. Russia’s current firing rate of 10,000 to 15,000 shells a day contrasts with an average of 45,000 to 80,000 shells a day last year, intelligence chief Ants Kiviselg said.
So far, the odd man out in the Western alliance has been Hungary whose prime minister, Viktor Orban, visited China this month to celebrate the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), during which he met Putin to reaffirm the bond between Russia and Hungary. Upon his return, Orban compared EU membership with Soviet occupation.
Brussels’ model of liberal democracy does not fit Hungary, he said. “Fortunately, Brussels is not Moscow. Moscow was a tragedy. Brussels is just a bad contemporary parody,” Orban told guests in the city of Veszprem.
Hungary was also the most reluctant EU member to give up imports of Russian oil last December.
“The United States is concerned about Hungary’s relationship with Russia,” US ambassador to Hungary David Pressman said in a statement on October 20.
The ground war
Russia’s war in Ukraine has intensified in its 87th week, with Russian forces persisting in an assault on the eastern town of Avdiivka and Ukrainian forces scoring a few stealthy advances along the front. They were fighting to establish full control of the village two days later, according to the BBC’s Russian service.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said on October 20 that its troops had destroyed almost 50 Russian tanks and about 100 armoured fighting vehicles while repelling attacks near Avdiivka, on the eastern front. Some Ukrainian soldiers reported 200 Russian vehicles destroyed, losses which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy late last week described as “really staggering”.
Russian forces have formed pincers to the north and south of the city, and have mounted a fierce offensive to overrun it in the past month.
Ukraine’s southern forces spokesperson, Oleksandr Shtupun, said Russia was having to resupply the Avdiivka front with new soldiers directly from Russia, and by October 24, Reuters news agency reported the losses had forced Moscow to switch to air attacks.
According to Gudmundsson, a tracker of Russian losses based on open sources, Russia’s single worst day of the war in terms of losses was October 20, with reported casualties of 1,380, compared with a daily 2023 average of just below 500.
Geolocated footage on October 21 seemed to show that Russian forces had made marginal gains northwest of the city in a landfill area and had advanced again there two days later, but Ukraine’s military said another 20 lines of attack had failed.
Some 45km to the north, Ukrainian forces were making slow progress in a pincer movement of their own around occupied Bakhmut on October 23, crossing a key railway line near Klishchiivka.
Ukraine managed to establish a new bridgehead on the left bank of the Dnipro river in Kherson during this week, the 87th of Russia’s war, scaling up a new battle on what is already a 1,500km (932-mile) front.
Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance groups gained a foothold in the village of Krynky, 2km from the Dnipro shoreline on October 19, a Russian military reporter said, confirmed by geolocated footage.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said it had frustrated several attempts by reconnaissance groups to cross the Dnipro, without specifying where.
Other Ukrainian units have already established footholds on parts of the shore and near the Antonivsky bridge, said the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, DC-based think tank.