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Israel must support Ukraine

The world’s attention is directed to the brutal Russian bombings of the Ukrainian population and civilian infrastructure. In recent days, it looks like an escalation, perhaps like “the awakening of the Russian bear.” But make no mistake: This is not a strategic change, nor even a tactical one.

These bombings had two goals. First and foremost, they were intended for the public opinion in Russia, as a response to the humiliation the Russians suffered from the Crimean Bridge explosion – the bridge had been personally inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018 and became a symbol of the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. The second goal was a systematic destruction of Ukraine as a sovereign state, and inflicting maximal pain to its people – a goal that has not changed since Putin invaded it over seven months ago.

All that Russia is doing is still not enough to change the course of the war. During the second half of August, the war in Ukraine changed, if not transformed completely. Since then, the Ukrainian counterattack hasn’t stopped: Every day brings news of the liberation of another town, and of the flight of the demoralized Russian forces. The West, encouraged by the Ukrainian successes on the battlefield, is imposing additional sanctions on Russian companies and notables, and approving additional military and economic aid.

The Ukrainian leadership and people are united in their determination to liberate all of Ukraine's occupied land, even if that incurs high costs. On the other hand, Russia has been in disarray since Putin’s announcement of a partial draft about two weeks ago. Hundreds of thousands of men – over 700,000 according to estimates – have already left the country. Tens of thousands more are in hiding, or looking for connections in high places to try to avoid being drafted and sent to the front. Like tens of thousands of witnesses, this attests to the Russian public's level of support for the “special military operation” – calling it a “war” is a criminal offense.

In light of this, the festive signing ceremony for the agreements to annex four Ukrainian regions, and Putin’s belligerent speech – which would have been well-received by the Soviet leaders at the height of the Cold War – seem divorced from reality, even more than his detachment from what is happening on the battlefield.

You don’t have to be a great geostrategist to understand where these developments are leading. The new European and global order will be determined by the results of this war, and it is already clear that Russia is incapable of winning it. Its original army, the one that invaded Ukraine, has been almost completely eliminated. Putin is now sending in a replacement army, which is composed partly of reservists and partly of people caught in the street by the draft. It is as simple as that.

This new army is one that, due to massive corruption, does not have enough uniforms, equipment and battle rations in its warehouses for all the new recruits. It is one whose commanders have not been kept up to date on technological innovations or modern combat theory, whose demoralized soldiers don’t even receive elementary training before being thrown onto the front.

Due to the sanctions imposed on it, Russia’s military industry, which is strongly dependent on the import of spare parts, is finding it difficult to replenish its inventory of weapons and ammunition, which is why there's news of its purchase of drones from Iran and artillery shells from North Korea. Economically as well, Russia is alone in this campaign. Its economy is suffering substantially both from the sanctions and from the decline in demand for its oil and gas, which it is now forced to sell to the Far East at enormous discounts.

In contrast, standing behind Ukraine, which is heroically fighting for its freedom and independence, are the economies of the United States and the European Union. Together, those backers' economies are 24 times the size of Russia's, and their military industry is just getting warmed up. We can reasonably assume that as Ukraine continues to succeed on the battlefield, their support will only increase. The war is likely to continue for months to come, during which Putin will continue to sow destruction in Ukrainian cities and villages and threaten to use nuclear weapons, but it is hard to see how even a nuclear escalation would bring him closer to victory rather than to his end.

At the end of the war, the experienced Ukrainian army will be among the strongest and best equipped in Europe, and NATO will find it difficult not to accede to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request to let his country join. Ukraine will be the mainstay of the European defense system, which will be forced to contend with the Russian threat for years to come. With Western assistance, Ukraine will be rebuilt, and in addition to its natural resources and educated manpower, it will have a modern economy and new infrastructure. With a population of about 43 million and the fourth-largest area on the continent, it will be one of the biggest and most influential members of the European Union.

The international order will no longer be what it was. The myth of the Russian army being “the second most powerful in the world” has already dissipated. Russia’s influence is declining substantially even in its neighboring post-Soviet states, which are refusing – thus far politely – to accept its authority.

Europe will never again let itself become dependent on Russian energy. China will know how to cleverly exploit Russia's weaknesses (see the huge discounts it has already managed to extort from the Russians on energy purchases), but it has no intention of being seen as an ally of the failing Putin.

In this picture, which is being shaped and changed before our very eyes, where is Israel? For over seven months, since the outbreak of the war, the Israeli government has been sitting on the fence and finding it difficult to decide whose side it is on. It claims “neutrality,” although such a claim plays into Putin’s hands, because neutrality always supports the aggressor. Israel has become accustomed to taking the Russians into account in its activity in the skies of Syria, and is not making an effort to think about how that can be done differently.

It is refraining from providing real assistance to Ukraine, it is afraid to rile Putin and it gives the excuse of doing it all out of “realpolitik.” True, it is hard to expect politicians to act according to morality and values; that’s a quality reserved for outstanding statesmen. But the war in Ukraine has reached a stage in which it is quite clear who will win and who will lose.

The values of freedom and democracy are no longer the only ones that require us to stand by Ukraine – the cold, if not cynical, considerations of profit and loss demand it as well. It’s always good to be on the winning side, and it is still not too late to switch to it, not just with words, but through actions. The Ukrainians and our Western allies would greatly appreciate that.

Leonid Nevzlin