Are the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza of the same nature? Based on the bare facts reported in Western mainstream media, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s invasion of Gaza look similar. At first glance, it appears that we are dealing with two attacks which, although they may have been provoked, are nevertheless both unjustifiable.
Is it sensible, however, to rely solely on events as reported by Western mainstream media? It seems at first sight that this is quite sufficient because, as was just mentioned, no amount of context could justify what happened. This is why, according to some, it is of little importance to introduce geopolitical or historical considerations to thinking about the issue. They would at most allow examination of the factors that may have provoked Putin or Netanyahu to act. But since no explanation of this kind seems to justify the actions undertaken, it can be ignored.
So the reasoning goes: There may be reasons why a criminal does horrible and cruel things. He may have been abused in the past, left to his own, without the affection of loving parents. Even if such mitigating circumstances are found, nothing changes about the indictment, the conviction and the punishment for the crimes that have been committed.
To arrive at this conclusion, one must be inclined to focus exclusively on events as they appear in the news bulletins of Western mainstream media. People of good faith think that attention must be paid to the indignation that these events arouse. The emotions they experience must then be considered as decisive in ruling on what has just happened. Moral feeling serves as a guide, a compass, a lantern in the night. This is how they reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This was also their reaction to October 7, but also subsequently to what Netanyahu did to the Gazans. According to this point of view, in Ukraine as well as in Gaza, two crimes of equivalent nature were being committed.
Consequently, if there is no justification for a criminal act, one is forced to postulate the mysterious presence of hatred and therefore of evil in the world, without being able to get to the bottom of the mystery by providing explanations, however learned and refined they can be. As an evil presence in the world, hatred can only be eradicated by drawing on the diverse moral and religious traditions of humanity.
There is, however, another way of looking at the issue. Violence is not a context-independent abstraction. Too often, we overlook the fact that there is a difference between the violence of the occupier-oppressor and the violence of those who are oppressed and who want to put an end to their ordeal. We tend, for instance, to forget that we celebrate the resistance fighters who, during the Second World War, killed Nazi occupiers. We should not, therefore, practice double standards: the right to fight oppression, which is sometimes the cause of the violence, is valid for all. Concerning more specifically the Palestinian people, it must also be said that if revenge becomes inevitable, it is perhaps because something has been stretched to the limit for many years. Could this be true also about Russia? Could it also have been subjected to persistent threats? Before answering this question, let us note that the search for an explanation becomes necessary if one wants to escape from uninterrupted acts of reciprocal revenge. Geopolitics and history could then perhaps allow us to go back to the root causes of the conflict and make it possible to break the cycle of violence.
A poorly understood American foreign policy
Those who stick to the few – often superficial – raw facts reported in the Western mainstream media have structured their analysis of American foreign policy by opposing Biden and Trump. Since it was appropriate to be against Trump, it became necessary to be for Biden. The analysis was simple and relentless. So when Russia invaded Ukraine, it was easy to choose sides. We had to be for Ukraine against Russia and for the “pro-Ukrainian” Biden against the “pro-Russian” Trump.
This analysis, repeated ad nauseam in the so-called “liberal” mainstream media, made it possible to develop a simplified (even simplistic) geopolitical understanding which, even if it failed to hold up, was still able to sustain itself by clinging to a reaction based on feelings of indignation, moralizing instincts and good intentions.
Some were however gradually led to criticize the apparent inconsistency of Biden who condemned Putin but came to the support of Netanyahu. They denounced the double standards of the Democratic administration. They approved military aid to Ukraine, but not military aid to Israel. Discomfort grew at the sight of Biden supporting what had every appearance of genocide in Gaza. This did not fit well with their feelings of indignation, their moralizing instincts and their good intentions.
Therefore, certain questions must be asked. If Biden can support Israel despite general disapproval, does this not call into question the sincerity of his commitment to Ukraine? Could it be that malicious intentions lie behind his support for Ukraine? If Biden supports Israel’s invasion of Gaza, what were his underlying motivations regarding Ukraine?
These are good questions. In a previous text discussing the comparison between the two conflicts, we especially wanted to show the coherence of the American position. Geopolitics and history enable us to understand that, in both cases, underlying imperialist issues motivated the United States. We were able to show that, concerning Ukraine, the United States made war inevitable. They lit the fuse, set the place on fire, and then added fuel to the fire.
Disregard of Russia’s position
Ever wonder why NATO decided to expand from 16 to 30 member states? After all, NATO is a military alliance that was meant to fight the USSR and went on the offensive outside of Europe (recall Kosovo, Libya, Afghanistan, and Syria). Why did the Americans withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 2002 and from the IMF Treaty in 2019? Why did they choose to pay no attention in Bucharest in 2008 to the red line that Russia had traced concerning Georgia and Ukraine, and rather chose to announce their future integration into NATO? Why did NATO install military bases in all the Eastern European countries? Why did American authorities (Victoria Nuland, Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Joe Biden) meet with the three leaders of the opposition in Kiev? Why did they fund (5 billion US dollars) an insurrection which, with the help of the neo-Nazi group Right Sector, led to a violent coup in 2014? What can be said about the fact that the US decided who among the three opposition leaders would be Prime Minister, who would become Kiev’s Mayor, and who would step aside (as a notorious antisemite) but with four members of his political party participating in the government? Is there nothing to comment about in the Russophobic laws that were immediately adopted the day after the coup? What about the fact that Americans also decided who to nominate as minister of economy and who should become the Governor of Odessa? The 2014 anti-Russian coup in Kiev posed a direct menace to Russia’s naval base in Sebastopol. The foreseeable turnover of the base to the US/NATO would have given the latter predominance in the Black Sea and undermined Russia’s security on its entire southern border. The main purpose of the US-sponsored coup was to threaten Russia. It was in reaction to that coup that Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, the hinterland of the Sebastopol base.
As the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden visited Ukraine on twelve occasions. That’s a lot of traveling. Are there any explanations for that? What was he doing there? His son Hunter became a member of the Burisma administrative council and Joe forced Kiev authorities to remove the attorney general who was inquiring about Burisma. What explanation is there for the chemical laboratories that were set up in Ukraine? Can we be told why the US, the UK, Germany, and Canada trained the Ukrainian army, helped build fortifications in the country, and provided it with military equipment? Did they try to stop the integration of the Neo-Nazi Azov Battalion into that army? What did they do to end the civil war that was raging between the Western part of the country and the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts? Why were the Minsk agreements not implemented? Angela Merkel, François Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko all admitted that these agreements were only meant to save time and prepare for the war. What was the real reason for installing in Poland and Romania anti-ballistic systems which can be transformed in less than 24 hours into offensive systems? It certainly was not the farcical pretext given by the US (to deter … Iran !). These are all very good questions and there is a lot of explaining to do.
By 2021, it became clear that Kiev had no intention of implementing the Minsk Agreements. Ukraine had become a de facto member of NATO and US authorities repeated their intention to formally integrate it. Putin first chose to move troops close to the border. Then he proposed a treaty as a basis for negotiation to be held between Russia and NATO, as well as between Russia and the US, but this ultimate attempt failed. Then, the OSCE observed an escalation taking place in the Donbass. Ukrainian troops were about to invade Luhansk and Donetsk. Zelensky explicitly expressed his intention to regain control over the Donbass and to reconquer Crimea. He explicitly expressed his intention to obtain nuclear weapons. Finally, after promising late in December 2021 that the US would not install nuclear missiles in Ukraine, Biden removed that promise early in January 2022. So Russia was in the position of having to face deadly offensive means planted close to the Russian borders and able to reach Moscow in just a few minutes. This is like having a loaded rifle aimed at one’s head. Russia was thus perhaps justified to react as it did and engage in a special military operation, what others would call a “preemptive war”. It is possible that Russia privately addressed an ultimatum to the US in the hope it would stop the escalation. This is perhaps the reason why the US government was able to predict the Russian intervention, although its scale was more limited and the expeditionary force smaller than the US expected.
Russia realized that there would be no end to the US escalation of the conflict and that he had no choice. Sooner or later, he would be forced to intervene. According to John Mearsheimer, Ray McGovern, and Norman Finkelstein, all options had been explored. Putin had initially wanted the Russian-speaking minorities to remain within Ukraine because they were a powerful democratic force that could influence the political orientation of the country as a whole. This is why he was favorable to the Minsk agreements. But when it became clear that the Minsk agreements would never be implemented and that Ukrainian forces were about to launch a major offensive against the secessionist Donbass republics, Putin repeated the strategy Russia used in Georgia in 2008. Just as he recognized the sovereign republics of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia, so he would now recognize the sovereignty of Luhansk and Donetsk.
A military intervention became inevitable to prevent US/NATO nuclear equipment from being moved into Ukraine, within minutes of Moscow. Putin did not want to conquer Ukraine. He only mobilized a small number of troops. Some were sent in Kiev, but this was to draw part of the Ukrainian army away from the Donbass. This tactic was successful. Shortly after, fruitful negotiations took place, which showed once again that Russia did not intend to conquer Ukraine. Governing Ukraine would be a nightmare and a drain on its resources it wants no part of it. However, just as a Russo-Ukrainian agreement neutralizing Ukraine was about to be reached, the US interfered to scuttle it, demanded that Ukraine fight Russia, and began massive weapons transfers.
With these considerations in mind, we can return to the comparison between the two issues: Ukraine and Gaza. An anti-imperialist posture perhaps requires criticism of American policy in Ukraine, just as much as in Gaza.
It is a mistake to compare Putin’s intervention in Ukraine with Netanyahu’s intervention in Gaza. The decisions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) make it possible to assess the asymmetry between these two conflicts. In the first case, the ICJ was invited to inquire about a genocide perpetrated by Ukraine in the Donbass, as suggested in various statements made by Russian authorities. The civilian population of Donetsk, in particular, has been the subject of repeated bombings since 2014, causing thousands of deaths.
The contrast with what is happening in Gaza is striking. In this second case, it is Israel that is accused of genocide. While Russian leaders were demanding that Ukraine end the genocide of Russian-speaking minorities, Israeli leaders were making statements that encouraged genocidal behavior against Gazans. While Putin emphasized the historical connections between Russians and Ukrainians, Israel’s official leaders described the Palestinians as “human animals.”
The demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine were the most important reasons for Russia’s intervention. Both were intended to secure Russia against Ukraine, a country in the process of becoming a military base for NATO and for hostile nuclear weapons. By contrast, Israel used security justifications and the “right to defend itself” as a pretext to achieve its genocidal ambitions, territorial expansion and ethnic cleansing. While Russia sought first and foremost to protect its territory in the face of aggressive NATO expansion, Israel sought first and foremost to expand its territory at the expense of the Palestinians. On September 22, 2023, thus before October 7, Netanyahu showed at the United Nations a map in which Israel occupied all of Palestine (the “Greater Israel”), all Palestinian territories having been absorbed. Israeli expansionism, colonization, and ethno-cleansing date back well before October 7. They are the cause of October 7 and the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2023, the ICJ rejected Russia’s accusation of genocide against Ukraine over the latter’s attacks on Russian-speaking minorities living in the Donbass. However, the real security reasons for the Russian intervention remained legitimate and understandable: denazification and demilitarization. After all, a Ukrainian army, trained, equipped, and strengthened by NATO was preparing for war and a Banderist minority, at the origin of the 2014 coup d’état and of repressive laws against the Russian-speaking minority, had been engaged in the civil war, and had been integrated into the army .
The contrast with the situation in Gaza is once again very striking. On January 26, 2024, the ICJ estimated by 15 votes to 2 that the accusation of genocide against Israel was eminently plausible. Four of the five criteria for identifying the reality of genocide apply to Israel. Based on these findings, the ICJ approved provisional measures. It demanded that the Israeli army put an end to the killing of Gazans, stop serious attacks on their physical or mental integrity, not intentionally subject them to living conditions likely to lead to total or partial physical destruction, and not adopt measures aimed at hindering births within the group. Humanitarian aid had to once again be accessible and services restored.
Other major differences
The contrast between the two situations does not end there. Russia entered the war backward, after having tried in vain for years to make NATO listen to its legitimate security concerns and halt its eastward expansion, after signing the Minsk Accords and trying a last-ditch negotiation with the US and NATO. Putin then carried out a special military operation that he wanted to be of short duration and aimed at negotiating an agreement. Even if these actions, successful at first, ultimately failed due to the intervention of the United States and its British emissary Boris Johnson, Russia did not undertake a war against Ukraine (massive aerial bombings, large-scale ground attacks, occupation of the capital, intervention forces of sufficient size to control the country, as the United States had done in Iraq in 2003) and initially refrained from attacking civilian infrastructure. Military clashes took place but the proportion of civilian deaths with military deaths (0.03%) points to civilians being collateral victims. Independent organizations have further highlighted the fact that the neo-Nazi group Azov used schools, hospitals, museums and homes as combat sites and their residents as human shields. Finally, Russia did not conduct a war for the conquest of territory, but rather a war of attrition. The areas that were meant to be autonomous regions within Ukraine before 2022, and then sovereign states, were finally annexed only because Ukraine chose to escalate the conflict instead of negotiating a reasonable arrangement and because Russia wanted to signify its commitment to protect Russian minorities from Ukrainian attacks.
In contrast, Israel attacked civilian infrastructure from the start. The Israeli army responded to Hamas attacks with disproportionate and indiscriminate bombings targeting the population. Israel does not hesitate to kill women and children, destroy buildings, and to target hospitals, ambulances, schools, universities, and mosques. Even if all adult males killed were to be counted as members of Hamas (which would be false, the fighters being unreachable underground), the proportion of civilians killed as opposed to Hamas members is at least 64%. It is impossible to speak here of collateral victims. By targeting indiscriminately, it is on the contrary members of Hamas that Israel hopes to reach as collateral victims. Israel claims that Hamas is using the Gazans as human shields, but this does not fit well with official statements by its political representatives who blame all Gazans and deprive them all of food, water, gas, and electricity, as well as basic care. They have clearly expressed their desire to drive the Palestinians towards Egypt and to take possession of Gaza. Their war is against the Palestinians, not just Hamas. If it is sometimes difficult to distinguish Hamas and the population, it is because Hamas is not a regular army, Gaza is densely populated and is walled up as an open-air prison, practically a concentration camp.
All this is not just war crimes but the most serious of all crimes, that of genocide. Many are aware of this fact. Information showing a genocide circulates widely on social networks. Why is it, then, that so few people have grasped the real issues involved in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine? Where does the idea that Putin can be compared to Netanyahu come from? First of all, there is the fact that the two conflicts seem to oppose David against Goliath, and people are rather inclined to take a position in favor of David. At least this is the position that some are tempted to adopt when, without taking into account the overall picture, they limit themselves to events as reported by Western mainstream media. Taking a step back, they would see the real Goliath, namely the United States, for whom Ukraine is just a disposable instrument with which to harm Russia. This is undoubtedly one reason why Putin is accused of the same evils. Although it is impossible to conceal, what the US is doing escapes attention. It is not understood that the opponents in the war are not Ukraine and Russia, but Russia and the US.
There is also the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has existed since 1948, and even since 1917, while the one concerning Ukraine is more recent. US aid to Israel is well known, while aid to Ukraine is only ten years old. The connection between the US and Israel is long-standing, close and multifaceted, while that between the US and Ukraine is either ignored or in need of being explained.
The economic interests of American imperialism can also contribute to a better understanding of the difference between the Ukrainian conflict and the one taking place in Gaza. American support for Ukraine and the escalation in provocation are motivated by the objective of economically weakening Russia and ensuring through sanctions the end of Russia’s trade with Europe, in particular the end of its gas and oil sales, as well as the termination of the Nordstream gas pipeline project. This strategy is described in a Rand Corporation study that the United States followed scrupulously. The ultimate objective is the collapse of Russia, the loss of its independence, and its takeover by local pawns of US imperialism. American support for Israel aims to consolidate a bridgehead in the Middle East and a gateway to control the region, with the recent objective of creating an economic zone of commercial circulation, the India-Middle-East-Europe Corridor (IMEC). In both cases, American economic interests are at stake.
Why did Americans decide to defend Ukraine and present the country as a victim of aggression, while they did not hesitate to be accomplices of Israel in its genocidal attack against Gaza? The apparent contradiction is resolved once it is understood what they did in both cases: they used Ukraine and Israel to satisfy their economic and political interests, even if it meant sacrificing the Ukrainian people and even if it entailed the massacre of the Palestinian people.
In the final analysis, the main asymmetry between the two conflicts is perhaps the following. If the US is against the Palestinians, it is mainly because it is for Israel. On the other hand, if the US is for Ukraine, it is first and foremost because it is against Russia and seeks to weaken it at all costs.
It is not a matter of taking sides for one person against another. Adopting an informed and enlightened geopolitical perspective is compatible with having empathy for all people. One can be against US support for an Israeli far-right government because it endangers the security of its people by committing genocide in real-time against the Palestinian people. One can also be against US support for the Banderist minority that it brought to power in 2014 in Ukraine because it dragged the entire Ukrainian people into an indefensible war to satisfy the US policy of weakening Russia.
The question remains: who shows the most empathy towards the Ukrainian people? Is it those who are using Ukrainians as cannon fodder against Russia or those who have opposed from the start a disastrous war into which the Banderists and the US have engaged the entire Ukrainian people against its will?