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Ukraine and the Middle East: Europe, caught between two wars and facing a complex political labyrinth

The European neighborhood is burning. Literally. Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022 caused the first war between states on the old continent since World War II. Its consequences were profound with an energy crisis that triggered inflation in the European bloc (it is already beginning to be under control), multiplied energy prices several times and raised fears that last winter would be spent without heating.

At the same time, the Europeans realized that their production of weapons and ammunition is negligible compared to the needs of a major war.

Despite the economic damage, the European Union stood up to Moscow, massively reduced the purchase of Russian hydrocarbons, imposed the harshest sanctions regime in its history and supported Ukraine with weapons and tens of billions of euros. Those decisions, despite Hungary dragging its feet, were made unanimously.

But now another outbreak is added to the war in Ukraine, for now smaller in military magnitude but which has the potential to degenerate into a much broader conflict in the Middle East.

A cloud of smoke over Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after an Israeli bombing. Photo: AFP

Political labyrinth

The Hamas terrorist attack on October 7 and Israel’s military response generated a strong debate at the European summit this Thursday and Friday. This crisis is militarily and economically easier for Europeans to manage because no one asks them for anything, but politically much more difficult.

They emerged from the summit with a joint statement that called for humanitarian pauses and corridors and an international peace conference. But this Friday, at the United Nations General Assembly, the 27 member countries of the European Union were divided into three groups. When a resolution calling for an “immediate, lasting and sustained truce” had to be voted on, eight voted in favor (among them France and Spain), four against and 15 abstained (among them Germany, Poland and Italy).

This division will make a common approach difficult. and will make it more difficult to avoid the negative consequences derived from this conflict, such as new waves of migration or problems with energy supplies.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, at the closing of the summit in Brussels.  Photo.  EFEThe president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the head of the European Council, Charles Michel, at the closing of the summit in Brussels. Photo. EFE

Their division and their impotence to pressure and influence the actors involved in the conflict in the Middle East made the five hours of debate to decide whether to call for a humanitarian truce or a humanitarian pause seem like a waste of time. Barely six hours after the end of the summit, Israel massively bombed Gaza and was preparing to intervene on land, leaving the European request for pauses and humanitarian corridors a poor piece of paper.

With the political and media attention focused on the Gaza Strip and the potential for social division that the conflict has in Europe, due to the presence of millions of Muslims, Jewish communities and a political left very committed to the Palestinian cause, European leaders promise not to forget Ukraine and continue sending weapons and funds, something that in principle they will not do in Israel, to begin with because no one from Tel Aviv has asked for anything.

Ukraine is asking for more weapons because if at the beginning of the summer it seemed optimistic and launched its long-awaited counteroffensive, right now its troops are on the ropes in many areas of the east of the country and the Russian Armed Forces have recovered military potential.

Ukraine fears being left alone. The first thing its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, did when Hamas attacked Israel was to fly to Brussels to attend a meeting of defense ministers. He asked them not to forget his country and to continue supplying him with weapons.

At the summit this Thursday and Friday, European Council President Charles Michel said that “Ukraine is and will continue to be a priority for us. “We are determined to continue with military and financial support.”

European diplomats acknowledge it privately: “We have more concrete means to act in Ukraine than in the Middle East.” Europe knows that its role in Ukraine is essential while in the Middle East it is barely decorative.

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