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US says Putin seeking to ‘take advantage’ of Israel-Hamas war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testify during a Senate hearing in Washington, DC on October 31, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testify during a Senate hearing in Washington, DC on October 31, 2023 - Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP Drew Angerer
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testify during a Senate hearing in Washington, DC on October 31, 2023 - Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP Drew Angerer
W.G. DUNLOP and Shaun TANDON

The United States accused Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday of trying to use the Israel-Hamas war to reduce Western support for Ukraine, which it said requires continued backing from Washington to prevent Russia success.

Hamas militants carried out a shock cross-border attack from Gaza this month that Israeli officials say killed more than 1,400 people, prompting Washington to rush military aid to Israel and sparking fears in Kyiv that backing for its war against invading Russian forces could suffer.

“Putin is very much trying to take advantage of the Hamas attack on Israel in the hopes that it will distract us… and that it will result in the United States pulling back its resources” from Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a Senate hearing on supplemental national security funding.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned during the same hearing that Putin will succeed in his bid to seize Ukrainian territory if the United States halts support for Kyiv.

“I can guarantee you that without our support, Putin will be successful,” Austin said. “If we pull the rug out from under them now, Putin will only get stronger and he will be successful in doing what he wants to do in acquiring his neighbor’s sovereign territory.”

Washington is by far the biggest donor of military aid to Ukraine, committing some $43.9 billion since Russian forces invaded in February 2022 — assistance that has helped Kyiv regain ground seized by Moscow.

But opposition from hardline Republican lawmakers has put future assistance for Kyiv in doubt, and the US government has had to rely on previously approved aid in the absence of new funding from Congress.

– Protests during hearing –

Blinken said a halt to US aid for Ukraine could encourage other countries to follow suit.

“This is an instance where we’ve seen very significant burden-sharing that would almost certainly go away if we go away,” he said.

“The message it would send… to each and every one of these countries is that the United States is abandoning ship — well, we may as well do, too.”

Blinken also told the hearing that the Palestinian Authority should retake control of the Gaza Strip from Hamas, with international players potentially filling a role in an interim.

“At some point, what would make the most sense would be for an effective and revitalized Palestinian Authority to have governance and ultimately security responsibility for Gaza,” he said, referring to the narrow coastal strip that Hamas has ruled since 2007.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment following the October 7 Hamas attack has killed more than 8,500 people, according to the Gaza health ministry, sparking widespread anger in the region and around the world.

The hearing was repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters, some of whom cried out “Ceasefire now,” “Palestinians are not animals” and “Shame on you all” before being removed from the room.

Some two dozen people also raised hands covered in paint in a symbol of the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, while several wore messages of “Free Gaza” written on their arms and held signs demanding “No more $$$ 4 Israel.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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