Putin says he follows Israeli Gaza example in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has in the past justified brutal Russian military actions – such as in Ukraine and Syria — by saying they are the same as the Israeli actions we now see in Gaza.


Putin has said that “attempts to spare terrorists under the pretext of protecting civilians are unacceptable”.


At a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Russia on 27 October 2016, Putin was asked about Russia’s fight against terrorists, particularly Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the destruction of much of the city of Aleppo. Putin’s earlier actions again Grozny in Chechnya were also on people’s minds.


Putin said: “We keep hearing Aleppo, Aleppo, Aleppo. But what is the issue here? Do we leave the terrorists in place, or do we squeeze them out? Look at Israel’s example. Israel never steps back but fights to the end.”


I lived in Russia until October 2022 – that is, ten months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February and I spoke to many people in both Moscow and Irkutsk (near Lake Baikal in Siberia) about it.


Like me, some people were horrified. But there was also a surprising number of well-educated and well-travelled people who strongly supported the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine. One reason was because around 10,000 people had been killed in the eastern Ukraine provinces of Donbas and Luhansk near the Russian border as the central government in Kiev tried to asset its authority over Russian speaking separatists.


In the view of many people in Russia, the Russian speakers in these provinces were being terrorized in much the same way as Hamas has terrorized Israel.


Some days before I wrote this article, I put a version of the above information on LinkedIn. One contact on that site is a quite well-known self-described “public intellectual” who often has opinion pieces published in “The Australian” newspaper. He sent me this:


“The deaths in the Donbas occurred because Kremlin-inspired and armed thugs attacked the legitimate Ukrainian authorities and sought to establish independent fiefdoms.”


But the story is not as simple as that. Analyst Anna Aruntunyan, who is no fan of Putin, wrote that “according to a poll conducted in April 2014 by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, over 70% of respondents in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine – where support for Russia was far less consolidated than it was in Crimea – considered the government in Kiev illegitimate.”


The views of the “public intellectual” had an element of simplified truth as there were some such “thugs”, but they would have got nowhere without much public support.


Of course, Russia is not innocent now and its past actions mean many of its neighbours fear it. Its present government is also ruthless in supressing internal dissent and its soldiers are indeed often very ruthless.


It is not surprising that this provides a background for viewing Russian actions in Ukraine in the worst possible light. What is surprising is that when Israel tries to destroy Gaza using many tactics similar to Russia, it is seen as morally just and every death – even of aid workers killed by the Israeli military – is the fault of Hamas.


Should we say that every death in Ukraine is the fault of NATO? Of course not, Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine. NATO expansion was one of the reasons that he did it, but he could have decided otherwise. Similarly, Israel did not need to take such cowardly action in Gaza after the 7 October Hamas terrorist attacks.


It is hard to pin down the exact reasons that Israel is given such a free pass – and even encouraged by some – when it acts in the same way as Russia.


But “The Australian” newspaper is also interesting here. Many of its journalists and contributors like to write about “values” and “morality” – particularly, the likes of Paul Kelly and Greg Sheridan. They point to the supposed superiority of Judeo-Christian values and morality; and because such people see Israel as one half of this – almost one half of themselves — then Israel must have entirely positive values because such people can only see themselves in a very positive light.


Then, of course, there is the issue of the “guilt” for the holocaust which many Jews milk to the extreme for sympathy. It is as though if you are critical of Israeli actions in Gaza, then you are antisemitic; and if you are antisemitic, then you think nothing wrong with innocent women and children lined up to enter a gas chamber!


When Putin compared Russian actions in Aleppo with Israeli actions, he was in his typically blunt way inviting Russia critics to look honestly in the mirror. Supporters of Israeli actions in Gaza should do the same.