US says Putin seeking to 'take advantage' of the war on Gaza

AFP , Tuesday 31 Oct 2023

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

Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testify during a Senate hearing in Washington, DC on October 31, 2023. AFP


Palestinian fighters carried out a shock offensive from Gaza on Israel, 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 war on Gaza 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 Gaza strip that Hamas has ruled since 2007.

Israel's bombardment Gaza since October 7 has killed more than 8,500 people, including 3,542 children; 2,187 women, and dozens of health personnel, rescue workers, and journalists, according to the Palestinian 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."

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