Opinion: Putin and Hamas: 2 peas from same horrible pod

Russia’s aims and tactics in its war against Ukraine and Hamas’ in its war against Israel are remarkably similar.

Russia’s troops poured across its border with Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. It was the largest invasion of an independent country in Europe since World War II.

Hamas terrorists crossed into the United Nations-recognized state of Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Over 1,200 Israeli citizens and residents and foreign visitors were murdered. It was the largest loss of Jewish life on a single day since World War II.

President Vladimir Putin justified the invasion by saying the U.N.-recognized state of Ukraine was an “artificial” state that historically belonged to Russia. On top of that, he charged, Ukraine is a hotbed of “neo-Nazism.”

The Hamas Covenant says the organization’s purpose is to “obliterate” Israel and to capture “Islamic land.” The covenant, in a cruel twist on history, accuses Israel of “Zionist Nazi activities.”

Russia is shelling power plants and apartment houses to undermine Ukraine’s will to resist. Oxfam has estimated an average of 42 Ukrainian civilians have been killed each day since February 2022.

Hamas regularly shells cities, farms and kibbutzim in southern Israel. But even more fundamental to its strategy than killing Israeli civilians is provoking the death of Arab civilians in Gaza. Armed Hamas fighters hide among noncombatants and use them as shields. The ensuing bloodshed is effective as a tactic; it’s leading the West to turn against Israel and encouraging protests in Israel itself. Six years ago, Yahya Sinwar, the military commander of Hamas in Gaza, said: “We make the headlines only with blood. No blood, no news.” More recently, he said deaths of civilians in Gaza “are necessary sacrifices.”

Rape and sexual violence are also key elements of both Russia’s and Hamas’ strategy. A 2023 U.N. report found, “During Russian armed forces’ initial control of localities in Ukraine, many of the … rapes, and sexual violence were committed in the context of house-to-house searches.” These crimes continue.

A report by Pramila Patten, special representative of the U.N. secretary-general, described “rape and gang rape” during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Her investigation “found that several fully naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down were recovered — mostly women — with hands tied and shot multiple times, often in the head.”

Hostage-taking and kidnapping are other common tactics of Russia and Hamas. Ukraine accuses Russia of kidnapping over 19,000 children. The New York Times managed to trace what happened to 46 children abducted from a Ukrainian foster center at the outset of the war. Many were adopted by Russian families.

Hamas abducted over 240 civilians and soldiers from Israel on Oct. 7. Those hostages, according to the U.N., were also subject to rape and sexual abuse. Forty-three of them have died in captivity according to Israeli estimates. A Hamas spokesperson said that a consequence of the recent rescue of four Israeli hostages will be “negative impact” on the conditions for the 100-plus remaining hostages.

Putin has called for a permanent ceasefire which would leave his troops in control of 18% of Ukraine. Hamas has called for a permanent ceasefire that would leave it in power in Gaza. To both Putin and Hamas, “permanent” means until ready to launch another attack. Knowingly or not, they wish to follow in the footsteps of Germany before World War II.

In 1938, Nazi Germany demanded the annexation of German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia, promising no further claims on the country. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said acceding to this demand and appeasing Germany meant “peace for our time.” Six months later, German troops invaded what was left of Czechoslovakia. After another six months, German troops invaded Poland, and World War II had begun.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy understands the ceasefire Putin wants would mean only a delay in Russian ambitions. To Zelenskyy, the only acceptable ceasefire is one where Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory and Russian war criminals are tried. In a January speech to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, he reminded listeners: “After 2014, there were attempts to freeze the war in (the Ukrainian province) Donbas. There were very influential guarantors of that process … But Putin is a predator who is not satisfied with frozen products.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel’s No. 1 goal in the Israel-Hamas war is “the destruction of Hamas.” To leave it in power would only mean more attacks on Israel in the future. Despite well-publicized disagreements between Netanyahu and President Joe Biden, they agree on this. As national security adviser Jake Sullivan reported earlier this month, Biden has “explicitly said that the path forward is a Gaza where Hamas is no longer in power.”

In a January 1940 radio speech, future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill denounced appeasers in his own inimitable way: “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured. But I fear — I fear greatly — the storm will not pass. It will rage and it will roar, ever more loudly, ever more widely.”

The only outcome that can lead to long-term peace between Ukraine and Russia is the end of Putin’s regime. The only outcome that can lead to peace in Gaza and Israel is Hamas’ overthrow.

As Churchill also declared, “No pact with unrepentant wrong.”

— Keith Raffel is a resident scholar at Harvard and a syndicated columnist for Creators.


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