Since the attacks by Hamas on Israel last weekend, Ukraine has sought to position itself as a friend of Israel, while asserting that Moscow would try to use the conflict to drive a wedge between Ukraine and the countries that support it. Russia, for its part, has said that Israel’s war in Gaza shows the failure of the West and in particular U.S. policy in the region.
The trading of accusations illustrates how, nearly two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the two countries are seeking to nurture their diplomatic alliances and influence opinion to bolster their respective military causes.
The latest example came on Thursday, when Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, accused Moscow of sending weapons to Hamas that Russian forces had captured on the battlefield in Ukraine. He said this was an apparent attempt by the Kremlin to discredit President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government by making Israel think Ukraine was supporting Hamas.
“We know for a fact that trophy weapons from Ukraine were transferred by the Russians to the Hamas group,” Mr. Budanov said in an interview with Ukrainian Pravda published on Thursday. It was not possible to independently verify the claim, and Mr. Budanov did not provide evidence for it.
But his comments were in line with Ukraine’s campaign to cast Russia as acting maliciously regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict, using it to sow chaos and acrimony. In the last six days Mr. Zelensky has repeatedly stated his support for Israel and condemned Hamas.
On Wednesday Mr. Zelensky’s office made a formal request for him to visit Israel to show solidarity, according to the Axios news website. The president’s press office said that it does not comment on Mr. Zelensky’s travel plans.
Amid the accusations, fighting raged on Ukraine’s eastern and southern fronts. Shelling by Russian forces killed four people who were sheltering in a gymnasium in the city of Nikopol on the western bank of the Dnipro River overnight, according to a post by Ukraine’s interior minister, Ihor Klymenko, on the Telegram messaging app.
Hamas’s attack on Israel has offered Ukraine’s government an opportunity to draw attention to links between Hamas and Iran, a bitter enemy of Israel. Tehran has supplied thousands of exploding drones to Russia over the past year, and they have been used in deadly strikes on military and civilian targets in Ukraine.
In calling out Iran, Mr. Zelensky has sought to improve his government’s relations with leaders in the United States and Europe. But the war between Israel and Hamas has come at a difficult moment for Ukraine, diverting attention from its own conflict at a time when its counteroffensive has made limited progress and there are signs that support from some of its allies may be slipping.
There has been relatively little movement along hundreds of miles of front line this year, despite a Ukrainian assault that began in June, supported by billions of dollars in military aid from the country’s allies.
The fighting has nevertheless been fierce, with substantial casualties on both sides. Evidence of the continued warfare emerged overnight.
Russia launched 33 exploding drones into Ukraine overnight, Ukraine’s Air Force said on Thursday, adding that the country’s air defenses had shot down 28 of them. Russian forces have sent a nightly barrage of drones in recent weeks, often launched from the Crimean region, which it annexed in 2014.
Drones hit port infrastructure and private houses near the city of Odesa, Ukraine’s southern operational command said in a post on Facebook on Thursday.
Russian forces have intensified their attacks in parts of eastern Ukraine in recent days, and there was fierce fighting over Avdiivka, a town in the Donetsk region that has been contested since 2014, and that Moscow has been trying to seize since the start of its full-scale invasion.
“Yesterday, with the support of tanks and many armored vehicles, the enemy launched an offensive,” Oleksandr Shtupun, a Ukrainian military spokesman, told national television on Thursday. “The Ukrainian Armed Forces repelled all enemy attacks; we did not lose any territory or positions.”
It was not possible to verify his claim independently, but it was in keeping with much of the fighting of recent days in which both sides have sought to gain a tactical advantage and not much territory has changed hands.
Ukrainian forces used mortars and artillery fire in the Sumy region in the north of the country overnight to thwart an attempted incursion by Russian saboteurs who intended to strike at civilian infrastructure, according to the joint commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, Lt. Gen. Serhii Naiev, who wrote on Telegram.