As Russian aggression in Ukraine ratchets up global tensions, observers wonder about Vladimir Putin’s endgame. The Kremlin strongman appears hell-bent on resurrecting the Russian empire of old.
Two big questions are on the table: Will the world let him do it, and are the Jews of Ukraine safe?
Regarding the latter question, recent events give cause for alarm. A flier distributed a few weeks ago in Donetsk by people in masks who reportedly were pro-Russian militants, ordering Jews there to register with authorities, may have been disavowed by the city’s pro-Russian “government,” but it sent a chill through the global Jewish community.
A synagogue in Nikolayev was firebombed April 19, the second such crime committed in Ukraine in two months. A Holocaust memorial has been vandalized in Sevastapol, a Crimean city recently annexed by Russia, and in Dnepropetrovsk, vandals painted a swastika on the tomb of the brother of the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
In perhaps the most frightening incident, pro-Russian separatists in Slovyansk, who have taken over the city’s government, apparently had seized journalist Simon Ostrovsky, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, and, as of midweek, apparently were holding him hostage.
All of these provocations appear to have originated from pro-Russian elements. But Ukrainian nationalist forces seem no less hostile to Jews.
Pushing back against Putin in Ukraine are nationalist parties such as Svoboda, which counts among its members neo-fascists and ardent anti-Semites.
Which leads us to that first big question: Despite condemnations from world leaders, including President Barack Obama, no one and nothing has cowed Putin.
Pro-Russian militants have seized numerous government buildings in Ukraine with impunity. Russian troops have massed on the Ukrainian border. American and NATO forces are mustering in Poland and across Eastern Europe.
A new Cold War seems to be on the horizon. Will the West risk all-out war with Russia over Ukraine? That seems unlikely, despite the bluster, leaving Ukraine to twist in the wind. How this will impact minorities, such as Jews, Tatars and Roma, no one knows. But unrest of this magnitude cannot bode well.
Israel and the world Jewish community must keep close watch and let our brothers and sisters in Ukraine know they are not alone.