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Hours before invasion, Israel broke neutrality – hinted at support of Ukraine as growing list of countries takes economic action against Russia

Australia, Canada, Japan join U.S. and EU allies to stand up against Putin, impose sanctions on Russia; Israel shares their concern on Ukraine but is walking a diplomatic tightrope

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gives a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, following their meeting at the Mariinsky Palace. (Photo: Irina Yakovleva/TASS via Reuters)

A growing list of western countries joined the United States and the European Union on Tuesday and imposed new sanctions on Russia – among them Australia, Canada and Japan, hours before Russia invaded Ukraine. 

The measures taken include financial bans against Russian entities, elite individuals, limiting financial dealings with the so-called independent states of Luhansk and Donetsk, prohibiting Russian bonds and purchase of Russian sovereign debt. 

The European Union said it will “extend restrictive measures to cover all the 351 members of the Russian State Duma, who voted on 15 February in favor of the appeal to President Putin to recognize the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk ”republics.”

“Moreover targeted restrictive measures will be imposed on additional 27 high profile individuals and entities, who have played a role in undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the EU said.

Germany specifically froze the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline project, which is supposed to import twice the amount of Russian gas through the $11-billion project.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki welcomed the move and said that U.S. President Joe Biden “made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward.”  

Biden told reporters that the United States will place Russian elites and two banks on the Specially Designated Nationals list, which freezes their U.S. assets, keeps them out of the American banking system and bans them from trading with Americans.

The U.S. sanctions also apply to Russia’s military bank and cuts off the Russian government from Western financing.

Israel’s reaction to the conflict so far has stopped short of opposing Russian action. However, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday expressing support of Ukraine: 

“Israel shares the concern of the international community regarding the steps taken in eastern Ukraine and the serious escalation in the situation. Israel hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked. 

“Israel supports the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine. Israel is concerned about the welfare of thousands of Israeli citizens living in Ukraine and the welfare of the large Jewish community in the country. Israel is ready and willing to immediately transfer humanitarian assistance to Ukraine according to its needs and is in contact with the Ukrainian authorities regarding the matter.

“Israel is continuing to engage in dialogue with its partners on ways to get the diplomatic efforts back on track.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has reiterated his request several times that no government ministers make public comments on the situation in Ukraine.

However, earlier this week Nachman Shai, Israel’s minister of Diaspora Affairs, stressed in an interview with a local radio station that “Israel’s first loyalty is to the United States.” He cautioned that urging 200,000 Ukrainian Jews to leave their country might be viewed as meddling in the country’s internal affairs. 

Lapid also said that Israel would naturally side with the U.S. in the conflict despite its interest to keep a good relationship with Russia. In a controversial remark that was met with backlash, he noted that Israel may consider joining sanctions against Russia.  

Despite hints this week that Israel is leaning in the Ukrainian direction mainly because of its ties with the U.S., the Jewish state is walking a tight rope with its relationship with Russia – especially since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. Russia supported Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime since the outset of the conflict in 2011, and four years later sent armed forces to Syrian territory.

But Israel and Syria have managed to maintain a status quo regarding the Russian presence in the region and Israel’s actions against Iranian targets in Syria. This has added a level of complexity to any statement or move that Israel would consider taking against Russia. 

Overall, throughout history, Russia has traditionally supported the Arab side in the Arab-Israeli conflict – especially in the petrodollar era and votes against Israel in the United Nations Security Council. In recent years, however, Moscow has maintained a good relationship with Israel, vowing to keep peace in the Golan Heights with regard to Israel’s security concerns. 

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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