President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has accused Russia of wanting to precipitate conflict in the Middle East to undermine international support for Ukraine, in comments that reflect concern that the war between Israel and the militant group Hamas could distract attention from Kyiv’s fight.
In remarks released on social media on Monday night, Mr. Zelensky, who has repeatedly expressed support for Israel, also appeared to seek to rally support for his country at a time when Ukraine is facing stiff Russian resistance on the battlefield amid signs of wavering support among a few of its allies.
Some Republican members of the U.S. Congress have argued against continued support for the government in Kyiv, while Slovakia recently elected a political party that expressed support for Russia during its campaign. At the same time, Poland’s objections to the movement of Ukraine’s agricultural exports through its territory have cooled the relationship between the two allies.
“Russia is interested in triggering a war in the Middle East, so that a new source of pain and suffering could undermine world unity, increase discord and contradictions, and thus help Russia destroy freedom in Europe,” Mr. Zelensky said in the speech released overnight. Russia on Monday expressed concern about events in Israel but its response has been muted.
Mr. Zelensky, who was in Bucharest on Tuesday for talks with President Klaus Iohannis of neighboring Romania, said that the Kremlin aimed to sow division and the war being fought in Gaza and Israel served that aim.
Mr. Zelensky also drew a line between Russia and Iran, both of which, he said, supported Hamas. “We see Russian propagandists gloating,” he said. “We see Moscow’s Iranian friends openly supporting those who attacked Israel.”
The government in Tehran has denied involvement in the attack by Hamas. Iran has supplied Moscow with exploding drones, hundreds of which have been launched at Ukraine in deadly attacks against military and civilian targets.
In the latest example, Ukraine’s Air Force said on Tuesday that it had shot down 27 drones over southern Ukraine overnight that had been launched from Crimea, a region annexed by Russia in 2014. But nine other drones got through, it said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app without detailing what was hit.
Distant explosions could be heard from the center of the port city of Odesa on the Black Sea around midnight, and tracer bullets streaked through the sky as Ukrainian forces responded to the aerial barrage with antiaircraft fire. The head of the regional military administration, Oleh Kiper, later said that five drones had hit the village of Dachne, just northwest of Odesa. He gave no further details.
More than 19 months into Russia’s full-scale invasion, the conflict in Israel and Gaza has shifted international attention from Ukraine at a delicate moment. A Ukrainian counteroffensive, begun in June to reclaim territory in the south and east, has registered only limited gains.
That relative lack of progress, which comes despite tens of billions of dollars of military aid funneled to Kyiv by its allies, reflects a broader stasis on the front line this year despite heavy fighting and substantial casualties on both sides.
Mykyta Poturaiev, a senior Ukrainian lawmaker and a member of Mr. Zelensky’s political party, said in an interview that the Israel-Gaza war posed a risk if leaders in Washington and Europe begin to ask whether it was better to prioritize supporting Israel or Ukraine.
Since Saturday, Mr. Zelensky has spoken daily in support of Israel, adding his voice to international condemnation of the Hamas attack. Mr. Zelensky is Jewish and Ukraine has a significant Jewish minority, but his comments were consistent with the Ukrainian government’s long-term drive to set its war in the context of a broader struggle for freedom.
Mr. Zelensky also hinted that Russia’s invasion and the war in Gaza could forecast an even greater threat.
“All of this is a much greater threat than the world currently perceives. The world wars of the past started with local aggressions,” he said. He called for international unity, adding: “We know how to counter this threat.
Also on Tuesday, Finland reported that a natural gas pipeline connecting it with Estonia had been damaged, possibly in a deliberate act. A leak was found in the pipe in Finnish territory on Tuesday after a drop in pressure was detected on Sunday.
Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said in the news conference that the “damage discovered can’t have emerged as a result of normal pipe operation or gas pressure fluctuation. It’s probable that the damage is a result of outside operation.”
The situation recalls one of the enduring mysteries of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. In September 2020, the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines connecting Russia to Western Europe were ruptured in an attack.
In March, The Times reported that U.S. officials said that intelligence suggested a pro-Ukrainian group was behind the act.
Finland and Estonia said Tuesday that they were investigating the new leak.
Yurii Shyvala contributed reporting from Kyiv; Oleksandr Chubko from Odesa, Ukraine; and Johanna Lemola from Helsinki, Finland.