Photo Credit: Hillel Maeir / TPS
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko visits the Knesset on Dec. 23 2015.

A possibly imminent invasion by Russian troops into Ukrainian territory has the world on edge as leaders and experts try to guess Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next steps and prevent what could become the largest military action in Europe since World War II. For Israel, the focus and concern lies with Ukraine’s Jewish community in its Donbas region, where Jews have lived relatively free and safe. Now, their lives could be in mortal danger as they will be caught in the crossfire if war breaks out between Ukraine and Russia.

The Israeli government last Sunday convened a number of top officials to discuss contingency plans on the immediate absorption of Ukrainian Jews should the urgent need arise. Jewish organizations estimate that some 75,000 Ukrainians living in the eastern part of the country—many of them elderly—are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which allows immigration to those who have one Jewish grandparent.

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Mark Levin, executive vice chairman and CEO of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, told JNS he is “following the situation closely.”

He said he hopes not to see a military incursion, but acknowledged that the decision “all comes down to one person.”

So sure are Ukrainians that Russia will launch an attack that even civilians are taking up arms to protect their homeland.

Western nations, however, are still trying to determine whether Putin is serious or not.

While U.S. President Joe Biden sent a strong signal to Russia threatening that he would unleash sanctions against it should it invade Ukraine, he seemed less sure about predicting the future during a press conference in the White House back on Jan. 19. At first, Biden appeared to demonstrate his belief that Russia will cross the Ukrainian border, saying, “My guess is he will move in,” but later seemed to waver when he said “I don’t think he’s made up his mind yet.”

If Putin does decide to invade Ukraine, Biden warned that “he’ll pay a serious and dear price for it.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman seemed more certain about her prediction, saying on Jan. 26 at the Yalta European Strategy event via teleconference that the United States believes Putin remains poised to move against Ukraine sometime in the coming three weeks.

“I have no idea whether he’s made the ultimate decision, but we certainly see every indication that he is going to use military force sometime perhaps [between] now and the middle of February,” she said.

At a news conference at the Pentagon on Jan. 28, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also acknowledged the high probability of a Russian offensive, noting that more than 100,000 of its troops—and supplies—are positioned at the Ukrainian border, including ground, naval and air forces, special operators and personnel trained in electronic warfare, cyber warfare, command and control, and logistics.

Israel has a good working relationship with both Ukraine and Russia, and so due to the sensitivity of the issue and not wanting to offend either party or be seen as taking sides, officials are treading carefully.

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