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Vladimir Putin’s enablers are complicit in this war

An attack on a Kyiv children's hospital will galvanise Nato leaders. But Russia is not fighting this war alone.

By Katie Stallard

Vladimir Putin’s apologists like to reduce his war on Ukraine to bloodless geopolitical terms. “This all comes down to Nato expansion,” they will argue. “You have to understand what George H.W. Bush did or did not say to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 at the end of the Cold War.” “Really, it was the West that provoked Russia to act.” 

But then you look at the reality: on 8 July, Russia bombed the largest children’s hospital in Ukraine.  

A two-storey wing of the Okhmatdyt hospital in Kyiv was demolished, trapping children and medical workers. “We hear voices, people are under the rubble,” said the city’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko. Among the departments hit was the intensive care unit, the operating theatres and the oncology department. Pictures from the aftermath showed pale, frightened children – including cancer patients still hooked up to their medical machines – being carried from building. Doctors and nurses in blood-stained white coats treated wounded survivors in the street.  

“My child is terrified,” the mother of a four-year-old boy who was recovering from spinal surgery, told Associated Press reporters outside the hospital. “This shouldn’t be happening, it’s a children’s hospital.” 

It was not even the only hospital that was hit that day. Another medical centre in Kyiv and at least 50 civilian buildings were hit in multiple cities across the country in a barrage of missile attacks. This included hypersonic missiles, according to the Ukrainian security services. (Russia denied it had deliberately targeted civilian areas and blamed Ukrainian air defences.) 

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Three days earlier, Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, was in Moscow where he held talks with Putin on a supposed “peace deal”. Then, as the Russian missiles slammed into Kyiv on Monday, Orban reappeared in Beijing where he met Xi Jinping on his self-described “peace mission”, which seems to be more about repeating Kremlin talking points and normalising Putin’s aggression than it does any realistic prospect of achieving peace.  

Meanwhile, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, arrived in Moscow on Monday for his first state visit since the start of the war. If the leader of the world’s largest democracy felt any shame about dining with Putin following this latest, devastating attack, it didn’t show. Some leaders might have considered cutting short their visit and flying home to protest their host bombing a children’s hospital, but not Modi. 

Putin bears direct responsibility for the horrors he is inflicting on Ukraine. But we should be clear that he is not able to sustain this aggression on his own. North Korea and Iran are allegedly supplying crucial weaponry, but major countries like India and China are keeping the Russian economy afloat through their purchases of oil, gas, and military hardware.  

This latest attack will galvanise the Nato officials arriving in Washington today for the three-day leaders’ summit. It is difficult to imagine a more harrowing incident to stiffen spines and focus minds. Undoubtedly there will be more strongly worded statements and pledges of support for Ukraine. But that is not enough. It is time to be clear about how Russia is able to continue fighting this war, and the extent to which Putin’s enablers are also complicit.    

[See also: Russia, North Korea, and the axis of autocracies]

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