Crossroads of a Crisis: The storm no one saw coming

LISTEN: 'Crossroads of a Crisis', part 1

Declining Western support for Ukraine. A massacre in Israel followed by war in Gaza. The disarray in the U.S. Congress. In his new series “Crossroads of a Crisis,” WTOP’s National Security Correspondent J.J. Green’s delves into the three weeks in October when the world changed dramatically. And while many have been distracted by the chaos, Russian spies have launched a secret espionage operation in the U.S.

Valentina Polishak, 67, a headmistress of four schools near the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, started to cry almost immediately as she sat down with journalists at Carita’s House in eastern Poland in late August.

She wanted to tell the story of the day Russian troops rolled into her town in early March 2022.

“They shot at cars and houses,” she said through a translator.

Polishak said soldiers raped women and girls who ventured out to search for water, and they simply executed men because they were men.

Hundreds were killed in the early days of a war that later galvanized global support for Ukrainians.

Even before the start of the conflict, which has now claimed the lives of more than 500,000 Ukrainians, Russian troops and countless foreign nationals, Ukraine was in the hearts, minds and soon after the pocketbooks of dozens of powerful allies around the world.

Early intelligence provided by the U.S. and other NATO countries derailed the Kremlin’s planned one-week “special operation” to seize control of the country and “decapitate” its leadership.

It never happened.

And almost 600 days into the war, Ukraine was on a slow but promising course to eventually defeat Russia.

But on the 587th day of the war, that promise began slipping away.

Shortly before 5 p.m. on Oct. 3, Rep. Steve Womack, who presided over the full U.S. House of Representatives session that day, slammed the gavel down after announcing, “The office of Speaker of the House of the United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant.”

The explosive, but not surprising ouster of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House because of a campaign by a fellow Republican, guaranteed that the wheels of the U.S. government would grind to an immediate halt.

The deep dysfunction in Congress and inside the Republican Party had spilled out onto the world stage.

Still many, including Ukrainian leaders, hoped it might only temporarily delay much needed U.S. funding for the war with Russia.

But four days later, a cataclysmic geopolitical event happened, which threatened to slam the door on that funding indefinitely.

Massacre in Israel

At 7:45 a.m., local time on Oct. 7, the Russian army attacked the village of Bilenke in Zaporizhzhia.

The 591st day of that war was starting off sadly in the same pattern. A woman was killed and two people were injured.

But at the very same time, some 2,000 miles almost due south of there, a massacre was shaking the region and later the world to its core.

The terrorist group Hamas launched a horrific attack in southern Israel.

“It was a military invasion by a terrorist group and then a terrorist operation slaughtering civilians,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director with the Counter Extremism Project.

Ultimately, more than 1,400 Israelis and others were butchered. More than 3,000 people were injured and more than 200 people — ranging in age from small children to 85 years old — were kidnapped.

“The scenes were horrible. You wouldn’t even believe seeing the evidence,” said Aviva Raz Schechter, a senior ambassador in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She said the images of “children with their hands tied, being burned, heads been chopped off” are impossible to get out of their heads.

That massacre, which took the world’s breath away and its eyes off Ukraine, also threatened Ukraine’s financial support.

In the coming days after Israel responded, thousands of Palestinians inside Gaza were killed in airstrikes and a ground invasion.

“There are lots of things going on around the world that we have to address, and we will,” said newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana. But he added, “Right now, what’s happening in Israel takes the immediate attention.”

Coming up next: Ukraine loses its global momentum in its fight against Russia

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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