mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Eastern Ukraine Heating Up
Will Putin Push Back?

The temperature is again rising on the border between Ukraine and Russia, where Ukrainian military forces started their concerted push into the city of Luhansk:

The Russian news agency Interfax cited an unnamed rebel in Luhansk as saying the Ukrainian forces had begun to storm the city from an area called Alexandrovka. The rebel said the attack included not only artillery fire, but also dozens of tanks and two fighter helicopters. It was impossible to verify the report. Three residents interviewed on Sunday said they had seen neither tanks nor helicopters.

The Interpreter is running unverified footage this morning of rebels shooting down a Ukrainian military transport plane somewhere near Luhansk. Ukrainian sources have confirmed that the plane has gone missing.

All this is on the heels of an incident this weekend when a Ukrainian shell supposedly fell across the border into Russia, killing a Russian citizen there. Russia’s Vladimir Putin ominously intoned that the incident could have “irreversible consequences.”

The problem with military escalations is that they can end up acquiring a logic all their own. Though Putin seems to have calculated that further military intervention in eastern Ukraine at this moment would be counterproductive to his ends (see Lilia Shevtsova’s comprehensive essay from last week for more on that), that calculus could quickly change. After all, Putin is still walking a tightrope at home, having set himself up as a heroic defender of the Russian people. Should violence continue to spill over into Russia, or if the standoff with the rebels continues for too long, Putin may well find that he has no option but to up the ante.

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