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Ukraine Heating Up Again
Putin’s Hand on the Geopolitical Thermostat

Fighting continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, with the current focus of hostilities a town of 46,000 that lies on the strategically significant road between Luhansk and Donetsk. The BBC:

The Ukrainian military said nine of its soldiers had been killed in the past 24 hours as fighting raged at several points in eastern Ukraine.

The military, quoted by Ukraine’s Unian news agency, said there had been heavy rebel mortar and artillery fire near the town of Debaltseve and the village of Luhanskaya.

EU leaders for their part stiffened their spines in the face of all the developments, issuing a joint declaration urging their foreign ministers to consider increasing sanctions on Russia at their meeting on Thursday.

At the same time, the Ukrainian parliament passed a resolution declaring Russia an “aggressor state” and defining the leaders of the rebel para-states in Donetsk and Luhansk as “terrorist organizations”—a further sign that the Minsk agreement, which made gestures towards autonomy for the breakaway regions, is a dead letter.

What is currently underway appears to be an attempt by the Russian-backed rebels to consolidate gains and make Donbas a more viable entity—Debaltseve will have fall for this to happen, and Mariupol may very well be next. Smart analysts disagree as to whether this is the start of a push for a land bridge to Crimea (or even to Transdnistria), or whether this is Putin carving out a defensible zone of permanent unrest which would keep Ukraine indefinitely hobbled and on the precipice of crisis, and thus ineligible for membership in NATO.

Indeed, Putin himself may not have decided how far to go yet, and is just keeping his options open, both in Ukraine as a theater of operations and in the broader geopolitical context of Europe. It is after all always advantageous to be able to control the political temperature—to produce a crisis whenever you want one.

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