NATO’s secretary general joined the chorus of concern coming out of the U.S. State Department about reports of increased Russian activity in eastern Ukraine, including the strengthening of air defenses and battlefield training that involves the use of drones. “What we see both in eastern Ukraine and on the border to eastern Ukraine gives reason for great concern,” said Jens Stoltenberg, “Russia is violating the Minsk agreements, it is undermining and violating the ceasefire and it provides the separatists with the capacity to launch a new big offensive with very little warning time.”
Annoyed Russian officials denied the claims, and said that instead it was the United States that was breaching the Minsk agreements. The 300 U.S. advisers sent to Ukraine were not operating outside Lviv as alleged, a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry said, but rather were preparing Ukrainian troops for “assault operations in urban areas” near Mariupol.
As Stoltenberg put it, “We are not certain about [the rebels’] intentions but we know about their capabilities.” The same could be said of Russia. Putin has proved he’s capable of setting off explosions in Ukraine at will via his separatist proxies, while he maintains plausible deniability and accuses his opponents, Western or Ukrainian, of being the real provocateurs. Though his intentions here are anyone’s guess, he seems to have the lit match in his hand.