Russian president Vladimir Putin appears to be warning that pro-Russian forces control eastern Ukraine now, and that Kyiv must stay out. Getting the message, Ukraine halted a push against rebels out of fear of imminent Russian invasion.
Today Putin ordered his troops on Ukraine’s border to begin exercise drills and threatened unspecified repercussions against Kyiv’s leaders for their military move into eastern Ukraine. That move was the deployment of Ukrainian troops yesterday after the discovery of the body of an apparently tortured local Ukrainian politician. In addition, numerous journalists and activists have gone missing in east Ukraine, including Vice correspondent Simon Ostrovsky, who is being held by the rebels.
But the main trigger for Putin’s remarks may have been Ukraine’s killing of up to five separatist fighters near the town of Slovyansk. A presumably Russian-backed separatist movement, the Donetsk People’s Republic, called it the start of a “civil war.” By this afternoon Ukrainian forces had pulled back from Mariupol and Slovyansk, according to BBC reporters are on the ground. But the Russian threat hangs over the situation.
“It is just a punitive operation and it will of course incur consequences for the people making these decisions, including (an effect) on our interstate relations,” Putin said.
The West is making its own threats. Visiting Japan, US president Barak Obama said additional financial sanctions against Russia are “teed up” should Putin not lower the tensions. In Poland, 600 US troops arrived as Obama attempts to assuage fears that the West lacks the will to counter Putin. But none of this appears as yet to be giving Putin pause.