Western officials fear that Russia wants to create an “expanded and economically viable” enclave in eastern Ukraine that could eventually declare itself independent, the Guardian reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has pursued that policy in Georgia and Moldova, both of which have separatist regions backed by Moscow. Russia has recognized the independence of the Georgian regions but not of Transdniester in Moldova, although it maintains troops there and acts as Transdniester’s patron.
Civilian casualties in Ukraine continue to escalate amid what The Independent calls a “dangerous shift in tempo” in fighting on the ground. Reinforced rebel forces have surrounded government troops in Debaltsevo, a town in between the rebel-held cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, according to the newspaper.
Aid and human rights groups have decried the use of explosive devices in civilian areas. Human Rights Watch said, “rebel forces were probably responsible for two recent unlawful attacks with unguided rockets in eastern Ukraine, which together killed at least 41 civilians, including two children, and wounded more than 100 civilians.”
In an emailed statement, Michel Masson, head of the International Committee for the Red Cross delegation to Ukraine, said, “People are hiding in basements for days on end and those who dare to venture out to collect basic aid risk being wounded or killed.”
In an examination of how the West has misread Putin, the Financial Times says the Russian president alternates between “friendly gesture and menacing glance” but has not deviated from his desire to reassert his country’s influence and keep Ukraine within Russia’s orbit, while Western leaders are left puzzled as to how he can achieve these objectives.
The failure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin to reach agreement when they held face-to-face meetings in Australia in November left a Ukraine cease-fire signed two months in tatters, according to the FT.
“The fate of Ukraine, an industrialized and agriculturally rich country of 45 million people straddling east and west, hangs in the balance,” the FT says.
Meanwhile, an adviser to U.S. President Barack Obama played down recent reports that Washington is considering sending defensive weapons to Kyiv. Deputy White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told CNN on 2 February that economic sanctions remain the best way to influence Russia.
Russia ‘moving to create an independent state’ in eastern Ukraine