To be sure, this has been Mr. Putin’s war from the beginning. After Victor Yanukovych fled Kyiv in late February and the parliament appointed an acting government in his place, it was Mr. Putin’s order that sent “little green men”—professional soldiers in Russian-style combat fatigues but without identifying insignia—to seize the Crimean peninsula, the most blatant land grab in Europe since World War II.
The ragtag battalion was hurriedly put together from a group of civilians including a piano teacher, bulldozer operator, steel worker and bodybuilding instructor as pro-Russian rebels advanced on Mariupol over the past week.
Renewed shelling of the city on Thursday, despite hopes that a ceasefire might be agreed on Friday, meant Ukrainian troops continued to organise defences in case of an all-out assault by pro-Russian separatists Kiev says are backed by Moscow.
A day before a planned ceasefire in east Ukraine, Russia-backed rebels edged closer to Mariupol, threatening a final push against the strategic port city, which the Ukrainians have promised to defend at all costs.
It was unclear whether the rebel advance was merely a show of force, or the prelude to a proper attack on the city, but as night fell, shelling was audible from the city centre.
“Ukraine exists,” was the understated but undeniable election slogan of the (failed) 2010 Yushchenko presidential campaign. Crimea, Ukraine’s most restive and most beautiful area, was finally settling in for the long haul—better to be a strange, anomalous, mostly Russian-speaking Ukrainian appendage than to be inside a paranoid, authoritarian Russia. That the revolution against Yanukovych, a triumph of human fortitude, should result in the loss of territorial integrity is sad but comprehensible. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and here is this one.
Gazprom’s natural gas production fell 19.6 percent last month compared with the same period last year, as the state-owned behemoth struggles in the face of increasing competition at home and declining exports that are due in part to a breakdown in the political relationship between Moscow and Kiev.
“The open aggression from the Russian side against sovereign countries means the there is an attack not only against Ukraine, it is an attack against the peace in Europe,” Grybauskaitė said in Tallinn on Wednesday.
Weekly update from the OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk, 28 August until 08:00, 3 September 2014:
http://www.osce.org/om/123151 – 9/3/2014.