Russia's hand puppets are attempting to seize the crossroads town of Debaltseve, between Donetsk and Luhansk:
Russian-backed rebels advanced to encircle a Ukrainian army garrison town on Monday in a new offensive that has again unleashed all-out war after a five-month ceasefire and brought threats of new Western sanctions against Moscow.
I assume that there'd be more Ukrainian loss of territory if Russian maneuver units were taking part. So far, Russian involvement may be limited to artillery, intelligence, command and control, logistics, and special forces.
Perhaps the slaughter of civilians--whether deliberate or inadvertent--by a secessionist rocket barrage at Mariupol was just a diversion before the main, limited-objective effort at Debaltseve.
Or maybe this assault is meant to strengthen the right flank of a subsequent drive on Mariupol and even points further west.
For those committed to predicting what Russia will do on a rational actor model, Putin is not being helpful:
In a new charge, he spoke of a "NATO foreign legion" fighting alongside government troops.
"There are official divisions of the armed forces but to a great extent there are so-called voluntary nationalist battalions. This is not even an army, it's a foreign legion. In this case it's a foreign NATO legion," Putin said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed the accusation as "nonsense". "There is no NATO legion," he told reporters. "The foreign forces in Ukraine are Russian."
Russia is their own worst enemy in this crisis, doing more harm to themselves than any fanciful NATO plot.
Remember what Germany's Merkel said of Putin early in the crisis (the link is in an update):
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.
If you weren't sure of the veracity of that little reportorial nugget, all doubt should've vanished after Putin's press conference today.
Slouching in a fancy chair in front of a dozen reporters, Putin squirmed and rambled. And rambled and rambled. He was a rainbow of emotion: Serious! angry! bemused! flustered! confused! So confused.
Combined with reports that Putin is shrinking his circle of advisers to a loyal few, what awful decisions might he make inside that paranoid bubble of yes-men?
Oh yeah. Pucker factor definitely rising again.