Intense combat suddenly erupts in eastern Ukraine. Russian-backed rebels -- using Kremlin-supplied heavy artillery, mortars and machine guns -- launch a series of attacks on Ukrainian military positions. Other rebels raid neighborhoods or probe Ukrainian defenses around the Black Sea port of Mariupol.
Then the violence stops. All appears to be quiet on Europe's eastern front. Ukraine contends Russian intelligence agents planned the attacks and Russian Special Forces officers directed them. The Kremlin denies supplying or financing the rebels and announces it has convinced the rebels to respect the ceasefire agreement with Ukraine. Russian propagandists promise peace, soothing the headline consciousness of U.S. media. As a result, a war in Europe involving a nuclear power draws scant American attention.
This calculated cycle guides Russia's creeping war of aggression in Ukraine: a burst of planned, aggressive violence followed by planned, well-propagandized dormancy.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Unless Ukraine starts to launch counter-attacks to inflict losses on the Russians and their hand puppet local allies, eventually the pressure of constant attacks will lead to a portion of the Ukrainian front--perhaps around Mariupol--to collapse and give Russia an important territorial gain.
Ukraine must regain the initiative in the Donbas rather than just sit and take Russian aggression turned on and off to suit Russia.
And I still think that Ukraine should prepare escalation options to threaten Russia's conquest of Crimea that would involve anything from planting minefields off of Crimea's ports (after ordering the ports "closed" since this is still Ukrainian territory despite Russia's illegal annexation), to a "Hezbollah" (but not in the war crimes sense of shooting from civilian areas and shooting at civilians) strategy of bombarding Russian troops holding the "neck" of Crimea, to volleys of ballistic missiles to bombard the Russian bases and warships at Sevastopol to overwhelm Russian missile defenses to inflict real losses on Russia (which should explain Russia's protests about Ukraine's missile tests near Crimea at the beginning of December), to a ground invasion of Crimea.
UPDATE: Russia can't afford this kind of running sore. Unless the talking in Minsk saves Russia, how do they afford it?
Reviving the Cold War has cost Russia a lot. Mainly because of operations in Syria Russian defense spending rose to $48 billion (4.2 percent of GDP) in 2015. That fell (to $45 billion, four percent of GDP) in 2016. But the government has been forced to cut defense spending sharply in 2017 and 2018 because of continued low oil prices and sanctions. In 2017 spending will be down to about $38 billion (3.2 percent of GDP) and $34 billion in 2018 (2.9 percent of GDP). After that, it is uncertain how the situation change.
Don't save Russia. Help Ukraine save themselves.