Russian President Vladimir Putin has come out fighting, boxed into a corner by a financial crisis and the West’s refusal to drop sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine.
After a relative lull in the conflict in east Ukraine since a ceasefire deal was reached last September, separatists have launched a new offensive. Kiev says the rebels are supported by 9,000 Russian soldiers.
Moscow has denied sending in troops and weapons, blamed the renewed violence on Kiev and regretted the deaths of civilians, but done nothing to distance itself from the rebel cause.
Whether or not the separatists are acting on Moscow’s orders, battlefield setbacks for Ukrainian government forces may be seen by Putin as offering hope of negotiating from a position of strength over the conflict.
The former KGB officer may think he has no choice — showing any sign of weakness could be politically disastrous for him in Russia.