|Home page Politics|
Vladimir Putin is seizing on mixed signals from the U.S. to quietly tighten Russia’s grip on two rebel regions of Ukraine, burying hopes for a European-brokered peace deal and relief from sanctions anytime soon.
While the Kremlin continues to publicly back the accord that Germany and France oversaw in 2015, Putin’s real strategy in Ukraine is to fully separate the two border areas known as the Donbas through incremental integration with Russia, three people close to the leadership in Moscow said. He has no plans to recognize or annex the territories, they said.
Russia has been moving gradually, using a blockade by Ukrainian activists as political cover to take over key economic links with the separatist zones. Last week, Russian Railways slashed rates for shipping coal and iron ore to points near the rebel areas, where the metals industry provides most jobs. That will allow Russia to replace Ukrainian supplies halted by Kiev and ensure that steel plants continue to function, according to two people in the industry.
“A step has been taken toward detaching Donbas -- there’s no doubt about that,” a senior lawmaker in the ruling United Russia party, Konstantin Zatulin, said by phone from Moscow. Like other officials, Zatulin blamed Ukraine for forcing Moscow’s hand through the blockade, an allegation Kiev rejects.
Zatulin’s assessment of the Kremlin’s plans was confirmed by Alexei Chesnakov, a former Kremlin staffer who now advises Putin’s administration on Ukraine policy, and a senior government official who asked not to be identified.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov Thursday dismissed the idea that Russia is integrating the regions, calling it “absurd” and “naive” on a conference call with reporters.
2017.04.20 / 14:48