Putin turns up the heat on Ukraine – again

Although seldom noticed by anyone west of Warsaw, there has been a war going on in Europe for almost five years now. It began in early 2014 with a Russian secret operation in mid-February that annexed Crimea and soon spread to overt Kremlin military intervention in eastern Ukraine as well. Serious fighting followed, and that conflict remains unfrozen and deadly.

While there has been no sustained combat in eastern Ukraine in years, neither is that front quiet. Kyiv has never accepted the Russian theft of Crimea and the “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk, Kremlin-run pseudo-states that serve as bases for Russian military units on Ukrainian soil. Those units regularly shell Ukrainian positions, because they can. Casualties are commonplace – a few at a time, on a sufficiently low-boil that the West makes little fuss – but hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been killed or wounded since 2015. Twelve were lost to Russian shelling, with five of them dead, on one bad day this August.

As is his wont, Russian President Vladimir Putin occasionally turns up the heat on Ukraine, because he can. The latest aggressive Kremlin provocation came on Sunday, when Russian Coast Guard vessels in the Black Sea attacked Ukrainian navy boats in the strategically vital Kerch Strait, which divides Crimea from Russia. For months, tensions have been rising around the narrow waterway, particularly since Moscow opened a bridge across it in May. This is the sole land connection between Russia and its Crimean reconquest and is therefore of preeminent importance to the Kremlin.

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