As Kremlin Escalates, the War Costs Ukraine $6 Million-Plus Daily, Atlantic Council’s Herbst Says

A “substantial number” of Russian Federation special forces troops led this week’s capture of the Donetsk airport amid what appears to be Russia’s biggest direct military offensive in Ukraine since last summer. The offensive, by thousands of Russian troops, appears aimed at least in part at forcing a re-negotiation of the September cease-fire agreement, which has proven an obstacle for the Kremlin in its key goal: constraining Ukraine’s pursuit of closer ties with Europe and the West.

After months of intense, high-explosive combat amid the ruins of southeastern Ukraine’s main airport, Russian special forces commandos this week led the attacks that killed or drove back the Ukrainian troops and national guardsmen that both sides had dubbed “cyborgs” for their tenacious, defense of the airport’s main buildings, according to Atlantic Council analyst John Herbst. The Russian special forces are fighting at the airport “in substantial numbers,” said Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who returned this week from a talks with Ukrainian and Western officials in Kyiv and Brussels.

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The Kremlin-loyalist Russian TV station LifeNews told the story January 17 that the Lugansk People's Republic, the mini-state propped up by Russia in Ukraine's Lugansk province, is establishing an air force. The station played just a minute of video showing men in winter military uniforms rolling a 1960s-era two-seat jet trainer—marked with the red star of the Soviet air force—out of an aviation museum in Lugansk.

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Intensified Combat and a Wave of Bombings May Be Kremlin Pushing Ukraine to Accept New Talks

Russia reportedly has sent two battalions of troops into Ukraine's Donbas region to strengthen its forces there amid a week-long spike in combat. At a minimum, Russia's injection of new regular troops, tanks and rockets is a warning to Ukraine's government not to attempt a significant advance against the Russian-sponsored "republics" in southeastern Ukraine.

But the renewed invasion and escalated fighting—plus a wave of bombings and sabotage attacks around Ukraine—also may be Russian pressure on Kyiv (and its international allies) to accept a disadvantageous round of negotiations that the Kremlin has been seeking. Effectively, the Russian government wants a better deal than the truce it agreed to in September—an agreement that now appears unlikely to help it achieve the domination it seeks over Ukraine's government. The estimated 600 or more Russian troops reported entering Ukraine yesterday are too few to signal a new Russian offensive that remains a real possibility in the war.

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The War at Donetsk’s Airport is On—And Peace Talks Planned for This Week Are Off

The intensified battle between Ukraine and Russia for the airport in Donetsk seems likely to be a fight over this month’s military message in the Donbas war.

Russia’s army veterans, fighting as mercenaries, form the bulk of the anti-Ukraine force in Donbas. And the government of President Vladimir Putin wants to inflict on Ukraine as defeat big and visible enough to send a message of Ukraine’s increased vulnerability. That would put pressure on the government in Kyiv to accept an unfavorable new set of negotiations with Russia—a round of talks the Kremlin had hoped to begin today in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.

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Paratrooper, Pilot, Parliamentarian, She Pressures Moscow with Hunger Strike in Prison

In seven months since a Russian-backed militia in southeastern Ukraine captured Nadiya Savchenko, the Ukrainian paratrooper and pilot has become one of her country’s biggest icons in its war against the Russian invasion. Her captors spirited her illegally into Russia, held her in isolation, then accused her of helping to kill Russian journalists. At home, Savchenko, already celebrated as Ukraine’s first female military pilot, was nominated and elected to parliament, an office she accepted from her Moscow prison cell.

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Author of New Book on Ukraine Conflict Urges Careful Priorities for Kyiv

Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Rajan Menon, chairman of political science at the City College of New York, has just co-authored a new book, Conflict in Ukraine, with Eugene Rumer of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The book, to be published in March by MIT Press, occasioned a discussion this week between Menon and Ukraine specialist Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University.

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Slowly Dribbling Out Help May Cost More in the End, George Soros and Economist Tim Ash Say

Ukraine’s finances are now “beyond life support,” says economist Tim Ash as its foreign reserves plunged to $7.5 billion last month, less than half of what the International Monetary Fund considers critical to a country’s financial health. The economy shriveled by 7.5 percent last year, electricity production is down in mid-winter, and the country needs immediate help to avoid an economic implosion.

Amid this, Ukrainians might be forgiven for thinking that their international allies seem to be standing with their eyes just slightly averted, patting their pockets distractedly as though in search of their misplaced wallets.

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Economics Have Stalled Putin, But He Often Answers Reversals With Military Threats

In the Ukraine crisis, soft economic power last month trumped hard military power for the first time. The threatened meltdown of the Russian economy could push Russian President Vladimir Putin to dial down his undeclared war on Ukraine in return for some easing of Western financial sanctions. Still, that outcome is not assured. . . .

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Amid Ukraine-Russia Crisis, New Decisions Will Define America’s ‘Force Posture’ for Years to Come

Almost a year after Russia’s invasions of Ukraine, the US government will roll out a series of decisions in the next month that will play a big role in shaping how the United States and its transatlantic allies respond in the long term. From Moscow to Kyiv to Berlin and Brussels, the United States’ allied, partners and antagonists will be watching these key signals of the Obama administration’s commitment to European security.

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Kyiv's Government Is Failing to Act Against Some Volunteer Defense Units Now Acting Like Outlaws, Adrian Karatnycky Writes

As Ukraine’s new parliament and cabinet are tackling corruption and the country's fiscal crisis with the energy of an unprecedented new crop of civic activists, pro-democracy activists and skilled technocrats, a new threat is arising: outlaw-style threats and violence by armed groups that were formed last year to support the country’s self-defense against Russia’s invasion into the Donbas region.

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