Ever since Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev, Ukraine for Russia as a result of the pro-European Union protests which made the continuation of his pro-Russian administration untenable, Vladimir Putin has been one step ahead of the West. In fact, I would surmise that the Russian president has been five or six steps ahead of the obtuse and arrogant U.S. president and other leaders in the "international community." During the last few months, the world has witnessed an escalation of the crisis, not a move towards reconciliation. This is exactly what Mr. Putin seeks. While he talks resolution, his small units of special operations experts have been ginning up unrest and violence.
In the war strategy of old, a country would muster as many troops as it could against its enemy, rush across its border, and aim to capture its capital city. But Vladimir Putin is on the path to taking more of Ukraine by employing a massive special ops apparatus, not the brute force of an army rushing across the border. His goal is to slice off bits of Ukraine's sovereignty in the fatty Russian-speaking East first, and slowing move his way into the meatier portions, and finally go right for the bone of the capital.
And while Mr. Putin's special ops teams are fomenting unrest in the East, as they did in Crimea, the Russian president is denying any connection to the unrest, saying it has been locally grown. In fact, he looks like a democrat, supporting the Eastern Ukrainian people's right to have special elections to become autonomous and ostensibly join the Russian federation. He has slowly and brilliantly been making the case all along that while Russian troops have not been involved to this point, that could change if his fellow Russians living in Ukraine are threatened.
The apparent violence over this past weekend at a checkpoint in Slavyansk, Ukraine is being called a "staged event" by the new government in Kiev. But the event, whether staged or not, is the new kind of warfare being waged in the 21st century. Putin is building his case for further Russian involvement, not based on any facts-on-the-ground that preexisted Russian involvement, but were a direct result of it. Russian speaking persons were never in any danger after the ouster of Yanukovych. But Vladimir Putin has been saying they are, and incidents like the one in Slavyansk will be used to justify his "protection" being employed for the benefit of such people.
The world can expect a much more aggressive Russia in the next three years while Mr. Putin has the benefit of an enervated West, made so by the "leading from behind" United States president. But the Russian aggression will more likely take the form of the passive-aggressive strategy that the Russian president has employed in Ukraine, not full-force military invasion. It is my humble opinion that by the time Barack Obama leaves office in January of 2017, Eastern Ukraine, and perhaps even more than that, will be an accepted part of the Russian federation. Yes, Vladimir Putin is going to miss Barack Obama when his term is ended. But not to fear Mr. Putin, there is always the hope for a Hillary Clinton presidency and her big, red reset button.