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Ukraine Is Finally Ramping up Its "Anti-Terrorist" Mission in the East

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ukraine is “scaling up” its anti-terrorist operation in the east Friday as Russia has begun new military exercises on the Ukrainian border. Russian forces came within one kilometer of the Ukrainian border this week but did not cross, Ukraine’s Interim Defense Minister said.

The conflict between Ukrainian forces and occupying pro-Russian militants escalated on Thursday in the eastern city of Slovyansk. Ukrainian forces overtook the city, killing at least five “Kremlin-backed rebels,” Kyiv Post’s Christopher Miller reports. A Ukrainian military helicopter on the ground in Kramatorsk exploded after it was hit by a grenade on Friday.

Russia announced the new military exercises on Thursday, prompting Ukraine to demand that Russia account for “the goals and other details of the exercises within 48 hours.” Meanwhile, Russian President Putin warned Ukraine that any “break” with Russia would cripple Ukraine’s defense sector, Reuters reports. “Amid an acute state crisis, the Ukrainian defence sector is in practice left without state support. Two-thirds of its subcontractors are in Russia," Putin said.

Russia is refusing to participate in a meeting today with representatives from the U.S., EU, and Ukraine on the subject of enforcing the Geneva Agreements. Speaking before his cabinet on Friday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said, “The world has not yet forgotten World War Two, but Russia already wants to start World War Three."

Vice reporter Simon Ostrovsky was released from captivity in Donetsk on Thursday, where he had been held for four nights. “My release was as unexplained as my capture,” Ostrovsky reports. “After I was released, I found out that the leader of the pro-Russia forces in Sloviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, told journalists that we were being held as 'bargaining chips' in negotiations with the interim authorities in Kiev.” Several others detained with Ostrovsky remain in captivity. As fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, so too have abuses against the press.

An OSCE mission has reportedly gone missing in Donetsk, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said Friday. “They could be captured by terrorists,” spokesman Eugene Perebiynis told reporters. A new report from the Kyiv Post suggests that a bus carrying OSCE observers was seized by separatists in Slovyansk.

Ukrainian City Councilman Volodymyr Rybak was abducted and killed in the eastern city of Horlivka, WSJ’s Paul Sonne reports. “In the hours before his abduction late last week, the 42-year-old father of two had tried to restore the Ukrainian flag at Horlivka's city hall, leading to a nasty scuffle with masked men who had replaced the national symbol with a pro-Russia regional flag.”

The United States is still preparing a third round of sanctions against Russia, which have thus far been held up by the EU’s reluctance to put further economic pressure on one of its greatest trading partners. The U.S. “would much prefer to act in concert with the EU rather than on its own,” Reuters reports. Obama discussed the issue of sanctions in a conference call with EU leaders on Friday, and according to the White House readout of the call, “The leaders agreed to work closely together, and through the G7 and European Union, to coordinate additional steps to impose costs on Russia.”

Russia’s Gazprombank is readying for the inevitable hit. Russian Internet giant Yandex is suffering from the Kremlin’s new attempts to control online activity. Russia’s central bank raised interest rates today for the second time in as many months, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. “What we’re seeing now is a pretty permanent exodus from Russia, and it will be very difficult for the Russian central bank to fight it,” Lars Christensen, chief emerging-markets analyst at Danske Bank in Copenhagen,” told Bloomberg News. That said, it seems to be business as usual for the Russian gas industry

At a press conference in Japan yesterday, President Obama said that “if, once again, Russia fails to abide by both the spirit and the letter of what was discussed in Geneva, that there will be further consequences and we will ramp up further sanctions.

Ukraine’s interim government is viewed as illegitimate by 70 percent of the population of Donetsk and Luhansk, according to a poll of 3,000 Ukrainians in the southern and eastern regions. “Although prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has said he expects his ‘kamikaze’ government to be short-lived, it is not, technically, ‘interim,’" The Economist writes. According to the same poll, 15 percent of respondents are in favor of joining Russia, and 77 percent look disfavorably upon the armed separatists in the east. 

Alina Polyakova dissects three possibilities for what a new Ukraine might look like in Foreign Affairs

The International Criminal Court has begun a preliminary investigation of crimes committed by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia’s medal of honor awarded to “heroes” of the liberation of Crimea is inscribed with the message: “For the return of Crimea 20.02.14 - 03.18.14.” As Will Cathcart writes in The Daily Beast, “Putting the date of the beginning of the liberation as February 20 may not mean that Russia intended to annex Crimea by sending snipers to Kiev while Yanukovych was still president, but what it does indicate is that one of the bloodiest days in recent Ukrainian history is being celebrated, deliberately or not, on a medal marking the beginning of Crimea’s 'liberation.'” 

A water shortage in Crimea threatens to destroy the peninsula’s harvest this year. Russia has accused Ukraine of deliberately decreasing the water supply to the newly Russian territory. 

A group of Russian politicians want to investigate Mikhail Gorbachev for his role in the fall of the Soviet Union. Sean Guillory on why Russia is suffering from a type of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Senator John McCain compared Putin to Hitler on Charlie Rose Wednesday night, and no one noticed. 

One in two Russians believes that Putin has returned their country to its former status as a great world power. Tikhon Dzyadko explains how Putin is promoting World War II propaganda to increase patriotism.  

Meanwhile, in Kiev: