Barack Obama is in Estonia before the NATO summit in Wales intending to pressure Vladimir Putin to back off in Ukraine. The rhetoric will be strong – not least about protecting the Baltics under NATO’s umbrella.
But with zero chance of western military action in Ukraine the hope is that economic pain via sanctions will bring Moscow to heel. Existing sanctions are clearly hurting the economy – the rouble has plumbed record lows as capital flees or shuns the country – but that hasn’t stopped Putin so far.
He seems intent not on taking Ukraine over but keeping the rebels sufficiently well armed and supported to keep Kiev off balance and unstable. If that is the intention it has certainly succeeded.
Western countries accuse Moscow of sending armoured columns of troops into Ukraine, where the momentum in a five-month war shifted last week in favour of pro-Russian rebels. They were virtually on their knees but are now resurgent and said last night they were on the point of retaking the strategically important Donetsk airport.
Putin’s spokesman has just said the Russian president has spoken to his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko by telephone and the two leaders largely agreed on what needs to be done to resolve the crisis. No further details were forthcoming.