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 Financial Times: Putin is trying to create a new, economically viable puppet state outside of Ukraine having made the calculation that Kyiv is lost to Moscow’s influence for good

Putin is no longer trying to carve out a semi-autonomous region within Ukraine but to create a new, economically viable puppet state outside of it.

According to the article by Sam Jones and Roman Olearchyk published in Financial Times, An escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine in recent days has once again left western governments and military strategists trying to understand the strategy of pro-Russian rebels and their supporters in the Kremlin, Censor.NET reports.

Fighting since the turn of the year has been one of the bloodiest episodes in the 10-month conflict after Russian-backed forces launched what military experts say amounts to a big offensive across several fronts against the Ukrainian army. The Minsk peace protocol, signed last September, is all but in tatters.

More than 5,000 Ukrainians have now been killed and 11,000 maimed or seriously injured, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power told the Security Council on Monday - part of a chorus of condemnation from Nato allies orchestrated after evidence of the scale of the fresh fighting poured in over the weekend.

Hundreds of pieces of military equipment have crossed the border from Russia since the new year, according to the Nato intelligence community. A series of bilateral high-level intelligence briefings between Nato nations and the Ukrainian internal security service, the SBU, over the past week has shared evidence of powerful rocket launchers, tanks, armoured vehicles and electronic warfare equipment being transferred to separatists. There are now more Russian-operated high-tech and long-range anti-aircraft missile systems in Ukraine than there were at the time of the shooting down of MH17.

Read also: OSCE witnessed incursion of six Russian T-80 tanks to Ukraine

If Russia's on-the-ground activities are well-known, however, its intentions remain harder to read.

Western intelligence officials are increasingly alarmed by the developments and suggest President Vladimir Putin's tactical approach - opportunistic, pragmatic and designed to keep options for escalation and de-escalation open - appears to now to be giving way to a more fixed set of goals. It is a view long-held in Kiev.

"Today we are facing full-scale military attacks focused on capturing strategic cities vital to Ukraine's economy and expanding separatist territory as a whole," says Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko, who served as deputy head of Ukraine's general staff for military operations in 2006-10. Lt Gen Romanenko says there are four apparent main focuses of conflict.

Relentless shelling on the northern flank of rebel held Luhansk aims to capture the towns of Stanytsia Luhanska and Shchastia, where a power plant that supplies the region with electricity is based.

Farther west on the same front, separatists are trying to encircle Ukrainian troops bunkered down in Debaltseve, a railway hub that is crucial to controlling the flow of coal from mines scattered around the region.

See also: Russian-terrorist convoy destroyed near Donetsk airport. PHOTOS

An offensive to retake Donetsk airport from Ukrainian soldiers has meanwhile robbed Kyiv of a key stronghold and paved the way for a separatist expansion north. Nearby Avdiivka, a suburb of Donetsk, is home to the country's largest coke producer. The raw material is used in producing steel, Ukraine's top export and source of hard currency inflows.

And finally there is the Azov sea port of Mariupol - another key trade hub and most importantly, home to two of Ukraine's three largest steel mills.

Given such targets, many western intelligence analysts are coming to the conclusion that Mr Putin is no longer trying to carve out a semi-autonomous region within Ukraine or gain geopolitical bargaining chips but - having made the calculation that Kyiv is lost to Moscow's influence for good - he is trying to create a new, economically viable puppet state outside of it.

"Taking Crimea was a retaliation for the ousting of Yanukovich. But that took 2m pro-Russian votes out of Ukraine so Mr Putin's next strategy was to carve out influence in enclaves in eastern Ukraine in order to blackmail Kyiv and wield some kind of federal constitutional veto. That has failed too," says Jonathan Eyal, international director and a Russia expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

See also: Russian military equipment base spotted in Luhansk with "humanitarian aid" tankers side by side with Grad systems. PHOTOS

"So now we are moving to him establishing a more permanent situation: a Mickey Mouse Russian-controlled state. It's the Abkhazia situation and the Transnistria situation. And like those it is something that could stay like that for 20 years."

"[It] is certainly the indication," concurs one senior figure in the Nato intelligence community, speaking on condition of strict anonymity. "Not a separate enclave any more. Not a constitutional settlement. Something totally separate from Kyiv and with more direct control."

In Moscow, the official says, the voices now being listened to in Mr Putin's camarilla of advisers are those whose talk of re-creating "Novorossia" were not so long ago being dismissed as fantastical and bizarre by many in the west.

"Any peace plan," he says, "is dead in the water."

 
 
 
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