"After weeks of elevated violence in the separatist Donbas, Russian president Vladimir Putin has accused Ukrainian forces of armed incursions and plotting "terrorist" acts in Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. While a border shootout seemingly did occur, its circumstances are murky. Ominously, Russia appears to have exaggerated the incident as a pretext for renewed military threats.
"For now, it seems unlikely Mr. Putin would really want to risk fresh conflict, with all its dangers of broader escalation. After all, in his geopolitical stand-off with the West, some things seem to be moving in his favor. Turkey, after its failed coup, is again veering towards Moscow. In the U.S., Mr. Putin has a Republican presidential candidate - albeit a currently faltering one - who has praised him and suggested Moscow should be allowed to keep Crimea. The EU has been rattled by the Brexit vote. With parliamentary elections looming next month, however, Mr. Putin might have decided some military theatrics were required to distract domestic attention from a stagnant economy and cast himself once again as the nation's irreplaceable defender," the publication notes.
The authors are concerned about Mr. Putin's effective withdrawal from the Normandy format talks which produced last year's Minsk accord on a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.
"The Russian leader may be seeking to extract concessions, such as promises of relief from western sanctions, to bring him back to the negotiating table. He may seek to draw the U.S., in the dying days of the Obama administration, more formally into the Ukraine talks, in a way he has long craved," they note.
"Western leaders are confronting multiple challenges, from Islamist terrorism and the migrant crisis to rising nationalism. But the Ukraine situation remains the biggest threat to European peace since 1945. As long as Mr. Putin's provocations continue, they must be ready to preserve unity and leave no doubt that further aggression against his neighbor is not in his interests," Finacial Times concludes.