Ukraine Advances, Putin Stays Silent

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Interior Ministry Adviser Says Armed Rebel Fighters Unable to Leave City.

As Ukraine laid plans for a siege of pro-Russia separatists’ remaining bastions Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin faced a critical decision on whether to answer rebel pleas for military help—a move that could determine what he gains or loses following a monthslong conflict that has roiled global powers.

Russia has encouraged and supported the separatists during their insurgency, but has been unusually quiet since the Ukrainian military forced them to retreat from their stronghold in Slovyansk on Saturday.

Mr. Putin has publicly ignored increasingly desperate appeals by militants to send in thousands of regular troops he has massed on the border—a force that would likely brush aside Ukraine’s growing but relatively inexperienced forces.

His choice boils down to coming to the aid of the separatists, keeping Ukraine off-balance and bolstering his nationalist credentials at home, or consolidating his gains so far—chiefly Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, which Russia annexed in March—and averting the threat of tougher Western sanctions that could do major damage to the Russian economy, as well as the risk of further international isolation.

U.S. officials said it was unclear why Mr. Putin hadn’t responded more forcefully to Ukraine’s advance, and said that the option to send in troops may remain on the table.

“That is the million dollar question,” said a U.S. official.

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