/>WASHINGTON - Moscow's orchestrated demonstrations in eastern Ukraine,
with Russian troops massing near the border, is the latest provocation in
Vladimir Putin's plans to seize more territory from a neighboring country.
For weeks, Putin has been playing a skillful, diplomatic cat-and-
mouse game with President Obama and Europe's major powers. Publicly,
Kremlin officials said Russia had no intentions of seizing more Ukrainian
territory, as Putin plotted a further territorial takeover in this fragile
Eastern European nation.
The former KGB agent must be marveling at how easy it was to seize
the Crimean peninsula without any serious recriminations. Obama and
Secretary of State John Kerry warned of serious "costs" if Putin were to
dare take control of Crimea. But in the end, their sanctions were merely
taps on the wrist that haven't hurt Russia or its economy.
Instead, Obama was seen as weak in the tense standoff and his
sanctions impotent. Putin, however, was seen as fully in command of the
situation, pulling off the audacious land grab without so much as a
scratch on him.
Like Obama, European leaders were caught flat footed throughout the
lightening annexation of Crimea's territory, unable to follow through on
their hollow threats.
That sent a message to the autocratic Russian leader that he could
drive deeper into the Ukraine and probably get away with his dream of
rebuilding a Greater Russia, one country at a time.
Putin made his first provocative moves this weekend in a closely
coordinated plan with wealthy Russian-speaking power brokers in the
Ukraine who bankrolled the protests.
These paid, pro-Russian demonstrators, who want to become part of the
Russian empire again, took control of government buildings on Sunday in
three eastern Ukraine cities close to the Russian border.
Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov charged Sunday that Putin and
ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, whose political base and home town of
Donetsk is in one of the targeted cities, were conspiring to fuel the
"Putin and Yanukovych ordered and paid for the latest wave of
separatist disorder in the east of the country," Avakov said in a
statement. "The people who have gathered are not many but they are very
Yanukovych's longtime political ally is Rinat Akhmetov, one of
Ukraine's richest men who controls a coal empire in Donetsk. Ukrainian
news agencies reported that Akhmetov was "bankrolling the separatist
agitators in that city."