The increase in fighting in Eastern Ukraine is reaching levels not seen for some time. The pressure on the Putin regime is now significant. Essentially even a frozen conflict outcome will look like a defeat for the Kremlin, so the heat is on to find a solution that puts more of the region under Russian control and allows the illegal statelets that Russia has created a more sustainable future. To that end, the Russian state authorities are cracking down on their local satraps and imposing increasingly direct rule from Moscow- de facto annexation.
However, in an attempt to create either a viable entity, or better still, the breakout that gives Russia the land bridge to Crimea they still clearly seek, the Russian armed forces are facing stiffer resistance from the Ukrainians than they expected. This is a problem, because if they can not break though before October then the contrary winds against them will probably force a significant change in direction. Rumours swirl that Putin is under an ultimatum to solve the problem or face a major rebellion from his own side.
The West has failed to help the Ukrainian government directly- either by way of materiel or, of course financially. The pressure on Kyiv is relentless, and although some successes- including against the pervasive corruption of the post Soviet era- are being registered, the stability, indeed the survival of Democratic Ukraine is not yet assured. Putin knows that his enemies are consolidating- but only slowly- and is keen to make his move while Ukraine continues to be in financial and political as well as military difficulties.
For me the response of NATO should be even firmer- of course basing not merely equipment, but troops in NATO states in order to deter further Russian aggression. As for Ukraine, although the thinking has been to avoid involvement in order not to provoke Moscow, I think this is a mistake. A defeat for Moscow would be the end of the regime and the Putin years would be over pretty quickly as all of the disastrous decisions of the Kleptocrat are finally revealed.
The Shanghai gas deal, which was to be the corner stone of a new Russian alliance with China, is now a dead letter as the current gas price makes the whole project a giant white elephant. China has far bigger relations with Vietnam than it has with Russia and the attempts by Putin to gain Chinese support against the West have come to nothing. Putin is alone, and Russia is neither liked or even respected in Beijing.
Putin is sending much better troops into Ukraine, but even these, against increasingly disciplined and well trained Ukrainian troops may struggle. For the West: increasing and personalising the sanctions must be the next step. Where those on the black list attempt to visit, then they should be arrested and deported and their assets, including London property and bank accounts should be frozen until Russia withdraws its troops.
Over the coming weeks the future of Europe is being decided- the dice are in the air. For the future of democracy and peace, it is critical that the Kremlin is defeated. If it is not then a slide towards general war in the manner of the 1930s only becomes more likely- with nuclear consequences.