Over the medium term (3-5 years), Russia almost certainly will seek to establish a land bridge under its control between Crimea and the Russia/Ukraine border on the east of Donetsk province. There is a need to focus on Putin’s strategic goals in Ukraine rather than the detail of ephemeral proposals under this or that deal intended by him as a diplomatic smokescreen. One of Russia’s independent researchers, Dmitry Trenin, reported in 2011 that at the time of the Orange Revolution and Ukrainian interest in membership of NATO (around 2005 and following), “some not entirely academic quarters in Moscow played with the idea of a major geopolitical redesign of the northern Black Sea area, under which southern Ukraine, from the Crimea to Odessa, would secede from Kiev and form a Moscow-friendly buffer state. In April 2014, Putin said that the southern and eastern provinces of Ukraine used to be Russian (and were called “Novorossiya” or “New Russia”). He said that they were unwisely transferred by the communists to Kiev’s control in 1920, and that a new sovereignty solution for these regions had to be worked out.

Another hint of the grander strategic plan in play came with the report from Novosti that the rebel Donetsk authorities will hold a summit of “unrecognized governments” in February or March this year. While territories such as the Basque region of Spain, Flanders in Belgium, Venice in Italy, and even Texas in the USA were mentioned, the one invitee to watch will be Transdnistr, a breakaway region of Moldova aligned with Russia. This territory is on the western border of Ukraine’s Odessa province and would be the last building block of a new political order for the former Novorossiya, stretching all the way to Odessa.