A Ukrainian serviceman touches his forehead outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Feb. 18, 2015. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)
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Vladimir Putin has called Europe's bluff over east Ukraine as Russia-backed separatists seize a strategic town in defiance of a cease-fire brokered by France and Germany.Allowing the rebels to capture the rail hub without a strong response to what the West calls a clear violation of the peace deal agreed on Feb. 12 could look like appeasement of Putin.The West appears to be giving Putin the benefit of the doubt – hoping he will wind down fighting after the town is taken.At peace talks in Minsk last week, Putin argued that Debaltseve was behind the frontline in east Ukraine – and therefore rebel territory – but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko did not accept this, diplomats said.In return for backing down on this point, Putin secured an agreement that the cease-fire should start 60 hours after the deal was reached rather than the 48 hours that had been planned, allowing the rebels an additional 12 hours to take Debaltseve.
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