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Russia's support for the election held by separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk – key cities in Ukraine's Donbas region – indicates that the Kremlin has decided to create another semi-permanent "mini-Cold War," this time in rebel-controlled areas of Russia's most important neighboring country.By establishing a frozen conflict in Donbas, Russia has jammed a thorn into Ukraine's side and, in the short run, complicated relations between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and the country's prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk. But it has also guaranteed that, in the longer run, the Ukrainian state will be reconsolidated around anti-Russian sentiment and policies – meaning that Russia will be unable to normalize its relations with Ukraine for decades.What is the geopolitical payoff for Russia in turning an unstable Donbas into an enduring fixture of its southwestern hinterland?Russia's state-owned media, together with domestic nationalists, have fomented a frenzied public atmosphere that deprives Russia's policy toward Ukraine of tactical flexibility.At the same time, Putin presumably wants to show the West that its policies toward Russia, including tough economic sanctions, will not work. In short, Russia's actions in Donbas may be more symbolic and opportunistic than strategic.
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