A cease-fire negotiated in Minsk, capital of Belarus, between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine went into effect Friday. Fighting has raged through the summer in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, industrial hotbeds near the border with Russia, leading to thousands of deaths. "The highest value is human life, and we must do everything possible to stop the bloodshed and put an end to suffering," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement.
Throughout the crisis, Moscow has been accused by officials in Kiev and the West of arming and abetting the rebels. Last week, NATO presented satellite imagery claiming that Russia had sent in its own forces into the country.
It's unclear how long this cease-fire will last. But in the brief quiet, it's worth noting how Russia is establishing new facts on the ground. President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his dreams of a greater Russia, wrapped up in a Soviet nostalgia that is gaining traction among Russians.
Earlier this year, Russia annexed Crimea in a swift takeover involving paramilitary forces stationed with its Black Sea Fleet. It then staged a referendum it had no chance of losing, given that the majority of the peninsula's population is pro-Russian.
Crimea joined a series of post-Soviet "gray areas" scattered around Europe where local breakaway governments have turned into de facto Russian client states. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, bolstered in their separatist ambitions following Georgia's war with Russia in 2008, exist beyond the authority of Tblisi. The sliver of land that is Transnistria, a breakaway republic on the Ukrainian border with Moldova, is perpetually fetishized by Western media as the last corner of the Soviet Union.
If the rebel-held territory in the eastern Ukrainian regions Donetsk and Luhansk remain autonomous or in separatist hands, it would mark Moscow's most considerable gains yet. This is Ukraine's industrial heartland and a key wing of the mythic project of Novorossiya, a Russian imperialist vision for its domains by the Black Sea that dates back to the 18th century.
The question now, Putin's critics contend, is where will he look next?