The revelation and affirmation of Russian soldiers battling alongside pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine is not surprising. Ukraine and NATO have long complained and confirmed the existence of Russian forces on Ukrainian soil from Crimea to Donetsk to Luhansk and elsewhere. Russian forces have been planted in Ukraine for purposes of prolonging the eastern Ukraine conflict into the winter and to be used as point troops upon Putin's full invasion of Ukraine. Putin's pro-Russian rebels recent southern push to the sea in Ukraine, to lay way for easier Russian access to Ukraine, falls into the general plan to invade Ukraine.
The confirmation of Russian combat troops in Ukraine which Russia had earlier dismissed as a mistake under the illusion that the troops had somehow gotten lost, underscores how dupable Putin considers the west.
Putin's fallible gambit has been to pester Ukraine into the bitter cold of Europe's winter when gas demands reach optimal levels. Then, manipulating the European gas supply delivery system pipelines through Ukraine with disruptions to a cold and angry Europe, and fingering Kiev to blame for Europe's freezing homes, Putin would launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine under the cloak of security of the gas delivery system.
Putin has gambled that a unified Europe would become fractured by his actions and Russia's biggest European gas customers would remain impotent to sanction Russia anymore out of pure relief from the numbness off gas-less homes. Will Putin still continue on this path now that his planted soldiers have been revealed? Will the invasion occur within the next couple of weeks and last into winter when Putin could dangle gas supply as carrots to scale back some sanctions on Russia?
Putin's plan is fallible. The Ukrainian people have chosen to be free - to be free of Russia, Ukraine's resolve must be respected. Moreover, Europe has had close to a year to seek and to store emergency supplies of energy for the approaching winter. Furthermore, when NATO meets next week in Wales, the alliance should reaffirm its strengthened defense of the security and stability of eastern and central Europe. Putin's next moves are limited, but they could be deadly and costly.