Just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin made headlines for reminding the West that Russia has nukes — he’s now calling for "statehood" talks in eastern Ukraine.
In an interview Sunday with Russian broadcaster Channel One, Putin said negotiations on statehood for southeast Ukraine must begin immediately.
The interview came a day after European leaders met in Brussels to level tougher sanctions against Russia.
Dismissing the summit and the sanctions, Putin accused European leaders of backing a coup d’etat in Kiev.
If Russian troops are in fact present in Ukraine as reported, it would be a violation of the Budapest Memorandum signed by Russia and Ukraine in 1994.
The Memorandum saw that in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, Russia, the U.S. and the U.K. would respect Ukraine's borders and not threaten the use of force.
While Putin has called for a cease-fire between Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatist forces before, bringing up the issue of making eastern Ukraine an independent state has analysts wondering what the ex-KGB Putin is up to.
A writer for The Washington Post says taking this stance may mean Putin is getting bolder. "If it reflects a major shift in Kremlin policy, it would be a direct challenge not only to Kiev but also to Western European nations and the United States."
Or an analyst for BBC in Moscow says calling for statehood could just be a bargaining chip, the Kremlin’s way of putting pressure on Ukraine to start negotiating with the rebels.
That idea lines up with comments from one Russia spokesman, who The New York Times quotes as saying Putin is “seeking inclusive negotiations that would provide greater autonomy for the country’s southeast as it remained a part of the country.”
In other words, Putin seems to want Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to negotiate directly with the separatists — who he refers to as terrorists. So how likely is that?
Not very, according to one Ukrainian analyst. Speaking with NBC, he likened Poroshenko negotiating with separatists to George W. Bush attempting to negotiate in person with Osama bin Laden.
"Never. It would be political suicide. To recognize the rebels you would have to wipe today’s Ukraine off the map and replace it with some new, non-existent Ukraine.”
As for Russian involvement in supplying the rebels, an NPR reporter recently suggested that improved uniforms, weapons, and armored vehicles makes it clear someone is supplying them.
For now, the conflict continues. The Ukrainian military lost control of the city of Novoazovsk to the rebels this weekend, and is mustering defense for the city of Mariupol, which it fears is next.
This video contains images from Getty Images.