Although President Donald Trump has not followed through on a reported plan that would have allowed Russia to shed its sanctions and win Ukrainian land through rigged elections, his administration's unclear policies toward Russia have encouraged that nation to become more aggressive in its occupation of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on fully separating the Donbas, two areas of Ukraine that border Russia, by gradually integrating them into Russia, according to a report by Bloomberg. One senior Russian diplomat explained that the Trump administration seemed "totally uninterested" in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, instead focusing more on North Korea and Syria, and that this had resulted in mixed signals from Washington.
Konstantin Zatulin, a senior lawmaker in the United Russia party that rules the country, told Bloomberg over the phone that "a step has been taken toward detaching Donbas — there’s no doubt about that." He claimed that Ukraine was at fault for this by blockading the region, an obstacle that Russia is trying to get around by having Russian Railways reduce shipping rates for coal and iron ore to the region, which heavily relies on the metal industry for its economy. Putin's Ukraine policy adviser Alexei Chesnakov and another senior government official in Russia both confirmed Zatulin's description of the Putin regime's plans, even though Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed the argument was "absurd" and "naive" on Thursday.
Further complicating matters is the news that ExxonMobil, the oil corporation of which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used to be CEO, applied to the Treasury Department for a waiver from American sanctions against Russia, according to a report by the The Wall Street Journal. These efforts were undertaken more assertively after Tillerson became Secretary of State. If granted, this would allow ExxonMobil to pick up where it left off in a joint venture it had with Rosneft, a Russian-state owned oil corporation. In particular, ExxonMobil would like to drill with Rosneft in areas that are barred by the current sanctions.
While the geopolitical quagmire in Russia and Ukraine worsens due to the Trump administration's unclear policy stances, Russian journalist Nikolai Andrushchenko died on Wednesday after suffering a severe beating from unknown assailants, according to a report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He had been unconscious since the assault on March 9 and never regained consciousness. Denis Usov, the editor of the newspaper that Andrushchenko founded (Novy Petersburg), claims that the attacks were motivated by articles Andrushchenko had written criticizing corruption in St. Petersburg.