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Russian President Vladimir Putin (front L) takes lighted candles from a priest during an Orthodox Easter service in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow April 20, 2014. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

RIA Novosti/Reuters

The left hand apparently does not know what the right hand is doing – or is pretending not to. Russian diplomacy on eastern Ukraine is inconsistent with Russia's military stance, just across the border and probably inside Ukraine, too.

There is accumulating evidence that Russian special-operations officers are directing and supplying local pro-Russian militants in Ukraine, who have occupied government buildings in about a dozen towns and cities in Donetsk province.

Last Thursday, however, Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine itself issued a joint statement in Geneva saying, among other things, that illegal armed groups must disarm and vacate the buildings and streets they have illegally seized in eastern Ukraine.

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So far, nothing of the sort has happened, and those groups are digging in. Mercifully, few, if any of them, are seriously pretending to govern; local civil servants are still going to work, much as if business as usual were continuing.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia is at least observing more caution than he did in his swift annexation of Crimea, after a referendum conducted at lightning speed.

It is probably true that much the same "green men" – Russian special-ops officers – who were at work in Crimea are now trying to weaken the Ukrainian government. But the strategy has evidently changed.

The Geneva statement, just barely an agreement, is at best a truce. There have already been sporadic violent episodes. This is a state of affairs in which a local armed skirmish could set off a civil war in Ukraine, or even a regional war.

Mr. Putin's ultimate goal is a mystery. Annexation of some part of Ukraine? Decentralization under the euphemistic name of "federalization"? Partition, so that eastern Ukraine becomes a satellite state of Russia called Novorossiya, or New Russia, an obsolete name for the region that was evoked by Mr. Putin last week?

The Geneva agreement bears little resemblance to events on the ground. The Western powers need to keep up the pressure and hold Vladimir Putin to account.

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