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Donald Trump seemed to feel a special affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin when he was campaigning for a presidential office of his own. Among other things, he shares Mr. Putin's taste for bullying.

But now the bullies who lead two world powers are beginning to bump into each other, and Mr. Putin – the far more experienced political operative – is getting the better of Mr. Trump.

Less than a week after a supposedly friendly phone call between the two at the end of January, the pro-Russian forces in the southeast of Ukraine – the so-called Donetsk People's Republic – tripled their warfare against Ukrainian government forces.

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The almost unmistakable inference for the Moscow-backed rebels since Mr. Trump's inauguration is that the coast is clear: that either President Trump doesn't care, or he actually favours the rebels, or he doesn't know what to do next and can't come up with a good tweet about it.

One way or another, the pro-Russian rebels of the Donbass region – or their masters in Moscow – seem to have calculated well. The rebels have now increased their pressure on a Ukrainian port, Mariupol, on the Black Sea, which is vitally important to Ukraine.

Eventually, Mr. Trump will have to wake up and realize he looks weak on this front – surely not the image he wants to project to anyone. He will need a response.

Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for Mr. Trump who just happens to be a political operator in Ukraine, has concocted a bizarre plan for the region. He has proposed that Ukraine lease the Crimean Peninsula – which by any normal legal standard belongs to Ukraine – to Russia for 50 to 100 years, in exchange for a withdrawal of all of Russian military forces from the Donbass, the run-down, smokestack-economy region where the protracted conflict is taking place.

Of course, Crimea is already under the de facto control of Russia. If the "lease" were actually granted for 50 to 100 years, Russia would never leave again.

Mr. Trump needs to respond in a sensible and forceful manner. It's clear that Mr. Putin has decided to test the American President and see how far he can push. At the moment, it must feel as though he can do whatever he wants, and that is a danger to the whole world.