Pro-Russian separatists have also reported decreased interest in their struggle from Moscow, and claim to be suffering an acute lack of funding.

Energy supplies cut off following negotiations

According to Volodymyr Demchyshyn, Ukraine’s Energy Minister, Russia has cut the supply of electricity to the rebel-controlled regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.

“We held fairly productive negotiations with the Russians,” he said, according to Interfax-Ukraine. “We have been able to switch off four supply lines that ran from Russia to territories outside our control.”

Demchyshyn says that the cables were previously supplying $15 million of electricity per month, but “that money was not being paid.”

His comments did not draw an immediate response from the Kremlin. Russian officials had also promised to supply natural gas to Ukrainian rebels at no charge, but there have been no recent updates on the status of planned extensions to existing pipelines.

Figures from the Ukrainian government believe that the rebels may be surviving on small quantities of smuggled gas brought into the country through recently constructed, smaller pipes that cross into Ukraine from Russia.

New negotiations could bring end to conflict

Energy developments provide an interesting window into the Russian mindset concerning the conflict in Ukraine. Moscow’s true feelings are sure to be exposed at another round of talks due to begin on Tuesday in Minsk, with the aim of bringing the conflict to an end after 15 months of fighting and the loss of over 6,500 lives.

The talks will be mediated by officials from the European Union, and will see Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s personal envoy engage in negotiations with a Russian negotiator. Representatives of the separatists will also be present, but are not officially part of the talks.

Both Putin’s lack of references to Novorossiya and the alleged cutting of electricity supplies would appear to suggest that Russian interest in the conflict is waning. The upcoming talks will reveal to quite what extent that is true, and may reveal the reasons behind the apparent decline in interest at the Kremlin.

After damaging international trust in his government by repeatedly denying Russian involvement in the conflict, it seems strange that Putin would so readily abandon the rebels. Perhaps Western sanctions imposed on Russia due to the conflict in Ukraine are finally having an effect, or Putin is pivoting to focus on other areas such as a strategic alliance with China.

Putin has consistently proven himself to be an unpredictable adversary in the theater of international relations, and nothing should be a cause of great surprise any more.