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Russia and Ukraine: Pressure points loom

Ukrainian soldiers drive in the direction of the embattled town of Debaltseve on February 16, 2015 in Artemivsk, Ukraine.
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Ukrainian soldiers drive in the direction of the embattled town of Debaltseve on February 16, 2015 in Artemivsk, Ukraine.

The battle to shape Ukraine and Russia's future is far from over, with further key events expected later this week.

"This crisis still does not show much evidence of moderating, just moving into new and different phases," according to Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank.

Here, we take a look at what's driving events forward.


Military activity

There have been ominous signals of future military activity, with more Russian troops and military equipment crossing Ukraine's border, according to the U.S., and the arrival of additional NATO tanks in the Baltics. This comes ahead of Friday's deadline for Ukraine's parliament to grant separatist-held areas a special status under the Minsk ceasefire agreement.

Russia’s economy

Andrey Kostin, chief executive of VTB, Russia's second-largest bank, told CNBC the low oil price, sanctions imposed on the country following its incursions into Crimea, and the structure of Russia's economy were to blame for its economic problems.

The country reported inflation of 16.7 percent in February and is expected to fall into recession this year.

"I don't feel the situation is as bad as in 2008. My major problem is the high interest rate," Andrey Kostin, chief executive of VTB, Russia's second-largest bank, told CNBC.

Russia's key interest rate is currently at 15 percent, and Kostin called for "at least" a 100-basis-point cut soon.

Analysts at both Barclays and HSBC forecast a 100 basis point cut at the next meeting of the central bank on Friday, despite little sign that inflation is slowing.

"Funding has become very expensive. If the central bank managed to bring the interest rate down, it would improve the situation, but it will take some time (to bring down the rate)," Kostin added.

However, he said the number of Russian companies defaulting will be relatively low, owing to government support.



Despite the falling oil price, which should be an incentive to cut production, Russian crude oil exports are expected to rise this year, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Wednesday morning.

"I met a number of leading Russian oil people and they were talking about possible agreements with non-OPEC countries and reducing oil production, so this contradicts that a little bit," Kostin said.

Questions remain whether this will add to pressure on the Russian government to reduce activity, or give it more incentive to act aggressively.


Ukraine’s economy

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) board Wednesday signed off on a $17.5 billion extended fund facility (EFF) to help prop up Ukraine's struggling economy. This is part of a total support package which is expected to reach $40 billion over the next four years, if the Ukrainian government is successful in its reform plans. However, with two of its regions still economically crippled by conflict, these may be difficult to follow through.

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle