At first sight it seemed an improbable appointment: a man who had served twice as president of neighbouring Georgia, parachuted in as governor of a single region of Ukraine.
The western military alliance is reviving cold war-style hotlines to the Kremlin and the Russian general staff in Moscow to reduce the chances of escalating military confrontation and miscalculation as the Ukraine conflict fuels east-west tension.
But all bridges have not yet been burned, analysts say.
Washington and Brussels have imposed sanctions as part of a sea change in ties with Moscow, while a defiant Vladimir Putin has rejected accusations of Russian involvement in the fighting.
On a recent spring morning, an important visitor watched Russian-backed rebels conduct infantry maneuvers on the sunlit training grounds outside this town in eastern Ukraine.
He told a meeting of his internal intelligence service, the FSB, on Thursday (26 March), that “they are using their entire arsenal of means for the so-called deterrence of Russia: from attempts at political isolation and economic pressure, to large-scale information war and special services operations”.
For evidence of how much President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has jangled nerves and provoked anxiety across Eastern Europe, look no farther than the drill held the other day by the Shooters Association.
Western arguments about how to counter President Vladimir Putin's support for east Ukraine separatists are leading to clashes over the question of how deeply involved Russia's military is in the conflict.
Four Ukrainian soldiers kneel in a line as a rebel army commander yells in their faces and slaps one, hard. In Toronto, a gathering of Ukrainian-Canadians watches the scene unfold in a video from January presented by a volunteer activist to impress upon them the severity of this war.