By Brian Whitmore    April 12, 2016

Separatist leaders in Georgia’s South Ossetia region have announced that they will hold a referendum on joining Russia in the coming months.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, says that Russian troops stationed in Moldova’s pro-Moscow breakaway Transdniester region can’t pull out of the region unless they are allowed to pass through Ukraine.

And in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, Moscow is pretending to be a peacemaker, while at the same time continuing to arm both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

And then, of course, there’s always Donbas, where the OSCE is reporting a significant increase in cease-fire violations amid fears that Moscow is preparing for a spring offensive.

Despite speculation in the Russian media that Vladimir Putin is preparing to turn inward and focus on domestic affairs, the Kremlin leader is clearly keeping his options open abroad.

And this is because given Russia’s economic difficulties, it will be very difficult for Putin’s team of spin doctors to put together a compelling domestic narrative for the upcoming political season.

So he’s being careful to maintain a ready-made menu of foreign crises.

Putin has absolutely no domestic achievements to boast of since he returned to the Kremlin four years ago.

He owes his sky-high popularity and his very legitimacy to success in foreign affairs — and he knows it.

And for this reason, we should be keeping our eyes wide open for the next manufactured crisis.