Last weekend, for the first time, President Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of "statehood" for eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are fighting against government forces.
While the Kremlin said Putin's comments were misinterpreted, "the choice of words were not by chance," said Fyodor Lukyanov, chief editor of Russia in Global Affairs.
Russia had previously only called for the region -- where Russian-speakers predominate -- to have more authority in a federal system.
Even that was a non-starter, but now that the rebels are pushing Ukrainian forces back, Moscow "is acting in a different manner," said Lukyanov.
Signs have multiplied in the past week that Russian forces are directly involved in the conflict, helping rebel forces stage a rapid counter-offensive that has thrown back government troops.
NATO says Russia has over a 1,000 soldiers deployed in Ukraine, a charge Moscow denies despite reports of secret funerals near military bases and wounded clogging up hospitals.
"Russia is saying to Kiev: 'We proposed a deal (on federalisation) and you didn't want it. Now, the offer has changed," said Lukyanov.
The offer is a familiar one.
In a bid to support Rusisan-speakers and maintain its influence in the region during the 1990s Moscow supported separatist movements in the Transdniestr region of Moldova and the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russia even stationed peacekeepers or troops in those areas which had unilaterally declared independence, and briefly fought a war with Georgia in 2008 after Tbilisi sent its soldiers into South Ossetia.
03 September 2014
The Russians are following a familiar 'playbook'. And why not - it works!
Posted by Brant at 03:28