LONDON— Following Russia's annexation of Crimea, the West is trying to work out what the Kremlin's next move will be. Both the United States and Britain have expressed concern about Russia's troop buildup on the Ukrainian border. President Vladimir Putin's strategy has become an increasingly tense geopolitical chess game between East and West.
Russian troops are trying to destabilize Ukraine, claim U.S. and British officials.
But Russia's foreign minister says that is not case.
"We are deeply convinced and nobody has so far challenged this conviction, that the situation cannot be calmed down and changed into national dialogue if the Ukrainian authorities go on ignoring the interests of the southeastern regions of the country," said Sergei Lavrov.
Moscow now has thousands of troops massed along its border with eastern Ukraine. And although it insists it has no intention of invading, Moscow says it reserves the right to defend ethnic Russians in the country.
Analyst Irina Tymczyszyn says Russia has a very clear mandate.
“The Russian strategy appears to be to restore the Soviet Union as it was before the collapse, before 1991, and possibly more. I think Putin considers himself to be the collector of Russian lands, and by Russia he unfortunately means countries like the Ukraine, because Russia has not recognized to date Ukraine as a separate state," said Tymczyszyn.
In Kyiv, a meeting between the parliament and communist deputies ended in a scuffle, highlighting the high level of tensions within the country’s borders.
"Pre-planned and coordinated provocation against our country has started. It was organized by the intelligence services in the Russian Federation," said Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov.
But the head of the Communist Party in Ukraine countered that comment, blaming inaction by Ukrainian officials who they say ignored the needs of the people.
"The most important thing is to answer the question what exactly the Ukrainian authorities did in order to prevent these events in the asset," said Petro Symonenko. "Let’s start with analyzing the demands of the citizens - who remain the people of Ukraine - living in Luhansk, Donetsk and other regions they came to the streets with, and what rights they want to defend?"
In the flashpoint town of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, residents also remain split.
"We demand a referendum. And the gang which is now meeting at the parliament should not impose their opinion on us," said a protester.
"The situation we have in Kharkiv now is being escalated solely by the Russian side. It is in Russia’s interest to return Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk under its control, it is in its interest," said another.
Analyst Tymczyszyn agrees:
"Right now, the West is sending a message which is very different, just indicating consistent quiet dismay over Putin’s actions. For him, it means he can go ahead and do as he pleases because he does not feel the response will be sufficiently damaging to him," she said.
But the political chess game continues to be played out on the border of Ukraine and Russia with no clear winner in sight. Though analysts say it is clear that Putin is determined to be the victor, and likely before the May 25th elections in Ukraine.