While the world has reacted with alarm to Vladimir Putin's latest escalation of the crisis in Ukraine the one consolation may be that the Russian leader's end game could be in sight.
After having threatened Kyiv, and other major Ukrainian centres, with the prospect of an attack that would provoke the largest scale fighting in Europe since 1945, he is now focussing his attention on two rebel "people's republics", Donetsk and Luhansk, that declared their independence after the Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014.
While Russia has never formally recognised the rebel governments up until now, it has backed the Russian speaking eastern Ukrainian insurgents for almost a decade.
A Russian antiaircraft missile battery which entered the territory claimed by the Donetsk People's Republic in July 2014 shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 killing 283 passengers and 15 crew in one of the worst disasters in aviation history. Among the dead were 38 Australians.
The significance of Putin's decision to recognise the two breakaway "republics" cannot be overemphasised. This is a direct assault on Ukrainian sovereignty comparable to the seizure of the Crimea, and a frightening escalation in the conflict between the government in Kyiv and the rebels.
The stage is now set for a proxy war between the west on the one hand and Moscow on the other with Ukraine as the killing ground. If this occurs the conflict could last for decades.
It is notable that at the same time Putin announced he was recognising Donetsk and Luhansk he said he was sending Russian "peacekeepers" across the border. It is also noteworthy thousands of Russian speaking Ukrainians have been evacuated into Russia and some of the largest Russian troop concentrations are on the Russian border with the two "republics".
The territory in dispute would be a significant loss to Ukraine. The DPR covers 8902 square kilometres and has a population of 2.3 million people. The LPR covers 8377 square kilometres and has a population of 1.46 million. The ACT, by contrast, covers 2358 square kilometres.
The trillion dollar question is will this be enough for Putin? Is Moscow going to settle for absorbing the two "republics" back into the Russian fold or will it go all out with a full scale invasion of Ukraine?
History suggests that the answer to that will be determined in large part by the western response. Given Putin's actions have been taken straight from Hitler's playbook when the Third Reich gobbled up the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia before invading Poland the danger of any form of appeasement is on a lot of people's minds.
What is Putin prepared to pay for further territorial aggrandisement? What is the west willing to sacrifice in order to preserve Ukrainian sovereignty?
The west has the power to impose extremely severe sanctions on Moscow, particularly through its dominance of the international banking system. Putin would be more aware than most of the fragility of the Russian economy and likely domestic opposition to a Chechnyan-like conflict with young conscripts coming home in body-bags.
One would hope Putin is aware of the danger his latest actions pose to many nations, not least his own.
Once, in response to a question from Croesus, the king of the Medes, the Delphic Oracle said if he invaded neighbouring Persia he would destroy a mighty empire. Croesus attacked and lost his kingdom as a result. The empire that was destroyed was his own.
Is Putin willing to take a similar gamble? Only time will tell if this is the end or just the beginning.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.