A Russian government official has revealed that Russia would be willing to fight a war over the Crimea region of Ukraine and protect the large Russian population and its military assets there.
"If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war," the unnamed official told the Financial Times.
"They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia," the official continued.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been publicly restrained about the Ukraine and sent Vladimir Lukin, a former diplomat and human rights commissioner, to Kiev as a mediator.
But analysts have pointed to the possibility of a repetition of the 2008 Georgia conflict when Russian troops and tanks invaded after the Georgian government launched an attack on the separatist region of South Ossetia. One hundred and fifty people died in the Russian action.
Russia is one of the few countries in the world to officially recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and would be likely do so with the Crimea region should Ukraine divide.
The speaker of the Crimea parliament, Volodymyr Konstantinov, suggested that the Russian-majority region might secede from Ukraine if it splits in the event of a civil war.
"It is possible, if the country breaks apart. And everything is moving towards that," he told Russian news agency Interfax.
Ukraine's western region of Lviv has already reportedly declared independence from the central government.
Ukraine is a nation torn between Russia and the European Union, situated at the heart of the "shared neighbourhood" between the two blocs.
Approximately 21% of Ukraine's population is Russian and it holds deep cultural and historical links with modern Russia because of its Soviet history.
The region of Crimea lies on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Russia's massive Black Sea Fleet is stationed at Sevastopol and 60% of the region's population are ethnic Russians.
The Russian elite views Ukraine as part of the Soviet "sphere of influence" and sees the country as a potential bulwark against the growth of EU liberalisation.
"We will not allow Europe and the US to take Ukraine from us. The states [are] of the former Soviet Union, we are one family," a foreign policy official told the FT.
"They think Russia is still as weak as in the early 1990s but we are not."
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has claimed a deal to resolve Ukraine's political crisis has been reached with pro-European opposition leaders after the bloodiest day in the country's history since the Soviet era and footage emerging of government snipers firing on unarmed protesters.