Russian troops invaded the Ukrainian peninsula Saturday taking over the capital and deploying troops across the regions where ethnic Russians represent a majority of civilians. As things come to a head in the Ukraine(Russian troops are poised to launch military action on Tuesday [3/4] morning) one might ask what the stakes are about. The president is instructing Secretary of State John Kerry to organize a coalition of western interests (including the G-8) to announce to Russia that severe economic sanctions will follow any further aggression by Putin and that "all options are on the table". To fully understand the conflict one has to look at how the population became split in the first place.
Since it established independence from the (former) Soviet Union in 1991; the region developed a migration pattern that populated the eastern regions with Russian speaking immigrants who fled the Soviet governed homeland for the independent state (only to identify with Russia in the current conflicts). The western regions identified with Eastern Europe, speaks native Ukrainian and sees itself assimilating its economy as part of the European Union (EU) (like Poland whose economy grew three times as large as Ukraine since joining the EU).
Ironically the real dissent started when the Russian speaking regions (who hold about a 60% majority out of about 45 million pop.) elected President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych is a politician with deep ties and sympathy for Putin's agenda. His government put more stock in Putin's dream of a Ukraine that would compete (with Russian guidance) with the likes of the EU and the US rather than the speculation that it would benefit in billions from a free market economy.
When Yanukovych rejected an offer for an accord with the European Union in November 2013 and pushed for stronger ties with Russia, the initial protests began. At first they were peaceful. Eventually they would breakout in violence that escalated in Kiev (2/20/14) when 77 were killed in a 48 hour period. Another estimated 600 were wounded with "government" troops firing into a crowd armed only with shields. Snipers were also reported as picking off protesters.
So far the US posture seems to be leaving one option off the table. There has yet to be discussion of any military aid or action (up until this point). Perhaps the notion of the classic East vs West conflicts has evolved to the point where an economic chess game will suffice.