Putin is either an aggressive schemer, to be opposed and vilified at all costs, or a wise, restrained real-politician, balanced irreconcilable forces next door. Which is it?
The 2014 coup in Ukraine succeeded due to the fierce campaign led by neo-fascists, heirs to the Banderistas of 1940-'50s, now lauded as freedom fighters, but seen at the time as terrorists, murdering Ukrainians and Jews, and sabotaging a Ukraine in shambles after the war. They had almost zero support then, having collaborated with the Nazis to kill tens of thousands, but their hero, Stepan, was honoured with a statue in 2011, erected by the godfather of the current anti-Russian coupmakers, the (disastrous) former President Viktor Yushchenko. Ukraine's Soviet war veterans were outraged and the statue was torn down in 2013, just months before the coup, bringing the Bandera-lovers back to power.
The eastern Ukrainians, mostly native Russians, centered in Donetsk and Lughansk, saw the coup as a surreal rerun of WWII, this time with Banderistas triumphant. They had no real plan, but panicked at the thought of what was to come, and seized government buildings and declared themselves mini-republics, calling on Russia to come and rescue them, as was happening in Crimea.
This state of stalemate led the war to be labelled by some a war of aggression against poor Ukraine, a "frozen conflict". The area has stayed a war zone, with dozens of soldiers and civilians killed each month. Close to 4,000 rebel fighters and the same number of 'loyalists' have been killed, along with 3,000 civilians. 1.5 million have been internally displaced; and a million have fled abroad, mostly to Russia.
A deal to establish a ceasefire, called the Minsk Protocol, was signed on 5 September 2014, but immediately collapsed. It called for reincorporation of the rebel territories under a federal system, with full rights of the Russian-speakers and open relations with the Russian Federation. Russia stands by the principles of the protocol, calling for Ukrainian borders to stay as they are, despite the pleas of the rebels.
The Russian position is clear and firm: give Russian Ukrainian their rights, make our borders porous for locals and their relatives, revive shattered economic links among common peoples with a thousand years of common history. Get on with it.
The Ukrainian position is mostly hysterical, calling for NATO and Europe to fight off the Russkies, salvage the bankrupt economy, ignore their (creepy) fascists. WWIII if necessary. The coupmakers are unrepentant as Ukraine slides deeper into insolvency, corruption getting worse (if that's possible). Poroshenko is as unpopular as a leader can get (3rd place 11%), and only the threat of a Ukraine shattered in pieces gives him a life preserver among his citizens.
The West incited the coup and quickly embraced it, ignoring its unsavoury origins in nostalgia for fascism. While it feigns shock and anger at Russian actions, it can't ignore that the Russians really had no choice, that their actions were/are both necessary and measured.
It looks suspiciously like the West is sitting back and enjoying the fisticuffs, reminding one of how the West sat back and let the Russians do the dirty work in WWII, defeating the Nazis, with the 'Allies' joining in the last year to warrant their claims (now the official story) that the US won the war -- with a little help from its friends and even the nefarious Russians.
A messy conclusion to that war, the ultimate 'frozen conflict', the Cold War, that spawned the current many mini-frozen conflicts (Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia, Ossetia, Kosovo, not to mention ones farther afield, like Taiwan and Somaliland -- all legacies of the Cold War).
The plan is evolving, depending on what the Russians do. Putin's red line is that Ukraine cannot -- will not -- join NATO. The NATO creep eastward, a violation from 1991 on of the implicit understanding with Gorbachev and Yeltsin, will not be tolerated.
The Ukrainian coup created a new scenario. If Russia had moved to support the rebel territories, form a customs union with open borders, aimed at eventual incorporation in the Russian Federation, that would have given the NATOphiles their trump card, and NATO and the EU would be hard pressed not to move in and try to salvage a bankrupt dysfunctional state, with the final coup as its prize: NATO now lined up surrounding Russia, the last real holdout against US world domination.