Russia has massed troops and sophisticated supply lines close to Ukraine's border which could see an invasion of the European nation as soon as next month.
That's the possible game plan of Moscow as frantic talks take place between world leaders to de-escalate the growing crisis.
The build-up on Ukraine's border is worrying defence watchers with fears Moscow is already ramping up a propaganda war to justify further encroaching on the territory of its independent and democratic neighbour.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden took part in a conference call aimed at defusing the situation or at least letting Moscow know that Washington won't take an invasion of Ukraine lying down.
"There was no finger-wagging, but the President was crystal clear about where the United States stands on all of these issues," US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters following the call.
The meeting has come as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky alleged that not only is military action possible but a Russian-backed coup is in the works aimed at toppling his government.
"The most likely time to reach readiness for escalation will be the end of January," Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said last week.
Russia warned it won't be like 2014 again
Russian-backed forces have already annexed chunks of Ukraine including the Crimea Peninsula and the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine.
Both these regions were taken in 2014 as the world looked on in disbelief that Russia would support the invasion of a former Soviet state.
But Sullivan said any move on Ukraine now would not have the same outcome.
"I will look you in the eye and tell you, as President Biden looked Putin in the eye and told him today, that things we did not do in 2014 we are prepared to do now," he told the media.
The US has said that "strong economic measures" could be imposed on Moscow with defence support given to Kiev. But it's unlikely the US or its NATO allies would directly become involved in any armed conflict.
There is some doubt though about whether Washington's words will deter Putin.
David Cortright, an international relations expert at the US' University of Notre Dame, told website The Conversation that Washington acting alone would likely have little effect.
It would need European nations on board that have far reaching economic ties with Moscow but also have the most to lose if Moscow were to turn off supplies of Russian gas which heat many European homes.
"Biden's threat of new sanctions on Russia is unlikely to have much of an impact on Putin's behaviour unless European states support and participate in the decision," Cortright said.
"But in recent years, the European Union has favoured diplomatic strategies rather than economic sanctions to decide the future of Ukraine."
All indications are, however, that EU leaders are becoming more united on Ukraine.
Edgars Rinkēvičs, the foreign minister of Latvia – which borders Russia and was once part of the USSR but is now in NATO and the EU – said Russia might need to be cut off from global banking systems and for Baltic States like his to get more troops.
"Russia has to know that if you do something bad in Ukraine then the NATO and US presence in the eastern flank of the alliance will increase," he was reported as saying in The Guardian.
Moscow's plan to invade Ukraine
A report in the Washington Post has detailed what US intelligence officials believe is Putin's plan to invade Ukraine.
For some time the Kremlin has been moving troops to the Ukraine border region.
"The Russian plans call for a military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022 with a scale of forces twice what we saw this past spring during Russia's snap exercise near Ukraine's borders," a Biden official told the newspaper.
The plan calls for 100 battalion tactical groups with 175,000 people being massed with weapons and equipment ready on the frontline and in depots behind.
Around 50 battalion groups and 70,000 troops are so far in place.
Medical units and fuel stores have also been readied that could serve as vital supply lines for any invading Russian force.
Putin's Ukraine demand to west
Putin has denied any attack will take place. Indeed Moscow has said it is Ukraine which is massing forces and has as many as 125,000 people facing Russia.
The Russian President has demanded that Ukraine nor any other former Soviet states not already in NATO join the western military alliance.
The three Baltic States of Estonia and Lithuania as well as Latvia are already in NATO with western forces peering over the Russian border.
But NATO leaders have pushed back against Moscow's terms and said that it is not up to Russia as to who applies for membership.
That has infuriated Moscow.
In its statement on the call between the two leaders, the Kremlin said "Vladimir Putin stressed that the responsibility should not be shifted onto the shoulders of Russia, since it is NATO that is making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory and is building up its military potential at our borders."
A conflict could aim to force potentially outnumbered Ukrainian troops to fight on several fronts ultimately leading to NATO acquiescing to Moscow demands.
Putin's problem: how to justify an invasion
But how Putin would justify an attack on an independent nation is tricky. It's certainly not as easy a narrative to spin as in 2014.
Then, the annexation of Crimea and the backing of rebel forces in eastern Ukraine was justified on the basis that those areas were primarily populated by Russian speakers and so Moscow and its proxies was affording these people a form of protection.
That argument becomes far dicier across the rest of the country of 44 million where Russian speakers are mostly in the minority. It's harder for Russia to play the knight in shining armour to millions of people who speak Ukrainian and have a distinct Ukrainian identity.
Nonetheless, Mr Putin appears to be giving it a go. A talking point is emerging that suggests Russians and Ukrainians are essentially one people and if anything Ukraine is the aggressor.
President Zelensky, the theory posits, is a puppet of Western leaders who don't have the best interests of Ukrainians at heart.
"Recent information indicates that Russian officials proposed adjusting Russia's information operations against Ukraine to emphasise the narrative that Ukrainian leaders had been installed by the West, harboured a hatred for the 'Russian world,' and were acting against the interests of the Ukrainian people," a Ukrainian official told the Washington Post.
Certainly anti-Ukrainian government stories are appearing in Russian news outlets.
On Wednesday, Kremlin mouthpiece RT published a story stating that President Zelensky, in a speech commemorating the history of Ukraine's armed forces, had insultingly "failed to mention the soldiers who died serving in the (USSR's) Red Army".
Some commentators have suggested that Moscow doesn't want to take away Ukraine's independence but rather turn it into a compliant buffer state between it and the West.
Belarus, laying to Ukraine's north, could be a model. While it is a sovereign nation, the Belarusian dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko is one of Moscow's most ardent supporters. A Ukraine in that mould would certainly make Putin's life easier.
Over the next few weeks a game of brinkmanship could take place. For it's part, the US wants to ensure Putin knows the price he will pay if his troops march across the frontier.
"Mr Biden reiterated America's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Mr Sullivan.
"He told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond".