A number of observers have now pointed out that Russia's main aim in its gas conflict with Ukraine appears to be the division of Ukraine, and ultimately the destruction of its national sovereignty. Jamestown's Roman Kupchinsky, for example, says that
If Gazprom is successful in stopping the flow of gas to southeastern Ukraine by insisting that gas to Europe go via Sudzha, the Kremlin’s strategy of provoking mass disturbances in these regions in order to precipitate a “popular” anti-Tymoshenko-Yushchenko uprising would intensify calls in these critical regions to join the Russian Federation. With the Ukrainian Party of Regions seemingly more loyal to Moscow than to Kyiv, Putin and Medvedev apparently feel confident that such a strategy would transform Ukraine into a second, pro-Russian, Belarus-like puppet state in the CIS and give Russia control over the Ukrainian gas pipeline to Europe. The consequences of this for the EU would be disastrous. For Gazprom, however, it would be a major coup, allowing it to abandon the costly South Stream pipeline project and, at long last, to destroy the Nabucco pipeline scheme.
Other commentators agree with this assessment, but some offer a less pessimistic analysis of the current situation. On Thursday, Marcin Wojciechowski wrote in Gazeta Wyborcza that
The gas conflict is uniting the divided Ukrainian elite. The Russians reckoned that it would be enough to cut off the gas to pro-Russian eastern Ukraine, and Moscow's supporters would descend upon Kiev in fury. There is none of that. Even Ukraine's pro-Russian politicians balk at the thought of a disintegration of the country inspired by Moscow. Ukraine has prepared itself for the gas cut-off much better than one might have expected, and will not submit to brutal pressure.
In a recent discussion of Russia's use of gas as a political weapon, Norway's Aftenposten quotes Jakub M. Godzimirski at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs as saying that Russia may be prepared to take financial losses in order to gain political capital.
Update (Jan. 18): a deal has now reportedly been struck.