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Ukraine hits at Russians: Here's what may be next

After Ukraine announced that it attacked a Russian armored convoy that made an incursion into its territory on Friday, global markets responded immediately. But experts disagree about what investors can expect going forward.

A Ukrainian serviceman guards a checkpoint outside Donetsk, August 15, 2014.
Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters
A Ukrainian serviceman guards a checkpoint outside Donetsk, August 15, 2014.

A big concern is that Russia will ramp up its aggression against Ukraine, said Ed Mermelstein, a U.S. attorney working on cross-border investments in Russia and former Soviet states. If Russia stops "hiding behind the facade" that it is not supporting the rebels, its leaders may change their position to "reflect a need to protect the Russian speakers of Ukraine," he said.

Even if Friday's reported incident was not an intentional Kremlin plan, the very idea that the Ukrainian military turned back a Russian incursion may lead to escalation.

"The dynamic that is created is that Putin does not like to lose face, and the more he's confronted by what look like missteps after economic sanctions and things like that, will make him feel that he needs to react in some way," said Blaise Misztal, the Bipartisan Policy Center's director of foreign policy. "And that can spiral dangerously if it continues."

Read MoreUkraine attacks Russian incursion, jolting markets

Prior to Friday's confrontation, the situation in Ukraine showed signs of possibly improving, Viktor Luhovyk an analyst at Ukraine's Dragon Capital wrote in a Friday morning report. Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech in Crimea that took on a relatively dovish tone, and the European Commission reported that Putin had agreed in a phone call to future talks with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Still, British journalists reported that they saw a column of more than 20 armored vehicles with Russian military markings crossing the border into Ukraine—which Luhovyk noted is the first ever first-hand Western media report of such an entry. On Friday morning, a NATO spokesman said that the group had identified such an incursion overnight.

Russian military personnel ride atop armoured personnel carriers (APCs) outside Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov Region, August 15, 2014.
Maxim Shemetov | Reuters
Russian military personnel ride atop armoured personnel carriers (APCs) outside Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, Rostov Region, August 15, 2014.

The fact that the U.S. and European nations did not immediately respond to those reports shows that "they don't want to know now" and have "had their sanctions fill," Robert Bensh, managing director of Pelicourt, a private equity fund that owns assets in Ukraine, told CNBC.

In fact, Ukraine's "fate is not in its own hands," he said, adding that the country can no longer wait for any significant international support.

The White House addressed the situation Friday evening, calling on Putin to end firing into Ukraine and stop the flow of weapons, support and cash to separatists.

Read MoreNATO spots 'incursion' into Ukraine

Not everyone thinks Friday's reports represent a turning point for the conflict, however.

Friday's incidents do not "rise above the level of typical activity in this theater," said Sim Tack, a military analyst for geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor. He added that "these types of convoys have been seen regularly in recent weeks."

In fact, while details remain scarce about Friday's incident—Russia maintains that it never had any armored column in Ukraine's territory— investors can only be assured that economic sanctions will not be lifted anytime soon, Misztal said.

"All we can say is that it seems to reinforce the trends that we've seen since the rebels shot down the Malaysian flight, which is a hardening of resolve—which we had not seen from Europe or the United States before—on economic sanctions," he said.

Something that may be getting missed in the midst of the fighting in Ukraine is its possible historical legacy: the solidification of Ukraine's national identity.

Read MoreMeet the beneficiaries of the crisis in Ukraine

Despite surrendering Crimea and potentially losing parts of its eastern territory, Ukraine as a nation "has been born," Bensh said.

"[Ukrainians] have been willing to lie down their lives for the state, and will likely be willing to struggle to ensure its survival and success, irrespective of Russia having lopped off bits of its territory," he said. "Russia may have outmaneuvered the West and Kiev to a stalemate, even a short-term tactical victory over Crimea and Donbass. But importantly, over the longer term Russia has failed in allowing a new nation to be forged."

—By CNBC's Everett Rosenfeld and Dina Gusovsky. CNBC's Ted Kemp contributed reporting.