A Crimean vote on whether or not to join Russia is now scheduled for March 16. If Crimeans vote in favor of it, there’s a chance the region could become a “frozen territory,” typically the result of a cease-fire announcement during hostilities, which freezes boundaries to match areas of military control. Frozen countries are usually considered by much of the world to be under military occupation, and few such zones ever receive formal diplomatic recognition as independent states. This is what happened in the aftermath of the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, which gave birth to the Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Those zones are recognized as countries by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Nauru, Tuvalu, and no one else — aside, of course, from other frozen states.
The frozen-state scenario would put the West in a delicate position. If the West were to recognize Crimean independence, it would open the gates for a closer Ukraine-NATO relationship thanks to Sevastopol no longer being an issue. But it would do so at the risk of ticking off Ukrainians by legitimizing Crimea’s secession. If the West were to make a stand and refuse to recognize what will inevitably be billed as Crimea’s “legitimate democratic vote of determination” for independence, it would do so at the risk of putting a legal barrier between itself and Ukraine thanks to Sevastopol still being an issue.