In the past, nothing has incensed Putin more than what he deems interference in his internal affairs involving the targeting of Russian officials, especially those close to him; and the Russian president is unlikely to retreat any time soon. The gravest danger now remains that, in threatening to annex Crimea, Putin will feel pressured to follow up by sending Russian forces into other parts of eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin knows that without Crimea, ethnic Russians amount to a distinct minority in the rest of the country.
Unless he doubles down with more military pressure, Putin could thus upend his own strategy of co-opting Ukraine into a Eurasian Union, instead making it easier for the rest of the country, dominated by ethnic Ukrainians, to vote to join the European Union and NATO. While the West is not considering military force, U.S. officials are already making “signaling” moves by sending more fighter jets to Poland and Lithuania. Russia’s response, as communicated by a TV announcer over the weekend, was to remind Washington that Russia is “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive dust.”
Judging from his past actions, it should be expected that Putin will, at the very least, retaliate by obstructing U.S. initiatives in other places. Before the crisis, the Russian president was already working hard at deepening ties with China, forming a Eurasian Union to counter European community, and delivering countermoves to Western initiatives in the Middle East.