There is a lot of concern over whether or not Russia is about to seize additional territories from among the former Russian territories. My expectation is, of course they will. When I answer this so directly I am not claiming to know the future, I am simply observing the pattern of the past.
When a country ramps up its patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric internally, they are on a path to act on those emotions. Putin gave a speech recently about the restoration of the former glory of the Soviet Union in which members of the audience were brought to tears over perceived wrongs done do them when those nations seceded.
Nations led primarily under the leadership of one ideologue, will take greater risks when attempting to secure or expand national interests. Putin is the national hero in Russia. He has carefully crafted his image as a strong leader, a man’s man, and the people look for his leadership either by direct mandate or more subtle orchestration.
Hostile forces, if not opposed with equal or superior strength, tend to keep going until they meet such a resistance. The US response to what has happened in Crimea has been to state there will be severe circumstances, but everyone is quick to say, “No boots on the ground.” This is really all Putin needs to hear. In addition, we really haven’t tried the economic sanctions which would be most painful to them, energy related sanctions, because they would also affect us.
Many of the former Russian states have large numbers of Russian sympathizers. Once these groups are riled up by the rhetoric of Russian nationalism, they likely will act in their regions to seek reunification. When efforts are met with resistance, or especially violence, Putin will go in to protect the Russians in that region. Then hold a referendum, started and controlled by the sympathizers, which of course will result in favor of reunification. This is exactly how it happened in Crimea. Putin didn’t have to start the problem, he only had to be ready to take full advantage of the problem.
The United States has made it clear military options are off the table. No one else will have the gumption to stand up without the US. Whatever financial or other resource consequences we put on them, they will see as less significant than returning the USSR to its former glory. They also have reason to believe we will treat these other consequences in a similar way, namely we will lose heart to continue once it begins to affect the American public.
Without the courage to stop Russia early on, we will have to contend later with whatever it is we allow them to become.