For Putin and many Russians, the US is still Russia’s primary rival in global politics.
The projection of Russian power to the Mediterranean and Northern Africa depends on the Black Sea Fleet. The Black Sea Fleet is based at Sevastopol in the Crimea, an independent republic within Ukraine.
Russia will not want an avowedly pro-US, pro-Western government in Ukraine. It will not allow its access to Sevastopol to be restricted.
Russia will fight to protect its interests in Ukraine, if it believes force is necessary.
In 1994 The US and Great Britain signed a treaty known as the Budapest Memorandum, in which they agree to protect the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. This was part of a deal in which Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons based there in the Soviet era, an arsenal larger that those of Britain, France and China combined.
On the basis of this treaty, Ukraine’s new Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatseniuk, has already appealed to the US and the UK for help.
President Obama has spoken with Vladimir Putin and asked for Russian troops to be pulled back out of Ukraine and the Crimea.
Putins’ response: “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.”
It sounds alarming, but my prediction is that the West will fail to stand up for Ukraine and the Crimea with sufficient confidence to stop Putin doing whatever he wants.
This looks to me like a repeat of the Sudetenland.
The confrontation will come next time, and it will be worse because we did not confront Putin earlier.