What is Putin's end-game? Hard to tell. Seems that Obama can't look into his eyes and see his soul and Bush 43 was able to do. It seems likes he's acting sporadically, but what is sporadic for a crazy person. In 2008 he invades Georgia seemingly without warning or provocation. He was unsuccessful at toppling Tbilisi, but his efforts weren't fruitless, Russian troops still occupy regions that were taken in that push to this day. He mobilizes troops on the Ukrainian border (which he denies are Russian troops at all), and gives rambling speeches about interference from fascist factions from the west being to blame for the turmoil in the region.
One could argue that there is a method to Putin's madness, although it may not be clear on its face. Putin has not been shy about exhibiting his desire to regain Russian prominence on the world stage, in a more substantive way than "looking like the bored kid at the back of the classroom". No, he wants to regain the "glory" of the old Soviet Union. In fact, it is widely known that he seeks the formation of a Eurasian Union (an ideological alternative to the European Union). Ukraine would be the key element in his vision for his union, but now with waning Russian influence, Ukraine may be turning towards the West.
The attempt at Crimea was overt by most standards, but the play for Ukraine was more subtle, in a sense. It wasn't a show of hard power that gained Putin the influence that he wielded over Ukraine, it was soft power. Subversively installing his own man, Viktor Yanu?kovych, as the "legitimate" leader in Ukraine before he was overthrown by the people. Turns out, Ukraine wouldn't be as easy to pushover as he had once surmised.
Putin is not without his supporters. On March 5, Putin held a summit with leaders from Kazakhstan and Belarus and encouraged them to circle the wagons around his cause.
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Carter posits that if Russia moves forward with the hostile takeover of Crimea, it will lose Ukraine forever. The West and Europe has lauded Ukraine's interim government for the restraint and patience it has exhibited in the face of this geo-political crisis, but how long will it be able to sustain without substantial intervention from Europe and the West? Military conflict will surely ensue if Russia is successful, and Ukraine is baked further into a corner ' retaliation would be imminent.
Retaliation by Ukraine would raise the stakes for all parties involved, and those that didn't want to get involved. Instantly the West and its European allies would be faced with providing military support to a nation that surrendered the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world in exchange for sovereignty in 1996. It's one thing to pledge our treasure, $1Billion already in loan guarantees, but it may be blood if we continue to let this situation unfold without exerting more pressure on Putin.
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry gave simultaneous speeches using strong language directed at Putin early in March. It's hard to say how the message will be received, as it seems that Putin may be emboldened by President Obama's track record of not enforcing lines drawn in the sand.
The U.S. can, and should do more to influence a favorable outcome in this situation. This is much more than just another geo-political crisis, this will determine Putin's future moves. If he is met with great resistance, he will have to rethink the use of hard power in building his Eurasian Union.