Putin is one of the smartest and most powerful politicians in the world, when the Ukrainian protests started, i thought they would fade away soon, they did not, they led to a coup, ousting the Ukranian president (who was accused of high level of corruption).
The ousting of Russia ally bothered Russia, that played it’s influence in the Russian minorities regions,especially Crimea which have a Russian speakers majority.
My first though was that Crimea will seek independence à la Kosovo, and why not, it was added to Ukraine in 1954 and it was given as a kind of a gift 10 years after it’s original inhabitant the Tatar were forced to relocate (An estimated 46% of the deportees died from hunger and disease), so what is Crimea to Ukraine, historically? nothing much … just a recent gift!
Indeed Crimea declared independence from Ukraine, but now it’s holding a referendum to join the Russian federation, if it does, there will be European and American sanctions on Russia, if it doesn’t it can become an independent country and later try again to join Russia at the same time Russia will avoid confrontation with the West. And that’s the plan Putin have in mind!
Russia will probably rig the election in a way that the referendum vote against joining Russia, this way Russia saves face and avoid confrontation, the situation is cooled down and the door will still be open for annexation in the near or far future!
So here you go, that why in the coming years we’ll hear of The independent republic of Crimea .
Update: Crimea actually decided to join Russia, so my analysis was wrong.