In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine, and in the process may have ignited a smaller-scale version of the Cold War. Putin has famously said that the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century, the implication being that he would make his place in history by reversing it. No one saw his seizure of parts of Georgia in 2008 as an initial step, and many commentators see the action in Crimea as nothing more than a reversal of the relatively recent (1956) transfer of that territory from Russia to Ukraine by then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
However, taken together the two events suggest a pattern. In each case Putin has used the supposed plight of Russian ethnics in a former Soviet republic as a pretext for military or quasi-military action. As this is written, Putin is simultaneously claiming that he has no further territorial ambitions and roiling the largely Russian eastern Ukraine. There is another unpleasant possibility. As part of Ukraine, Crimea depended on energy and water from other areas of that country. Now they have been cut off, and there is no direct connection to the Russian energy or water grids. Making Russian Crimea viable might seem to demand further annexations. At least some of the governments of the former Soviet republics understand exactly what is happening. The government of Kazakhstan, for example, has canceled Russian space launches from its territory.