RUSSIA THE BIG BAD BEAR
Go back in history and you will see that Russia has always prospered under strong leaders. The two 'Greats', Peter and Catherine are classic examples. Under weak leaders Russia flounders and there have been plenty of examples, the most recent being Yeltsin. Furthermore, although under the communists they yelled 'Imperialists' at the West, Russia has always been one of the greatest imperialist powers in the world. At its hight, after the Second World War it included all the eastern European countries it had 'liberated' and vast areas of Asia.
Not many leaders come stronger than Stalin. As the Second World War was ending the Russian Red Army marched into east European countries and under the guise of freeing them from German rule, imposed Russian rule. They became de facto members of the Soviet empire. There then went into action a complicated and suffocating plan to Russianise all those countries. All politics and every part of their culture from art to sport to literature to education, was gradually but efficiently eliminated and everything Russian was introduced, praised and honoured. In fact, the Russians tried to do exactly what the Germans had done and in the years immediately following the end of the war they were equally as brutal. Every political, governmental, social and cultural organisation had a Russian 'advisor' at its head and nothing could be done before it was passed by him and he had approved it.
The Western leaders, particularly Churchill and Roosevelt could see this happening and there was talk of carrying the war into Russia to stop them. Saner voices prevailed, not least because of the size and strength of the Russian forces. Plus, 5 years of war and the Allies were a spent force. So Stalin was able to do as he pleased in the sure knowledge that the West would do nothing to oppose him. He was right.
The Russians ruled their empire with an iron fist. Immediately after the war anyone who disagreed with them was either summarily executed or sent to a Russian Gulag. You could be sacked, as a teacher, for not praising the USSR enough in your lessons. Even European communists were not safe because their communism wasn't quite (Russian) correct. Many of them ended up in the Gulag too.
So now we come to Russia today. The Russians were somewhat embarrassed by Yeltsin and his antics and they saw him as a weak man too willing to bow to Western pressure. He allowed many parts of the Russian empire to become independent states. He gave them a choice, join the Russian Federation or be independent. He was actually quite surprised when they chose independence so he quickly reversed the policy to stop further states leaving. This the Russian populace found humiliating and the Russians who had made their lives in these foreign countries regarded them as part of Russia and were not happy either. Then along came Putin, a died in the wool KGB apparatchik, and got himself elected as president of the Russian Federation. He is a strong man both physically and mentally and likes to show it. He is not going to be pushed around by the Western leaders and immediately started saying Niet to suggestions from the West. The Russians love him (well not all of them) and after his second term the constitution forces him to resign. He finds a puppet in Medvedev, gets him elected, and carries on pulling the strings as prime minister. Medvedev only gets one term as president because under the constitution Putin is eligible to re-stand and guess what? The puppeteer is re-elected and can even stand for another second term too.
Putin is a Russian imperialist who, given half a chance, would like to regain many of the ex USSR territories that were granted independence. Whilst outright invasion is out of the question he is now showing the world how it is done. He has to look after Russian nationals in these foreign parts, of whom there are many. If they call for help he moves in quickly, then there will be a fake referendum and it will be an overwhelming majority in favour of rejoining the Russian Federation and he won't have fired a shot. However, as back up he has already sent some 30,000 troops into the Crimea 'to keep the peace'. They will oversee the polling stations and, of course, who votes. The Western powers are hopping up and down at this bare faced invasion but Putin knows no one will lift a finger to help the Ukrainians. They didn't when he regained half of Georgia in similar fashion, only the Georgians fought back so the overwhelming might of the Russian army gave them a hiding. Unfortunately no one is going to help the Ukrainians and they saw what happened in Georgia so they won't resort to arms. So, in a while, Crimea will become a de facto part of Russia and Putin will be free to look around for his next bit of Russian populated foreign territory to annex.