In an effort to snatch a victory from the gathering defeat in eastern Ukraine, does Putin escalate to directly and openly intervene in eastern Ukraine? Does he go deeper to threaten Kiev and Odessa with conventional forces?
Or does he recoil from eastern Ukraine and be content to consolidate Crimea?
And does he survive the loss of business investment in Russia caused by foreign fear of instability?
But Putin's political survival isn't that big a deal if more like him assume power. Don't get so caught up with personalities. Or is the slogan "Osama bin Laden is dead" still reassuring to you?
If Russia still owns Crimea and Europe restarts business as usual with Russia in a short period of time even if Putin is sent out to pasture to enjoy his pastimes of Tiger wrestling and whatnot, why is that a victory for us?
We may get Ukraine in the West as the result of this crisis. Which is good as long as we stop further aggression against Ukraine (and new NATO states in eastern Europe) in the future. Otherwise this is a meaningless victory.
And to call it a victory and prevent that further aggression, we have to make Ukraine a Western country with Western rule of law rather than just a corrupt Russian-style regime within Europe but not really part of Europe. The latter just gives Putin (or his successor) opportunities to keep eating pieces of the Elephant as the years go by.
UPDATE: Is Putin alienating his base of support that values their net worth more than pieces of Ukraine?
“According to German intelligence it is quite possible that some of the oligarchs who are worried by European Union sanctions will soon start putting economic interests above political concerns and try to put the brakes on Putin,” Der Spiegel reported.
Adam Smith is punishing Putin more effectively than Western sanctions as investors remain wary of risking money in Russia.
But the oligarchs aren't against Putin seizing territory for the glory of Russia and Putin (or reverse the order, if you wish). They are against a drawn out fight that doesn't allow Russia to get back to business and enrich the oligarchs.
So maybe Russia escalates to just take the territory and end the pretense of supporting local secessionists:
"Everything so far points to a further hardening in Russia's stance. Mr Putin has too much invested - both from a geopolitical and, just as importantly, domestic political standpoint - in his standoff with the west to be swayed by sanctions alone," said Nicholas Spiro, Managing Director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, a London-based consultancy.
I didn't understand why people thought Putin would abandon the secessionists (with a large portion of his own people within that group) after the Malaysian plane shoot down. I mean, has Putin abandoned Syria's Assad after 170,000 casualties and a poison gas attack to highlight the more mundane methods of barrel bombs, executions, and starvation? Talk about mirror-imaging a foe!
And if Putin thinks his political survival hinges on success in Ukraine, what might he do beyond shipping heavy weapons and providing artillery support to the so-called rebels?