The Russian army isn’t filled with Putin-bots (neither is the Ukrainian for that matter) but that’s what he’d like us to believe.
ref: Ukraine: Russian troops thwarted in attempt to storm missile base in Sevastopol
ref: Ukraine navy officers reject plea to defect to Russian-backed Crimea
Sure, Putin has die-hard ultras, willing for whatever reason to publicly state their loyalty. However it’s clear that his army is split on Putin’s grab, just as the Crimeans themselves are.
Fear and uncertainty are his weapons. If he can prevent monitors getting access to Crimea, the election result can be massaged one way or another. That’s one for the US (and the EU if it dares come out of its taxpayer gilded bunker).
ref: Ukraine crisis: Shots fired as Crimea observers stopped
Perhaps the European narrative needs to change to incorporate a road map that more publicly offers a constructive, ongoing, commercial relationship with Russia.
The real problem is that Putin is seeing Russia’s economic miracle fade as oil prices weaken. The reforms necessary to help the average Russian aren’t going to happen; not on Putin’s watch. He’s no bread so he’s taken his circus to Crimea.
Putin’s looking for a new miracle when really, he needs to get his opportunistic streak under control. Double or quits is pretty poor when you are gambling with other people’s livelihoods.