It was just a couple of months ago that I was fondly reminiscing about the political landscape of the 1980s, but events of the past week have reminded me that the Cold War was actually pretty scary at times. It might seem unlikely that we would go to war over Crimea, but that’s probably what they said back in 1854 too.
Vladamir Putin may have in mind a more recent conflict; the USSR’s ill-fated occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, when his predecessors allowed themselves to be drawn into a bloody quagmire which hastened the collapse of Soviet power in Europe. The CIA had more than a little influence in the instigation of that conflict (though of course it would later come back to haunt the US), and Putin may be thinking that a similar trap is being laid for him in Ukraine.
There seems to be no need for the Russians to start an actual shooting war though, since they have already demonstrated that they could if they wanted to, and that there is nothing that the US or the EU would do about it, which should be enough to keep Ukraine within the Russian sphere of influence. That’s the sort of realpolitik that stopped the Cold War from ever getting too hot, so hopefully similar logic will prevail today.