Graffiti in Moscow, March 3, 2012.
Pawel Kopczynski / Courtesy Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s startling military takeover of Crimea in response to the February revolution in Kiev left Western leaders scrambling. Internationally, Putin seems the master grand strategist, just as he had after his successful effort in September 2013 to head off potential aerial strikes on Syria. At home, he appears equally in command, having ruled Russia for the last 15 years, with another ten years a distinct possibility. It would be a mistake, however, to overestimate Putin or Russia -- or to underestimate how badly his gambit in Ukraine could turn out for him. Finding a way out of this crisis requires an understanding both of why Putin instigated it and of how it will affect his rule.

Putin’s thinking was on display in a March 4 press conference, his first public statement since the Crimea crisis began. He referred to the events in Kiev not as a revolution but

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  • BRIAN D. TAYLOR is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for European Studies at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
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