Why are the Russians Doing This?
Why are the Russians taking this huge risk, highly destabilizing to an already unstable “world order”, and highly destabilizing to the regions bordering on Russia?
(1) Putin et al view Maidan as an existential threat and therefore are willing to risk a lot to take down or cripple the new regime in Ukraine. This would serve as a warning against further “meddling” in the region by Western Powers.
(2) They want to take control of the former Soviet Republics, known to them as “the near abroad,” expanding Russia’s regional influence, securing markets for Russia, and creating a buffer zone around her.
(3) Thanks to Matt Payne on this one — they aim to split the Atlantic alliance, hoping the Europeans will resist decisive US action. A very serious and dangerous game.
Militarily, would NATO do anything about Russian invasion of E. Ukraine? It is doubtful they could or would challenge Russian air superiority in the area. They might reinforce Polish, Baltic militaries and/or put a small tripwire force in West Ukraine, daring the Russians to attack it.
We are talking about a very dangerous game of “chicken”.