Here is what is really happening in the Ukraine: The population was very evenly split between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians. The government of the United States and other western governments have pumped billions of taxpayer dollars into Ukraine in an effort to influence the outcome of their elections. How would you feel if you discovered other nations where doing the same to us? In addition to being seen as a tool of the west, the party the U.S. government was backing turned out to be corrupt. Because of all of this the swing voters in Ukraine gave the pro-russian party a chance.
When the pro-Russian party, who won the election after all, expressed a preference for a partnership with Russia over the EU, the western-backed party protested and more until the government fell. The government was in Kiev, where the local population was very pro-western. The pro-Russian voters were all in the east. In other words, just because those who supported the government were not handy to counter-riot in the capital, the results of the democratic election were overturned in a coup.
Just like we have treaties with other countries allowing us to keep troops in them, Russia had a deal with the Ukraine which allowed them to keep up to 25,000 troops there. In response to the coup, they sent in 16,000 to protect the rights of the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea. The Crimeans held a vote, and 96% of them voted to leave the Ukraine and join with Russia. They voted to change state affiliations. This returned Crimea back to Russia, where it was prior to some communist changing lines on a map in 1954.
We should have never spent billions trying to meddle in who the Ukrainians elected to their government in the first place. It is not our business. We should not have supported the recent coup over a democratically elected government. And we should respect the desire of the ethnic Russians in Crimea who want to be ruled from Moscow rather than the rioters in Kiev. Why are we the ones going around now telling people that what they want does not matter, that they have to be chained together in political union with people they don't like and who want to take the country in a different direction? Because some communist redrew some lines on a map in 1954 and moved Crimea from Russia to Ukraine? Why is that so binding?
If there was ever a time to mind our own business, this is it. Unfortunately our state department seems to be incapable of restraint. The same out-of-control federal government which goes around meddling in our lives and making us angry with it is also using our tax dollars to meddle overseas and make people around the world angry with us. There is no reason why foreigners should be any less irritated than we are with our federal government. It is going to be at least as tone-deaf with them as it is towards us. What happens when we finally realize that we are broke and facing a world full of people that we hacked off with our constant interventions?
Ironically, it is in our best interest for Crimea to go to Russia. Maybe now that the pro-Russian parties have all the votes they had from Crimea, the rest of the country will elect pro-western leaders. With Crimea gone, they won't have to foment a coup to get a pro-western government in Kiev, one can be legitimately elected. We don't need to intervene to save Crimea. The Crimeans consider that they have already been saved by Russia.
Of course there have been hysterical claims that this is just like 1938 and Hitler, with Crimea serving as the Sudetenland. I have heard people say if we "let Putin get away with it" we are like Chamberlain and have not learned that you cannot appease tyrants. They forget the most important part. Hitler taking the Sudetenland was not the problem. The problem was that he had no intention of stopping at the Sudetenland. Anyone who read his book knew that his goals were to seize not just lands full of Germans who wanted political unity with Germany, but a great swath of Slavic and other lands as well.
Hitler did not stop at the Sudetenland. If he had, World War II would have never happened. He quickly took the rest of Czechoslovakia as well. This demonstrated that he was not after merely in favor of allowing local German populations political self-determination, but in denying those rights to neighboring peoples. After that the world was wise to him, but of course they should have seen it coming. He rose to power on a platform which included taking land from the Slavs and giving it to the German Master Race.
Where is the evidence that Putin wants to do the same? It is very likely that he wants Russia to have a lot of influence in countries that were a part of the former Soviet Union. We also want influence in those nations. That is why we have filled many of them with our military bases and give them "foreign aid" (taxing the middle class in our country to provide bribes for the rich people in other countries). I am sure he wants Ukraine to pay the billions of dollars they owe Russia for the Russian gas they took. If someone owed you that much money, wouldn't you be interested in getting it back too? That is not the same thing as imperialism. Putin is no sweetheart I am sure, but he is not Hitler.
This brings us to the larger issue. Why is it "bad" for people to vote to move from affiliation with one political entity to another? Why are the lines drawn by some political appointee on a map in the past more relevant than the wishes and desires of the people who are alive right now? Why can't a group of people, especially when the vote is a 96% super-majority, move from one political unit to another without bloodshed?
I am a localist. Localists have a principle, it is one of the seven pillars of localism, that affiliations between political entities should be voluntary, not coercive. For every political union, there should be a means spelled out to legally dissolve that union. It is helpful if they are laid out in advance, but even if they are not, the principle is still a just one. An example of this principle would be a state deciding to leave the union, or a county or group of counties within a state either joining another willing state, or if they are of sufficient size, becoming a new state themselves.
Localism believes that hierarchy and collective are inherently untrustworthy. Government is both. A political union sustained only by force will not serve people well. The easier a government is to get away from or alter, the more reluctant it will be to step on the toes of those who have to live under it. The whole aim of the sixth pillar of localism is to subject government to the free market- that is, the choices of individual persons. Only then, when the opportunity costs to alter and/or escape a government which displeases one are quite low, can government be kept as servant and not become master.
People have different ideas about what a good government would look like. We should not expect there to be one right answer for what good government ought to look like, because people are different. In a society built on the pillars of localism, governments will not look alike, but they will each look more like those who live under them wish them to look.