"It would be a surprise if Russia moved to annex the region outright. Although Putin has maintained his silence on the situation in Ukraine since this past weekend, events on the ground are challenging Ukraine's territorial integrity and raising the possibility that Russian troops will become directly involved in pulling the country apart," said Weiss.
"The muscle flexing by the Russians is a very crude, brutal signal from the Russians, and unfortunately I think it's going to work to their disadvantage because it can lead to Ukrainian public opinion to be more anti-Russian because of these kinds of shenanigans," Kuchins said, noting that Russian intelligence services are most likely already helping the Crimean militants.
4. The U.S.Could Be Forced to Help Ukraine
Tensions are running high between Russia and the United States, and since Ukraine's border states are allies of the U.S. (including Romania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia), the U.S. could be forced to help if a conflict erupts in Ukraine.
"We have alliance obligations to countries immediately bordering Ukraine," Rumer said. "This does not mean we would get involved directly... but there could be refugees or humanitarian emergencies in which we would be called to assist our allies."
Weiss points out that Western calls for Russia to remain uninvolved in the Crimean conflict could fall on deaf ears due to Russia's perception that the West stoked protests in Kiev.
5. Crimea Remains a Part of Ukraine and Russia Respects Its Autonomy
In this scenario, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said today it is encouraging Putin to show a statement of support for Ukrainian territory and opposing any moves by Crimea to secede, as well as a recognition by Russia of the new provisional government in Ukraine after the elections in May.
"What I hope will happen is that with the help perhaps of a mediator, to deflect and cool down passions in Crimea and get the government in Kiev and authorities in Crimea to accept a cooling off period, a mediation process, to seek reassurance that they will not seek independence," Rumer said.