How Dickey sees it:
In many ways the most dangerous aspect of the rationale Moscow has laid out for its intervention is what might be called “the Putin doctrine,” which is that it has the right to intervene to “protect” Russian populations wherever they may be. It used that rationale in its war against Georgia in 2008. And since there are large Russian populations in the Baltics, which are NATO members, that’s a red flag right there that has to be a red line.
Erik Voeten bets against Putin messing with NATO:
NATO is built around a promise that its member states defend each other from military threats. Ukraine is not a member but the Baltic states and Poland are. Given Russia’s extremely broad assertions that it has a right to defend Russian speakers (and the Baltic states have many that are not always treated so well) the current actions constitute a threat for these states. NATO has both military and institutional resources that can reinforce its commitment to defend the Baltic states and Poland. It is likely to use those. This is, of course, one way in which a smaller conflict could erupt into a bigger one. Yet, despite all the protestations that we wrongly see Putin through Western eyes, I remain confident that a military conflict with NATO is not something he wishes to risk.
Meanwhile, Masha Lipman compares contemporary US-Russia relationship to the US-USSR one:
One major difference between then and now is the absence of ideological antagonism: the postwar Soviet empire proclaimed the advantage of the socialist path over the capitalist one. Today, Russia’s opposition to the West has evolved as a purely nationalist project. Russia’s military response to the events in Ukraine is framed as a protection of “ours”—and “ours” are Russian, no matter where they live. The idea of Ukrainian sovereignty is totally disregarded.
This is Putin’s response to Ukraine’s attempt to build a new nationhood that combines a leaning toward the Western world with the nationalism of Ukraine’s own west; both “wests” are regarded by Putin as utterly hostile to Russian interests. In the words of Dmitry Trenin, an expert on Russian foreign policy, the fear in Moscow is that “the new official Ukrainian narrative would change from the post-Soviet ‘Ukraine is not Russia’ to something like ‘Ukraine in opposition to Russia.’ ”
Earlier Dish on Putin’s posture toward the world here.