Molly K. McKew and Gregory A. Maniatis's recent op-ed in the Washington Post is worth a read. The authors wisely observe that Putin's aggression in Crimea—like in Georgia in 2008—reflects the future of great power conflict. Putin is not playing some sort of 19th-century geopolitical game, they argue, but rather he is "redefining 21st-century warfare":
…Putin is no longer bound by the constraints of nation-state warfare. Years of confrontations with separatists, militants, terrorists and stateless actors influenced his thinking. In Crimea, Putin debuted a pop-up war—nimble and covert—that is likely to be the design of the future.
I could not agree more, and in fact, I would take this idea one step further. As savvy as Putin is, his moves reflect greater global trends that challenge our conventional (Western) legal and cultural notions of what constitutes "war" versus "crime," or other forms of disruptive or aggressive geopolitical behavior. Our separate law enforcement, intelligence, and military bureaucracies have clearly defined roles and missions that align with these rigid constructs. And our national security and international relations architectures—largely forged between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries—bound how we think about and deal with threats to international order.