If only America were fighting more wars, Russia would never have taken Crimea. That’s basically the argument John McCain made last Friday in The New York Times. “For five years,” he complained, “Americans have been told that ‘the tide of war is receding’.… In Afghanistan and Iraq, military decisions have appeared driven more by a desire to withdraw than to succeed.”

The outcome of the crisis in Ukraine depends to an unusual extent on the intentions of one man: Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the last few weeks, since the collapse of Viktor Yanukovych’s Russia-friendly regime and Moscow’s precipitous invasion of Crimea, analysts have been obsessed with trying to get inside the Russian leader’s mind.

If you thought all Russians were bloodthirsty lunatics hellbent on starting World War III, you would be wrong. On Saturday, tens of thousands of liberal Muscovites lined up to pass through metal detectors and march down a route lined with police and barriers in an effort to convince Putin to give peace a chance.

Forget comparisons with 1914, or to Munich in 1938. Forget the war that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s and remember, instead, Schleswig-Holstein. A century and a half ago, it was the Crimea of its day,  a piece of disputed territory that caused international turmoil and confusion.     

Varenyky are Ukrainian dumplings stuffed with fruit or potatoes and topped with sour cream. Today, they became a symbol of political protest. While tens of thousands of Crimeans went to the polls on Sunday to vote — the result is almost certain to separate their peninsula from Ukraine and join Russia — others expressed their dissent by staying home to cook this most Ukrainian of foods and posting photos and videos of their dumplings to Youtube and Facebook.

Partial election results released late Sunday showed Crimean voters overwhelmingly supporting a referendum measure that would see their region break away from Ukraine and join Russia. With half the ballots counted, Mikhail Malyshev, head of the Crimea Election Commission, said in televised remarks that more than 95% of voters approved the option of annexation with Russia over a second option offered, which called for seeking more autonomy within Ukraine.

Events in Crimea and Ukraine are entering a new phase this weekend. As residents of Crimea voted in a referendum about its future disposition, Ukrainian troops stuck in Crimea are now facing an uncertain fate, and tensions between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian citizens are flaring in cities throughout eastern Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin appears well on his way to reclaiming the Crimea for Russia, restoring the peninsula to a status forfeited by Nikita Khrushchev’s Soviet Union in 1954. But this territorial achievement may provide only temporary distraction for Russia’s 140 million people who have seen their quality of life deteriorate dramatically since Putin took power in 1999.