Russia was in a much weaker position in 2014. Had Putin started a hot conflagration with the US back then, Russian forces in Syria would have been completely routed,
The 2014 timeline was a worst-case scenario for Russia so what exactly was avoided in 2014?
Ukraine went from being a relatively stable kleptocracy that swung between West-aligned oligarchs and Russia-aligned oligarchs (Ukraine pre-Maidan was always considered within the Russian sphere of influence), to being a de facto failed state that gets militarized by NATO to hurt Russia as much as it can. People like to talk about how pre-Maidan Ukraine wasn't exactly heaven either but from Russia's POV Kuchma or Yanukovich ranked 10/10 compared to what they have now.
What happened in 2014 was due to a mixture of 1. political paralysis and nihilistic attitudes domestically, and 2. indecisive and risk-averse Russian leadership. Reality is that Putin was constantly on the back foot and ended up in a whack-a-mole type of situation. Russia first witnessed it's entire defense strategy getting endangered due to its Southern flank getting ripped open by yet another blatant NATO expansion, after which it had to invade and takeover part of sovereign neighboring country, and instigate and maintain a bloody civil war in another part of said country.
This then resulted in nearly a decade of economic stagnation, Russia being relegated to an international pariah state in much of the West+ allies, ruined relations with Ukraine for decades to come and a frozen conflict which it doesn't control (like the ones in Georgia, Moldovia, Azerbaijan etc.) right on it's Eastern flank.
It also gave the USA a stick to hit the dog with as they can, almost at will, crank the pressure up or down. I said it before and I will say it again. In International Relations deterrents are key. Right now Russia doesn't have any major deterrent over the USA - and if it does have them it chooses not to use them.
People really need to stop talking about Putin like he is some geopolitical 4D chess Master Yoda.
the US would have taken over their naval base along with hundreds of Russian prisoners, it would have been a disaster of huge proportion for Putin. Instead he ended up winning the Syrian war, Russia now has the upper hand, Assad is there to stay, and the US is on the way out. Putin's patience paid off.
How could Putin involving himself in the early stages of a color revolution in a neighboring state and the umptieth broken Western promise have led to a direct US attack on Russian assets/ the Russian military?!
Crimea is not locked down in fact it's one of the main headache dossiers for Russian military strategists. Kaliningrad and Crimea are due to their location targets for enemy military movements.On the Ukraine front, Putin has completely locked down Crimea and he controls the situation there, Russian troops can roll in almost unimpeded to the Dnieper if and when NATO crosses Putin's red lines. Any escalation now could result in Putin unleashing his hypersonic missile strike force, a card he didn't have back in 2014 when Russia was still rebuilding its military and its economy.
In case of escalation Ukrainian military can easily target and destroy the Kerch Bridge after which Crimea would be practically under a land siege, submarine warfare could make naval resupply a hindrance.
Putin has never been interested in a Russian-Chinese alliance. He was instead pushed towards the East.On top of that Russia can count on China's backing now, back in 2014 Xi was just starting to emerge from a tough battle for the leadership of the CCP, he took out both the neoliberal wing of the party (Soros' buddies Bo Xilai and Jiang Zemin) and the hardcore commie CCP Youth apparatus. Xi's position was still tenuous back in 2014, and China was far less assertive on the world scene than they are today. Here again Putin's patience paid off.
Putin is the architect of the Greater Eurasian Initiative, a policy that he fully or partly pursued up until very recently (April 2021?). It explains the abusive West vs. Russia relationship. I think it boils down to personal preferences. Putin, like many of his predecessors is a great fan of European culture (especially German culture) and considers Russia to be part of Europe. We also shouldn't forget that Russia facing East would mean a break with 300 years of Russian focus on the West, starting with Peter the Great. Putin has always tried to come to some sort of West- Russia co-existence, thereby positioning Russia in between the Rising East and the (relatively declining) West. Up until recently the Russians only mentioned a possible Russian- Chinese rapprochement as a way to increase their value to the West when at the negotiating table.
The unofficial Russia-China alliance that is now emerging is not something that you can credit Putin for. It is instead the result of decades of aggressive Western Russophobia. Putin came to that conclusion fairly late, and it remains to be seen what this 'alliance' will bring. From first hand experience I can tell that many ordinary Russians are happy that Russia is now able to assert itself more with this powerful friend, but that they don't trust the Chinese for one bit.