"They were faced with either defending the new frontier, or letting it go and seeing what amounted to a setback, if not chaos on their border," Collins told Discovery News.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has intervened twice: once on its own soil in the conflictive province of Chechnya, and, more recently, in the independent nation of Georgia in 2008.
Chechnya was a troublesome province, with hijackings and raids by armed groups that refused to sign a treaty with the government of Boris Yeltsin in 1991. That led to the first Russian intervention in 1992-94.
"You ended up with Yeltsin turning to the military," Collins said. "That was more a way of enforcing Moscow’s writ in the country that wasn't doing it."
Since the 90s, the conflict in Chechnya has worsened and the region is a breeding ground for terrorist attacks on civilians throughout Russia.
More recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the protection of Russian speakers or ethnic Russians as a rationale for military action, according to Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.
That's what occurred in Georgia in 2008, when Russia intervened, supposedly to protect Russian enclaves in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Bad blood between the Russian and Georgian leaders didn't help either.
Despite Moscow's posturing during the current crisis in Ukraine, several analysts warned that it's not a good idea to pay too much attention to public statements by government officials in Moscow.
"Russian rhetoric is often for domestic consumption," said Nadiya Kravets, a researcher at the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University. "The ruble is falling and the Russian economy is problematic. Having a foreign policy issue that you can use to distract people is useful politically. We need to acknowledge that."