For those who remember Putin's reliance on "managed democracy", where the government controls the media, which candidates can run, and ultimately wins, the call for referendums is nothing more than the next step in "managed foreign policy." The Soviet Union was famous for controlling elections in satellite countries. Without getting into the complexities of the current situation and the competing interests, it is important to understand that Putin is going to follow a tried and true model. He is going to try to put a veneer of respectability on an ongoing act of thuggery.
The referendum in the Crimea will show that a "majority" of the populace not only are dissatisfied with the changes in Kiev, but that they feel threatened because of their Russian ethnicity. In fact, the referendum will not only show that they feel threatened but that they actually want complete autonomy or independence from Ukraine. In fact, the referendum likely will show that a "majority" will want to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
Once the results of the "managed" referendum are made public, President Putin will claim a moral responsibility to protect the ethnic Russians and to honor their wish either to be independent or to join Russia. Following the