The spheres of Russian governance were happy up until 1855. They had the illusion of living in a great empire dominating European politics. They thought they were immune to the revolutionary virus of the time, having successfully destroyed the Decembrist revolt of 1825 and having been able to reinstate the Austrian emperor to his throne in 1849. The regime was based on the three main pillars of autocracy, Orthodoxy and nationalism. The tsar reigned alone, through ukases, with no real counterweight. His authority was hardly discussed. The Orthodox Church was obedient, uncultivated and totally subservient to the tsar. Both autocracy and Orthodoxy had the mission to exalt Russian nationalism, which, at the time, was hardly distinguishable from Slavophilia.
This illusion came to an abrupt end with the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856. A mixture of different armies -French, British, Piedmontese and Ottoman -, hastily organized and totally uncoordinated, gave a fighting lesson to an immense Russian army in a long war. The Crimean War showed the Russian monarchy and ruling elite the limitations of their illusions. The period of reformation started just after this event, without much success. The terrible World War I, in which the Russian army was defeated on almost every front, including the Ottoman front, ended the monarchy and gave way to the first long-lasting socialist system in the world in the Soviet Union.
After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the old pillars of Russian society re-emerged rapidly with an authoritarian regime with the personality of President Vladimir Putin at the center of popular support and confidence, a revived Orthodox Church submissive to the leader's authority and an intensified Russian nationalism, going hand in hand with a total defiance to the West.
A very difficult transitional period, under the first post-Soviet Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, in which the economy was in shambles and military power evaporated, was followed by the reign of Putin, and the economy recovered thanks to skyrocketing oil prices. This renaissance was based mainly on nationalism, Orthodoxy, authoritarianism and an ever-increasing defiance from the West.
Putin scored some points to heal the injured self-esteem of Russian society, like the war in Georgia. But Putin has the feeling that he can re-establish Russian dominance over almost all the former Soviet sphere. European countries are gone, but still Russia has extremely strong traditional ties with Orthodox countries like Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Greek Cyprus. However, when it comes to Ukraine, simple dominance is not enough, Putin wants obedience. He obtained it under now ousted President Victor Yanukovych and the only remedy Putin could find to tame a rebellious Ukraine was to annex Crimea. He also started a civil war in which Russian soldiers, under the barest of disguise, fight against Ukrainian government troops on Ukrainian soil.
To round off the analogy with today's Russia and the tsarist Russian Empire in 1855, let me say that the only missing link is a large battle to be lost by the Russian military. The war in Georgia, despite showing very important unpreparedness, was a picnic for the Russian military. Fighting in Syria could, otherwise, prove to be difficult. Putin and his administration see Turkey's shooting down the Russian Su-24 jet was as a slap on the face precisely because it has shown the limitations of Russian military adventurism. Not much could have been done against the Turkish Armed Forces because Russia obviously cannot seriously contemplate attacking a NATO country. Still, with its experience with Soviet-era propaganda, Russia will do anything to harm Turkish interests in the region, possibly without making too many concessions to the Russian economy.
Russia is engaged in a "cul-de-sac," politically speaking. That does not mean that it has lost all capability to do harm. The Turkish government would be well-advised to even further tone down its rhetoric concerning Russia because time is obviously on Turkey's side.