I think it's less complicated. Ukraine's central government, right wing nationalist, ever since the coup in 2014, was hell bent on (a) taking military action to retake Crimea and (b) joining NATO. That was a recipe for a direct Russia-NATO conflict.
Crimea and the Donbas rejected the 2014 coup, as many US states would had Trump's January 6 coup succeeded. Their defiant secession was more voluntary than coerced by Russia. Poll the Crimeans again if in doubt on that. Calling their referendum "illegal" was the choice of the NATO-ites.
The agenda to make ethnic Russians second class through an apartheid "Ukraine for real Ukrainians" approach is not what many Ukrainians voted for. Their alienation from the central government was never hard to explain. We see somewhat similar circumstances in the federated states of North America.
Now that Ukraine is in effect neutral, NATO is less of a direct threat. Putin is popular in Russia because the logic of these actions seems pretty clear to them. Why not be clear about that part at least? Painting Putin as a crazy man who acted impulsively and without warning is the weakest part of the neocon argument.