The international crisis in Ukraine, which has escalated into a civil war between pro-Russia separatists in the East and the pro-West government in Kiev, has taken a turn for the worse since the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Immediately, despite the fact that investigations had not even begun, the United States accused rebels of having shot the plane down. This increased tensions between Russia and the West, as both the United States and several European countries held Moscow responsible and called for more sanctions against Russia.
The idea that everything that is happening in Ukraine is the result of Russia’s aggressive, expansionist policy is almost consensual in the Western media, which are remarkably uncritical of the claims made by their governments. Some prominent figures, including Hillary Clinton, even compared Putin to Hitler after Russia annexed Crimea. Many others clearly have the same idea, although they have not said so explicitly. Indeed, the widely accepted explanation of what is happening is that Putin, who is bent on resuscitating the Soviet empire, wants to annex eastern Ukraine. We are told that he should be stopped, though it is not clear exactly how.
This analysis is completely wrong and can only lead to disaster. People who denounce Moscow’s expansionist agenda have forgotten that it is NATO, not Russia, that has systematically expanded since the end of the Cold War. The result of that expansion is that almost every country in Europe that used to be part of the Warsaw Pact is now a member of NATO. Yet at the end of the Cold War, the United States assured Moscow that NATO would not expand further east, so that Gorbachev would agree to Germany’s reunification and to united Germany’s NATO membership. In 1999, NATO illegally bombed Yugoslavia, one of Russia’s last allies in Europe. More recently, the United States announced plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe, which Russia has every reason to believe is directed against it, despite Washington’s repeated denials.
The fact is that every Russian action over the last few years that has been presented as part of Putin’s imperialist agenda has merely been a reaction to the interference of the United States into its sphere of influence. Moscow’s concerns about NATO’s expansionism are quickly dismissed in the West as paranoia. Those who think that should ask themselves how the United States would react if Russia was seeking a military alliance with its neighbors and installing military bases at its borders. This requires no great effort of imagination, for one just has to remember that when the Soviet Union tried to install missiles in Cuba, the United States almost started a nuclear war. The problem is that people in Washington, who think of US hegemony as benign, apparently have a lot of difficulty understanding how anyone could find it threatening. Yet for some reason, the Russians cannot bring themselves to rejoice at the prospect of being surrounded by the most powerful military alliance in the history of the world.