The level of vitriol directed at Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin has become so extreme that a visitor from outer space could legitimately wonder if the United States was in the throes of a mass psychosis. This comment by Stephen Hayes, the new editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard, is representative of the nuttiness:

HAYES: “. . . Russia is a hostile power. They’ve been bent on reconstituting the former Soviet Empire. We’ve seen aggressive expansionism both in the former Soviet Empire and throughout the Middle East. And they’ve been harassing and attacking our diplomats now going on several years. so it’s time to take this seriously, to treat Russia and Vladimir Putin as the KGB thug that he is.”

“Aggressive expansionism through out the Middle East?” Really? Who invaded Iraq in 1991? Who invaded Iraq in 2003? Who sent military forces into Afghanistan in 2001? Who sent U.S. military forces into Somalia and Syria? Who helped ignite a civil war in Libya and dethrone Muammar Gaddhafi? I believe that was the United States, not Russia. In fact, if you are Russia and you are watching this cavalcade of U.S. military interventions in other countries, you would not be crazy to wonder if you were next.

So let’s go over some key facts one should consider before passing too harsh a judgment on Russia and Putin.

FACT ONE–It was Bill Clinton who proposed expanding NATO’s membership back in 1996 to include countries formerly under the control of the Soviet Union. Clinton’s decision was criticized by the Arms Control Association who noted that Clinton’s effort to sell the deal noted:

. . .that the alliance must be prepared for “the possibility that Russia could…return to the threatening behavior of the Soviet period, although we see such a turn as unlikely.” [Emphasis added.] The administration claims that “our policy of engaging Russia…the process of NATO enlargement and the NATO Russia Founding Act, increase the likelihood that Russia will continue on the path of democratic and peaceful development.” In reality, NATO enlargement has undercut Russian democrats, hampered efforts to reduce and make more secure Russia’s nuclear arsenal, and made President Boris Yeltsin’s political life much more difficult. The Founding Act has been equally controversial; it has been vigorously attacked by the right in the United States (for providing too much influence to Russia) and in Russia (for not providing Russia with enough influence), and its basic meaning is in dispute.

Within five years of the push to expand NATO, the United States invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. Now, we insist we had good reasons for doing what we did, but we must also understand how those actions could be interpreted by Russian military and intelligence analysts.

FACT TWO–The next major flash point was Ukraine.

In the 2010 presidential election, Yanukovych became Yushchenko’s successor as Ukrainian President after the Central Election Commission and international observers declared that the presidential election was conducted fairly.[13] Yanukovych was ousted from power four years later following the February 2014 Euromaidan clashesin Kiev’s Independence Square.

An underlying source of tension was the proposal for Ukraine to join NATO:

Ukraine applied to join the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2008.[2][3] Plans for NATO membership were shelved by Ukraine following the 2010 presidential election in which Viktor Yanukovych, who preferred to keep the country non-aligned, was elected President.[4][5] Amid the Euromaidan unrest, Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February 2014.[6] The interim Yatsenyuk Government which came to power, initially said, with reference to the country’s non-aligned status, that it had no plans to join NATO.[7] However, following the Russian military intervention in Ukraine and parliamentary elections in October 2014, the new government made joining NATO a priority.[8]

It is important to remember that during the four period from the election of Yanukovych in 2010 to his removal in 2014 that the United States joined with Europe in launching an unprovoked invasion of Libya. The United States then joined forces with Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in helping fund and are the insurrection in Syria.

The ouster of the Ukrainian President friendly with Moscow and the formation of a new government hostile to Moscow was not an internal Ukrainian revolution. There was outside involvement, including U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. Moscow and Putin viewed this as a coup d’etat and the new government did nothing to allay Russian worries. Instead, the new Ukrainian Government appeared ready to shutdown Russia’s access to its naval bases in Crimea.

It was in response to this fear that Putin moved on Crimea:

Days after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich fled the capital of Kiev in late February 2014, armed men opposed to the Euromaidan movement began to take control of the Crimean Peninsula.[109] Checkpoints were established by unmarked Russian[110] soldiers with green military-grade uniforms and equipment in the capital of the Autonomous Republic of CrimeaSimferopol, and the independently-administered port-city of Sevastopol, home to a Russian naval base under the Kharkiv Pact of 2010.[111][112][113] The local population and the media referred to these men as “little green men“.[114] After the occupation of the Crimean parliament by these unmarked troops, believed to be Russian special forces,[115][116][117][118] the Crimean leadership announced it would hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine.[119] This heavily disputed referendum[62]was followed by the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in mid-March. Ukraine and most of the international community refused to recognize the referendum or the annexation.[120] On 15 April, the Ukrainian parliament declared Crimea a territory temporarily occupied by Russia.[121] Since annexing Crimea, the Russian government increased its military presence in the region, with Russian president Vladimir Putin saying a Russian military task force would be established there.[122] In December 2014 Ukrainian Border Guard Service announced Russian troops began withdrawing from the areas of Kherson Oblast. Russian troops occupied parts of the Arabat Spit and the islands around the Syvash which are geographically parts of Crimea but are administratively part of Kherson Oblast. One of such villages occupied by Russian troops was StrilkoveHenichesk Raion, located on the Arabat Spit, which housed an important gas distribution centre. Russian forces stated they took over the gas distribution center to prevent terrorist attacks. Russian forces withdrew from southern Kherson and continued to occupy the gas distribution center outside Strilkove. The withdrawal from Kherson ended nearly 10 months of Russian occupation of the region. Ukraine’s border guards stated the areas that were under Russian occupation will have to be checked for mines prior to them overtaking these positions.[123][124]

I am not arguing that Russia was justified in doing what it did. However, the United States and many pundits and media types are ignoring what the Untied States did to foster Russian paranoia about its national security on the western front. For example, Senators McCain and Graham continue to call for arming the Ukraine and conducting military exercises on Russia’s border. Just pause for a moment and ask yourself how the United States would react if Russia was conducting military exercises on our borders and encouraging Mexico and Canada to enter into  a military alliance with Moscow?

What should Donald Trump do? We need to move expeditiously to reassure Putin and his government that our intentions are not hostile. We can do several things:

  1. Reject Ukraine’s application to join NATO.
  2. Shift NATO’s purpose and mission to combating radical Islamic terrorism
  3. Work with Russia and China in putting together an international coalition to destroy the Islamists and punish any nation that provides weapons and financial support to the Islamists.

Russia is not our enemy. We need to make Vladimir Putin and the Russian people understand that.

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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.