The Backstory to the Russia-Ukraine Confrontation: The U.S. and NATO Encirclement of Russia

The Big Picture: The U.S. and NATO Have Been Trying to Encircle Russia Militarily Since 1991

The American press portrays Putin as being the bad guy and the aggressor in the Ukraine crisis.

Putin is certainly no saint. A former KGB agent, Putin’s net worth is estimated at some $40 billion dollars … as he has squeezed money out of the Russian economy by treating the country as his own personal fiefdom. And all sides appear to have dirt on their hands in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

But we can only see the bigger picture if we take a step back and gain a little understanding of the history underlying the current tensions.

Indeed, the fact that the U.S. has allegedly paid billions of dollars to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine – and even purportedly picked the Ukrainian president – has to be seen in context.

Veteran New York Times reporter Steven Kinzer notes at the Boston Globe:

From the moment the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia, just as it has with other perceived enemies like China and Iran. [Background here, here and here.] It has brought 12 countries in central Europe, all of them formerly allied with Moscow, into the NATO alliance. US military power is now directly on Russia’s borders.

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,” warned George Kennan, the renowned diplomat and Russia-watcher, as NATO began expanding eastward. “I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies.”

Stephen Cohen – professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University who has long focused on Russia – explained this weekend on CNN:

We are witnessing as we talk the making possibly of the worst history of our lifetime. We are watching the descending of a new cold war divide between west and east, only this time, it is not in far away Berlin, it’s right on Russia’s borders through the historical civilization in Ukraine. It’s a crisis of historic magnitude. If you ask how we got in it, how we got into the crisis, and how therefore do we get out, it is time to stop asking why Putin – why Putin is doing this or that, but ask about the American policy, and the European Union policy that led to this moment.


I don’t know if you your listeners or views remember George Kennan. He was considered [a] great strategic thinker about Russia among American diplomats but he warned when we expanded NATO [under Bill Clinton], that this was the most fateful mistake of American foreign policy and that it would lead to a new Cold War. George lived to his hundreds, died a few years ago, but his truth goes marching on. The decision to move NATO beginning in the 90’s continuing under Bush and continuing under Obama, is right now on Russia’s borders.

And if you want to know for sure, and I have spent a lot of time in Moscow, if you want to know what the Russian power elite thinks Ukraine is about, it is about bringing it into NATO. One last point, that so-called economic partnership that Yanukovych, the elected president of Ukraine did not sign, and that set off the streets – the protests in the streets in November, which led to this violence in and confrontation today, that so-called economic agreement included military clauses which said that Ukraine by signing this so called civilization agreement had to abide by NATO military policy. This is what this is about from the Russian point of view, the ongoing western march towards post Soviet Russia.

Jonathan Steele writes at the Guardian

Both John Kerry’s threats to expel Russia from the G8 and the Ukrainian government’s plea for Nato aid mark a dangerous escalation of a crisis that can easily be contained if cool heads prevail. Hysteria seems to be the mood in Washington and Kiev, with the new Ukrainian prime minister claiming, “We are on the brink of disaster” as he calls up army reserves in response to Russian military movements in Crimea.

Were he talking about the country’s economic plight he would have a point. Instead, along with much of the US and European media, he was over-dramatising developments in the east, where Russian speakers are understandably alarmed after the new Kiev authorities scrapped a law allowing Russian as an official language in their areas. They see it as proof that the anti-Russian ultra-nationalists from western Ukraine who were the dominant force in last month’s insurrection still control it. Eastern Ukrainians fear similar tactics of storming public buildings could be used against their elected officials.

Kerry’s rush to punish Russia and Nato’s decision to respond to Kiev’s call by holding a meeting of member states’ ambassadors in Brussels today were mistakes. Ukraine is not part of the alliance, so none of the obligations of common defence come into play. Nato should refrain from interfering in Ukraine by word or deed. The fact that it insists on getting engaged reveals the elephant in the room: underlying the crisis in Crimea and Russia’s fierce resistance to potential changes is Nato’s undisguised ambition to continue two decades of expansion into what used to be called “post-Soviet space”, led by Bill Clinton and taken up by successive administrations in Washington. At the back of Pentagon minds, no doubt, is the dream that a US navy will one day replace the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Balaclava.


Vladimir Putin’s troop movements in Crimea, which are supported by most Russians, are of questionable legality under the terms of the peace and friendship treaty that Russia signed with Ukraine in 1997. But their illegality is considerably less clear-cut than that of the US-led invasion of Iraq, or of Afghanistan, where the UN security council only authorised the intervention several weeks after it had happened. [Indeed, top American leaders admit that the Iraq war was for reasons different than publicly stated. And the U.S. military sticks its nose in other countries’ business all over the world.  And see this.] And Russia’s troop movements can be reversed if the crisis abates. That would require the restoration of the language law in eastern Ukraine and firm action to prevent armed groups of anti-Russian nationalists threatening public buildings there.

Again, we don’t believe that there are angels on any side.  But we do believe that everyone has to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, calm down and reach a negotiated diplomatic resolution.

And see this, this, this and this (interview with a 27-year CIA veteran, who chaired National Intelligence Estimates and personally delivered intelligence briefings to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and the Joint Chiefs of Staff).


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  • colinjames71
  • Ian56

    Ukraine Explained – the Background and Details of Recent Events

    • hoss2013

      As an added note, IF Ukraine follows IMF requirements for getting loans then it will be a matter of time before the place blows up (that is the objective for the West). Why? One of the conditions is to eliminate subsidies on energy which would results in increased prices for gas/electricity. They would raise the prices slowly so as not to awake the “victim”. Another big one is privatization. Naomi Klein has done a fairly good job to explain how this works. Ukraine people will lose while the 2-3 oligarch who just came into the government will WIN BIG. Check them out and ask yourself how they got such fortunes. It sure wasn’t selling Kool-Aid.

  • Robert Barsocchini

    At the end of 2013, with the protests in Ukraine already going on, Ukrainians viewed the usa as the biggest threat in the world. 33% picked the usa, while 5% viewed Russia as the biggest threat, win/gallup, the international polling agency found. Worldwide, the usa is also considered by far the biggest international threat. About a quarter of people pick the usa. 2%, twelve times less, pick Russia.

    Let’s all remember: there may be no angels, but the worst devils today are in the USA, and one is Obama. And much of the world knows it. (Nearly half of Bosnians, 49%, who the USA claimed to be”helping”in the 90s, picked the USA as the biggest threat.)


    • gcm

      The Ukrainian fiasco has been brewing since 1991. Internal matters, rather than external forces, have been the driving force behind the narrative.

      • Robert Barsocchini

        Ukraine has been a victim of larger powers for hundreds of years.

        What is happening now is a perfect example of how external forces – currently the USA – ravage Ukraine for their own purposes.

        But anyway, how did you mean for this to relate to the original comment?

  • el Gallinazo

    If one traces the links back here to the “fact” of Putin’s personal $40 billion fortune, one discovers that it is 100% based upon an essentially unsupported claim by a so-called Russian political expert by the name of Belkovsky given in a 2007 interview to the German newspaper, Die Welt, and then picked up by the Guardian. Escuuuuuuuuuse me!! as Steve Martin would put it, but I need a little more for “facts” of this importance.

    Also, I initially read this GW article on Zero Hedge and I find it more than disappointing that ZH should jump on the demonization of Putin and “Russian aggression,” after I listened to the amazing Paul Craig Roberts interview of March 1 and learned that Ukraine is now run by overt Neo Nazi’s whose wet dream is to kill Russians and Jews. When they start eating Russian livers, Obama will have no choice but to continue to support them.

    • hoss2013

      I’m with you on the “word game” with respect to Putin and Russia that is being played in the West. That is par for the course. However, seeing who the author is I am not surprised. At least he is presenting the Bigger Picture in a sensible way.
      “Indeed, the fact that the U.S. has allegedly paid billions of dollars to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine – and even purportedly picked the Ukrainian president ”
      This is a near perfect copy of the template used to execute the Bolshevik Revolution. They just couldn’t grab Janukovich in order to murder him like they did with the Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Even the source of money is the same, hint: Trotsky’s trip to New York.

      “the United States has relentlessly pursued a strategy of encircling Russia”
      Bulls eye. The problem they have is that Putin is not a drunk Yeltsin who could be easily manipulated by his ministers. Hence the relentless attacks ad-persona, because nothing else is working and they do need a reason if they strike.

    • TroliusMaximus

      If you doubt Putin’s oligarchic credentials, then you might as well sleep and bathe in that tin foil cap.

  • TroliusMaximus

    The ultimate question is this:

    Does the world want to live ‘free’ (in the context of the U.S.’s hegemoney, of course) under the auspice of a democratic superpower -or- less so under Putin-like dictatorships and Sino economic (and otherwise) subjugation?

    I’ll take the gloating, bloated Amerifats… with fries!