The recent invasion of Crimea by Russian troops has sent Western media and most commentators in a frenzy of denunciating Russian President Vladimir Putin. The average citizen watching the news gets the impression that Putin is irrational, impulsive, psychologically "in another world" as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it. The Head of State of what is still one of the foremost conventional military power armed with the largest nuclear arsenal more than two decades after the end of Cold War would therefore be some mentally unstable man-child that invaded its neighbor like a kid would fight another of his playmates in a sand square.
Others abide by the strangely inaccurate, pompous and paternalistic conclusion that if Putin invaded Crimea it is "Because the West is Weak", as if the West is the moral guardian of a world unable and too immature to resolve its own dispute the way it sees fit. As American State Secretary John Kerry threatens Russia by saying that "all options are on the table" to hold Putin accountable for his actions, we are hypocritically trying to understand the current crisis by the mere unpredictable mood swing of Vladimir Putin or by our own inability of unwillingness to act.
It is the exact opposite, however, of Western inaction or Putin's psychological health that has led to the current crisis. The Western media, the European Union, NATO and the United States seem to suffer from self-induced amnesia as it puts the entire responsibility of the current Crimean crisis on the shoulders of President Putin. The West conveniently omits that Western Europe and the United States have steadily, over the last 20 years, gone back on post-Cold War agreements not to enlarge NATO and to incorporate into the alliance former Eastern block states like Poland, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Combined with NATO's incessant flirting with Ukraine to join the Atlantic Alliance in recent years, effectively creating what would consist of surrounding Russia almost entirely on its Western border, we get a clearer picture of Russian fear and threat perception as the noose tightening around its geopolitical neck.
Beyond the internal divisions between Ukrainians of different ethnic and linguistic allegiances, the current situation in the Crimean peninsula is the result of 20 years of Western foreign policy in Eastern Europe and the West taking down pro-Russian regimes in Libya, Syria (attempting in this case), Iraq as well as backing Georgia in the war of 2008, all crucial Russian interests.
Western hypocrisy goes so far as condemning Russian intervention across its own border while the West does not hesitate to interfere far away from Washington, London, Paris, or even Berlin into the various regions of strategic importance surrounding Russia, existentially threatening the former Cold War opponent by confining it to lay dormant within its borders while the Western forces roam free around the world.
In other words, Russia's invasion of Crimea has been in the making for a long time. Russia's position of weakness as the Soviet Union disintegrated did not permit the Kremlin to act with strength against a policy of Western expansion at the expense of Russian interests. If anyone is the bully is this situation it is not simplistically Putin and the Russian military.
The West's failure to consider Russia as an equal with vital interests in its near abroad and around the globe in the post-Cold War world order has created strong anti-Western resentment and the idea, perhaps accurate, that the U.S. hasn't given up on it's Cold War strategy of containment of the former Soviet Union. Seeing its interests challenged once too many time, Russia could not allow the risk of having NATO troops just a few kilometers from the Russian border, coming to ensure the overthrow of the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
As Putin outplayed the Obama administration and forced the U.S. to back away from its own threats of intervening in the Syrian Civil War was a good example of Russia's resurgence and reaffirming stance on the international scene. Sooner or later, such Russian resurgence had to enter in conflict with a strategy of an ever tightening encirclement of Russia by the West. The turmoil in Ukraine and Russian interest in preserving its naval access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in a predominantly ethnically and linguistically Russian province puts together the necessary elements for Russia to make a loud statement that it won't be bullied anymore.
The West is furthermore failing intellectually as it is incapable of escaping its own coercive normative rights-based discourse. After "saving" the Libyan people by decapitating the Gaddafi regime, wanting but failing to come to the rescue of the Syrian people and justifying wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a part of a universally agreed Democratic human impulse that American troops would help liberate from oppressive dictatorial regimes, we can't help ourselves but to frame the current struggle in Ukraine in the same humanistic light. On the other hand, Putin is playing the eternal game of realpolitik as he weighs his interests, his objectives and his capabilities carefully to succeed in what is nothing else but a struggle for power and influence on the international scene in a rapidly changing world.
It may be time for the West to stop proselytizing and play the realist game of international politics as we were once so good at. We may then escape the current hypocritical discourse that only we fall prey to with its disastrous consequences. Russia and other rising powers like China and India are not fooled by the underlying claim to power of this post-Cold War Western normative discourse. We can only continue down this path to our own peril.
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