It's a case of making your bed and sleeping in it. Why is anyone really surprised that Russia is intervening in Ukraine? The dully predictable outburst of anti-Russian sentiment in the media would suggest plenty of people are. Yet it would take only ten minutes on Wikipedia to be aware of the historical complexity of this region.
Russia is currently being blamed for having the temerity to go into Ukraine. This is typical of the spasm of hatred being directed its way, for simply not having good enough leaders or policies for the West. I don't doubt the personal nastiness of Vladimir Putin, or the many indefensible actions his government has taken. But this doesn't make Russia the USSR, and this isn't the Cold War. There are no intelligent reasons why we are obliged to make an enemy of Russia. That is why NATO and the EU have behaved with criminal irresponsibility in trying to prise countries with Russian minorities into their sphere of influence, knowing full well the instability it could cause.
The Russo-Georgian War of 2008 highlighted the probable outcomes in implementing this misguided policy. In that conflict, the Russia defended its intervention by claiming it was protecting its citizens in Georgia. Many accept that a principle reason for tensions between the two countries was NATO's promise to Georgia of eventual membership, something which was unsurprisingly detested by Russia.
Clearly not put off by helping to instigate one regional conflict, the West has embarked on fomenting another. For several years, the prospects of NATO membership and trade deals with the EU have been promoted in Ukraine. This is despite the majority of Ukrainians objecting to membership of NATO, something which was largely a pet project of the equally corrupt pro-US politicians who ran the country pre-Yanukovych.
Similarly, the EU's "Eastern Partnership," dreamt up in 2009, was another deliberate attempt to woo countries historically aligned with Russia into the economic space of Western Europe. The embarrassingly naive origins of this enterprise were summed up by Michael Emerson, a former EU ambassador to Russia, who stated: "This is only happening because Russia has annoyed everyone." So spite was the main justification for this incredibly shortsighted and risky policy. And these institutions are run by supposedly intelligent people.
Even the assumption that Russia is an intrinsic threat to the EU is an analysis which fails on many levels. Russia is not an expansionist superpower like it was during the Cold War, and its current goal is essentially national self preservation and regional dominance. No one in the world would really look to its political and economic system as desirable. Its politics, and Ukraine's, are of the past, and sooner or later the countries under its influence will change.
The question is thus whether the West should actively try to force change, aware of the monumental risk of creating warfare in this fragile region, or let it happen naturally. There was no pressing need for the EU or NATO to expand eastwards and make an enemy out of Russia in this way, a country which may actually be essential to our security by counteracting China and Iran in the future.
Had they known the complex history between Russia and Ukraine, perhaps these policies would have been rightly ignored. The full story does not need rehearsed here, but the basics are essential. Around 60% of Crimea is ethnically Russian, and the decision of Nikita Khrushchev to grant the region to Ukraine in 1954 was made in a time when there was supreme confidence in the longevity of the USSR, and the prospect of conflict between the two countries was nonexistent. For centuries Crimea has been home to the Russian naval base in Sevastopol, the mere existence of which should have discouraged even the most foolhardy NATO officials from wishing to expand in this region. Quite simply, NATO and the EU should have left Ukraine alone.
However it is not only these Western bodies that have been making grim mistakes. The folly has been continued by the persistence of politicians to wear their hearts on their sleeves and glorify the protests that toppled Yanukovych. Because nowadays, you only need to say you are peaceful and freedom loving to get people to believe you. It evidently worked with US politicians, as John McCain happily shared a stage with the leader of the far-right Svoboda party. Fanning the flames further was the US ambassador to Ukraine, Victoria Nuland, disregarding any notion of diplomatic responsibility by handing out biscuits to protesters.
As the new government's radical nationalist character becomes increasingly apparent, these actions appear increasingly risky. Is it this disagreeable group of people that the West is really throwing its lot behind? Can we honestly justify this rabble simply to get a better EU and NATO deal? Given the probability of warfare, and that it was even anticipated by some, were these risks worth taking?
NATO and EU policy is clearly being made in a vacuum of historical ignorance. The bumbling incompetence that has been seen up until now, and continues daily with the lofty statements being emitted by John Kerry, highlight the staggering void between what politicians want and the actual results. By engaging in a game of petty one upmanship against Russia, the West has run the risk of creating a potentially devastating conflict. Neither side is blameless in this.
Edmund Burke put it better than most, warning against the moralists who thought they could shape the world as they wanted: "Men little think how immorally they act in rashly meddling with what they do not understand." Either Western policymakers are totally uninformed, or staggeringly reckless in promoting these goals. Ukraine always had the potential to be extremely volatile, and the West shouldn't have forced instability where it didn't yet exist.