If "truth is the first casualty of war," Russia's war against Ukraine, illegally launched by Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, is no exception.
One of the saddest developments of this war is that on all political sides, in both Europe and the U.S., an entire army of Putin defenders has emerged, for whom the United Stares can do little right and Russia can do little wrong.
On the "right," for instance, Patrick Buchanan has discovered that Russia's President Vladimir Putin is supporting both Christian values and U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Consequently he asserts we should not be worried about his illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine in violation of the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for Russian and American assurances that the use of force or threats of military action would not be taken against it.
The facts, however, are against Buchanan.
Supporting Afghanistan through the Northern Distribution Network was actually a Russian idea. Back in 2007-8 Russia advocated some such mechanism because, like the U.S., it has a vital interest in preventing a Taliban victory. So it was actually the U.S. that supported a good Russian idea.
The notion, however, that Putin exemplifies "Christian virtues," as Buchanan claims, is totally bizarre. Putin has restored some of the elements of the Soviet Gulag, stolen billions from the Russian people, instituted police state measures that speak of fascism, broken a raft of international treaties on and with Ukraine, and unleashed preplanned wars that are nothing more than state-sponsored terrorism.
Moreover, Buchanan's argument that Russia has genuine grievances against Ukraine that justify its aggression -- such as the election of a pro-Western government in Kiev last spring -- is also completely false.
The evidence that this war was preplanned, and had nothing to do with any election results, is overwhelming. U.S. analyst Reuben Johnson wrote in 2006 that the planning for this Ukrainian operation started the same year, when Putin offered to "guarantee Crimea's territory."
A high-ranking official in a key Eastern Europe state told Johnson in 2006 that:
"Moscow has the political and covert action means to create in the Crimea the very type of situations against which Putin is offering to 'protect' Ukraine [especially] if the Russian Fleet's presence [in Crimea] is extended.
"Thus far such means have been shown to include inflammatory visits and speeches by Russian Duma deputies in the Crimea, challenges to Ukraine's control of Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait, the fanning of "anti-NATO – in fact anti-American – protests by Russian groups in connection with planned military exercises and artificial Russian-Tatar tensions on the peninsula."
In addition, Russia has used a variety of intelligence, military, economic, informational, ideological, and other forms of penetration of the Crimea to begin the process of nullifying Ukraine's sovereignty over Crimea.
Russia's military and special operation forces also augmented its capabilities for both covert and overt subversion of Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea. A key part of the plan was instituting a substantial program giving Russian military service passports to soldiers and officers in the Transnistrian Russian "Army" that occupies part of Moldova, and rotating these soldiers through the elite Russian officer training courses at Solnechegorsk.
Thus Moscow, as Johnson observed, was not only training soldiers for an operation against Crimea as early as 2006, but the preparations also included having "Russian" soldiers ready in Moldova to move east into Crimea if need be.
Ukrainian sources have even reported that during the current war against Crimea and Ukraine, Moscow had also widened the airport in Tiraspol, the "capital" of its rump Transnistrian republic in Moldova, to permit landings of flights with heavier forces; stationed 2000 Spetsnaz forces in Transnistria, and planned so-called humanitarian intervention exercises there in order to create and then exploit a pretext for intervening in Ukraine from Transnistria in the west, if need be.
As Odessa in Crimea is only 80 kilometers from Transnistria in Moldova, the potential Russian operation would have been able to bisect Ukraine and capture all of southern Ukraine including Crimea. As it is, Russia has seized Crimea from the east, from its own territory, and now is moving against Eastern Ukraine from Russian territory as well.
After Russia's actions against Ukraine, a similar operation could next be started in Moldova. There, Russia could use its captured province on the periphery of Moldova, Transnistria, to move against the rest of Moldova. As Reuben Johnson further explained in 2006:
"You do not try to cover up a training program of this size unless you are someday planning on using these people to overthrow or otherwise take control of a sovereign government.... The facility at Solnechegorsk is used by Russia to train numerous non-Russian military personnel openly and legally for peacekeeping and other joint operations. If then, in parallel, you are training officers from these disputed regions -- officers that are pretending to be Russian personnel and carrying bogus paperwork –- then it does not take an enormous leap of faith to assume that Moscow is up to no good on this one."
Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center, similarly confirmed that Moscow began contingency planning for aggression against Ukraine in 2008.
In like manner, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in 2009 told Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow that Putin would incite disturbances in Crimea, then graciously offer to take over Crimea to solve the problems, and thus teach other post-Soviet states a lesson.
In 2012, Putin also admitted -- perhaps unwittingly -- that Russia began planning for the Georgian war in 2006 by using armed Russian "separatists" to start attacking Georgia, in order to provide a pretext for Moscow to detach the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia in 2006.
Meanwhile, Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov prefigured Russia's strategy in a published and publicly discussed 2013 speech in Moscow to the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, where he prefigured the kind of war that Moscow has waged in Ukraine.
Views like Buchanan's are matched by similar ones on the far "left." Princeton professor Stephen Cohen, for example, writes in the Nation magazine that Ukraine is engaging in atrocities against Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens and that these practices justify Moscow's intervention.
Cohen further claims that Ukraine's recent election was illegal, and that this act also justified Moscow's intervention.
More recently, Cohen even went so far as to claim that there is no such thing as the Ukrainian nation, so that it is fallacious to say that Putin invaded Ukraine and thereby started a Ukrainian civil war.
If anything, Ukrainian national identity has grown in the face of Russian aggression, which has included sending into Ukraine Russian military forces in the guise of a humanitarian operation.
Russian-backed separatists parade Ukrainian army prisoners of war through the streets of Donetsk, Aug. 24, 2014. (Image source: RT YouTube video screenshot)
Moreover, whether or not Ukraine is a nation in conflict is irrelevant. It is a legally recognized state by the United Nations and over 190 nations around the world. Its borders are guaranteed by Russia, among other countries, by at least four treaties.
A key part of Moscow's claimed basis for "protecting," through military force, the Russian-speaking people of Crimea and eastern Ukraine -- claims unfortunately echoed by Buchanan and Cohen -- is that the government of Ukraine was committing mass atrocities against its citizens. These were characterized by Moscow as neo-Nazi in nature, although there is no evidence that the government in Kiev was undertaking any terrorist actions against its own citizens.
It should also be clarified that the forces fighting Kiev consist not mainly of "separatists" or rebels but rather mainly of trained Russian army, intelligence, and paramilitary officers, as well as Russian and some Ukrainian "volunteers" recruited by Moscow to fight in eastern Ukraine.
For all the supposed leanings of the local population toward Russia, the Russian troops there have gained no public support -- apparently, quite the opposite. As a result, since entering the area in April 2014, the Russian troops -- apparently to punish the Ukrainian people -- launched a wave of terrorism in eastern Ukraine against the local population.
These Russian terrorist attacks preceded the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner on July 17 -- an attack carried out by Russian trained military forces in eastern Ukraine.
It now appears, however, that the plan was for these terrorists to shoot down a Russian passenger flight over Ukraine in order to create a casus belli [cause for war]. This would have allowed Russia -- so the Putin government might have thought -- to have at the ready a credible excuse to move into eastern Ukraine with even greater military power to help the Russian separatists, with the excuse that the Russians were there to prevent any future attacks on airplanes.
It also appears that on the weekend of August 8-9, 2014, Russia was planning another invasion into Ukraine --- the third, counting the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine -- this one an attempt to persuade the Red Cross to open a corridor into Ukraine for two separate convoys of trucks providing supplies for a humanitarian intervention.
CNN explains that one convoy did not actually bypass checkpoints intended to make sure that the cargo was really "humanitarian" and not a re-supply of weapons to the "Russian separatists." It was later determined to be free of weapons. Meanwhile, on August 22, a large Russian convoy, deliberately bypassing the Red Cross inspections team and therefore assumed to be a "Trojan horse" bearing weapons, did enter Ukraine.
Foreign audiences need and deserve to know the truth: that this is indeed a phased Russian invasion of Ukraine, beginning with the invasion and annexation of Crimea and now including large portions of eastern Ukraine.
It also includes a total disregard for a series of treaties between Russia and Ukraine assuring Ukraine's sovereignty and security. These treaties are the Helsinki Final Act as amended after 1991, the Tashkent Treaty of 1992 among all the post-Soviet states, Russia's 1997 and 2010 treaties with Ukraine and the Budapest Agreement of 1994 with Russia, the US, and the UK. All these treaties and agreements assured Ukraine's sovereignty and integrity, while the Budapest Agreement of 1994 reaffirmed Ukraine's sovereignty and integrity as assured by the U.S., UK, and Russia in return for dismantling and returning to Russia all the nuclear weapons it inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed.
To assume that the U.S. and the world must acquiesce to the annexation of Crimea and even subsequently negotiate with President Putin on the future of Ukraine, ignores one simple but critical point: for the Russians, and particularly Putin, Ukraine can have no future other than as a Russian colony. This means also that unless Russia is stopped, it will wage war -- both covert and overt -- on Ukraine until that country is totally under Moscow's control.
In 1990-1, a broad coalition of forces led by the United States did not accept Saddam Hussein's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. The U.S. did not accept that aggression then, and it should not accept Russian aggression now.
Whether the US and its allies will actually impose sufficiently severe sanctions that would effectively make the cost of Russia continuing its aggression prohibitive is not clear. And whether the U.S. and its allies will provide sufficient military assistance to the Ukraine government to stop Russian aggression is also not clear.
If nations, however, do not stop Putin from his evidently expansionist plans, and if he is determined to rebuild the Russian empire through war or its equivalent, conflict in eastern Europe and the Russian "near abroad" will continue to escalate.
Putin's repeated claims that Russia reserves the right during a conflict to use nuclear weapons as a "de-escalatory measure," even against non-nuclear states, should give us all pause to question those who are quick to dismiss Putin's actions as simply "far away," in a country "we know little about" and therefore of little consequence.
It is therefore disheartening to see "experts" such as Buchanan and Cohen assist Moscow in disseminating its lies here and abroad. As the Russian writer Anton Chekhov observed, "Rust eats iron, lice eat the grass and lies eat the soul."
If we do not insist on telling the truth about Ukraine, and take appropriate action to defend our freedoms, the risk to Ukrainians and to the West will only grow worse. A nuclear-armed Russia, reckless in the use of force, bodes ill for the free world.
Stephen Blank is Senior Fellow for Russia at the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington, D.C. Peter Huessy is a Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs, and at the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington, D.C.
 Conversations with Ostap Kryvdyk, Washington, D.C. June 19, 2014
 Maciej Falkowski, Russia's Policy in the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia," Centre for Eastern Studies Warsaw, 2006, p. 56; William Varretoni, "Sweetness of the Status Quo: Strategic Patience and the Technology of Russia's Capture of Crimea,' Paper Presented to the Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, Columbia University, New York, April 15, 2010; Lada Roslycky, The Soft Side of Dark Power : A Study in Soft Power, National Security and the Political-Criminal Nexus With a Special Focus on the Post-Soviet Political-Criminal Nexus, the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Separatism in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Groningen, 2011; Yuri E. Fedorov, Medvedev's Amendments to the Law on Defence: The Consequences For Europe, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Briefing Paper No. 47, November 2009, p. 7; Ryan Maness and Brandon Valentino, "Russia and the Near Abroad: Applying a Risk Barometer for War," Journal of Slavic Military Studies, XXV, NO. 2, 2012, pp. 125-148.
 Paul Goble, "Putin's Actions in Ukraine Following Script by Russian General Staff a Year Ago," Window on Eurasia -- New Series, June 20, 2014. The Russian sources are as follows, avnrf.ru/index.php/vse-novosti-sajta/620-rol-generalnogo-shtaba-v-organizatsii-oborony-strany-v-sootvetstvii-s-novym-polozheniem-o-generalnom-shtabe-utverzhdjonnym-prezidentom-rossijskoj-federatsii and vpk-news.ru/sites/default/files/pdf/VPK_08_476.pdf
 Stephen F. Cohen, "The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev's Atrocities," The Nation, June 30, 2014; "After Chaotic Autonomy Votes, Negotiations Could Be Sole Path to Prevent Ukraine's Disintegration", May 12, 2014.
 Stephen Cohen, "The New Cold War and the Necessity of Patriotic Heresy," The Nation, August 12, 2014; and Cathy Young, "Putin's Pal," Slate, July 24, 2014.
 David Frum, "Ukraine's Phantom Neo-Nazi Menace," The Atlantic ,March 28, 2014; Dan Williams, "Israel rejects link of Ukraine crisis to anti-Semitism," Reuters, April 24, 2014; Amnesty International, "Abductions and Torture in Eastern Ukraine," 2014.