Washington desperately needed a new enemy, so the timing of Putin’s bloodless “invasion” of Crimea was just right.  Al Qaeda’s value as a fear generator has been seriously compromised ever since the death of Osama bin Laden, and now that it looks like the U.S. government has taken the Syrian affiliate of the group under its wing the warlords of Washington have been in the market for a new bogeyman.

Why Russia?  Out of all the possible enemies we could conjure, why go after a country that endured the most murderous tyranny in human history and lived to throw off its chains?

I can come up with enough reasons to entertain the notion that the natural course of history has anointed Moscow the role of the anti-Washington.  Or, at least, that our reversion back to the Cold War paradigm was for all intents and purposes inevitable.

To begin with, Russia is a member of the nuclear club—and, more than that, is the only member with a history of confronting the United States.  What this means is that the U.S. force posture is still largely constructed around a U.S.-Russian nuclear standoff.  Untold billions have been invested in this concept, and too many powerful players are invested in its centrality to see it abandoned just because the Cold War supposedly ended.

Second, if we follow the money, we can trace the “new cold war” propaganda campaign back to some of the Russian oligarchs who fled in the wake of Putin’s cleanup campaign.  The late Boris Berezovsky was the model oligarch of this type: A greedy grasping figure who rose to power with the help of the Chechen mafia, he was kicked out of Russia by Putin, many of his ill-gotten gains were seized, and he spent the rest of his life plotting revenge—and using his money to set up a network of anti-Russian organizations and movements aimed at regime change in the land of his birth.  Berezovsky was emblematic of a whole expatriate class of wealthy thieves on the lam that has taken refuge in London and New York.  Their money greases the wheels of the anti-Russian propaganda campaign.

Third, Vladimir Putin—charismatic and ruthless—is precisely the sort of person bound to be hated by Western leaders, if not for his conservative views then for the personal characteristics that enabled his rise to power.  The West loved Boris Yeltsin—a drunk who allowed his country to be looted twice.  To see his place taken by a man of Putin’s background and views was radically disorienting to Yeltsin’s Western backers, and they have never forgiven Putin for yanking Russia from their grasp.

The fourth reason is a function of the third: Putin’s conservative views make him anathema to Western culture warriors.  The gay issue is symbolic in this regard.  We aren’t supposed to notice that the same people never object to Saudi Arabia’s rather more draconian measures against homosexual behavior.  But then again the Saudis are Arabs, and you know how they are; white people who live so close to Europe are a different matter.  Before the annexation of Crimea there was an article in the U.K. Spectator lauding Putin for his “conservatism”—and even holding him up as the international leader of the conservative movement!  This naturally died down after the Ukraine crisis broke out, but there is something to be said for this theory insofar as it explains Western hostility to Putin’s regime.

And fifth: Neoconservatism was itself born as a result of the Cold War, when the first neocon intellectuals took the logic of their anti-Soviet Trotskyism all the way to its inevitable conclusion.  It was as anti-Russian crusaders that the first generation of neocons came into public prominence, breaking with the Democrats over the party’s lack of enthusiasm for the Vietnam disaster and migrating rightward until they had successfully colonized and come to dominate the conservative movement.

For the neocons, hatred of Russia is a matter of high principle: It is a blood feud that has to be fought to the end.  And the end did not come with the fall of the Soviet Union.  Indeed, the Yeltsin regime provided only a short pause in their quest for vengeance, a quest divorced from history and from all reason, and now a self-propelling viciousness that needs no justification.

A whole generation of neocons was nurtured on an anti-Soviet, anti-Russian diet, and old habits are hard to break.  They are therefore more than happy to revert to their old traditions and lead the charge against the looming Russian “menace.”  Yes, there are plenty of other reasons why Russia holds a special place in their long list of hatreds, not the least of which is their pecuniary interest in the spoils to be had in a victory over the Russian bear: There is plenty of oil and natural gas in Central Asia, and the means of transporting that energy to European markets is situated in Russia’s “near abroad.”  Yet I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on this “war for oil” mantra so beloved by the remnants of the left: Visceral hatred of the sort we see directed at Putin’s Russia has roots much deeper than mere greed.