Thanks for responding, Steve. As I said, I have been following this closely for some time and following Putin and Russia for even longer.
"Is Russia, under Putin, moving to exand both its geographical territory and its influence (military and otherwise) around the world."[?]
It appears to be the other way around - at least until the conflict started. As Henry Kissinger has said, why would Putin spend years trying to show he's a responsible world leader, including spending two weeks hosting the Olympics, and then blow the whole thing by invading Crimea? Russia has few natural borders to invasion and Crimea in the hands of NATO would have laid Russia vulnerable to subjugation by the West, implicit or explicit.
"Isn't it true that what we get from Putin regarding the Ukraine often consists of lies or at best half-truths?"
What we hear from Western mainstream media and its NATO and State Department and, especially, the Ukraine government sources seems, more to me, to be repeated lies and half-truths. For example, during Ukraine's two major offensives against the separatists there were claims they made about being on the verge of defeating the separatists. Then, all of sudden, in both cases, a reversal would take place followed by claims that Russia had invaded with such things as "a column of tanks". The separatists' army, which was part of Ukraine's, does have a few Russian tanks (Russia and Ukraine had joint military exercises as recently as 2013). But there is no way a column of 50-ton tanks could have rolled into Ukraine without being photographed, especially given the proliferation of video cameras today. No such 'column' was ever displayed - just a shot here and there of an occasional old Russian tank that, supposedly, could not have belonged to Ukraine or the separatists.
Then, there is the matter of MH17. The cockpit voice recorder was retrieved by the separatists and turned over to Malaysian authorities who promptly turned it over to British investigators. The Ukraine-ATC to pilot voice communications were seized by Ukraine security. To date there has been no release of these recordings nor any other detailed analysis by Western authorities - and they must surely know more. I did read a report by Russian engineers complete with details including photos of the wreckage and it appears that the plane was not downed by a BUK missile, as Western media has reported, but by a (most-likely rogue) Ukrianian fighter jet. There was concentrated small-round fire in the cockpit area - the BUK missile is designed to explode near the target and spread shrapnel around in all directions. Also, the BUK missile, according the report, is extremely audible and leaves a smoke trail that can last a half hour. As this occurred in a heavily populated area, the lack of photographic evidence of this suggests, to me at least, that it was not a BUK missile. A Russian satellite - no where near as sophisticated as what we have - detected a Ukrainian jet flying near the plane. No one believes something from Russian engineers, of course, but why haven't we seen a Western analysis yet?
"Isn't it true that he has been aggressive in military overflies of NATO territory in a provocative fashion. Isn't it true that Russia is selling military hardware to states like Nicaragua and others in our hemisphere - mostly those that are hostile towards us?"
These 'aggressive' acts started after the crisis (I think it's Venezuela - not Nicaragua). Before then, Putin and Russia were considered good members of the international community. Since then, the West has been 'sticking pins' in Putin in the form of sanctions, military aid to Ukraine (I have seen videos of armed men with American accents in eastern Ukraine who are likely employees of 'private' security organizations like Blackwater or Britam) and accusations that Russia is the aggressor. There are, no doubt, many reasons for this but, I suspect, the mains ones are (1) lots of old NATO bureacrats who should have retired and (2) more defense dollars to make up for what has been sequestered. But, whatever the reason, Russia's only defense against NATO is the unthinkable. Many say 'we' must stand up to Russia but many in Russia say that Russia must stand up to US.
"And at what point does his aggressive behavior (which resembles the old Soviet Union which he was fond of) warrant some action that would serve our long-term national interests?"
Ukraine is not a NATO member and shouldn't be. I can understand the Baltic states fearing Russia, given history, but they are members of NATO. I doubt that Putin would invade them unless Russia feels a lot more threatened without an invasion. I don't agree that Russia, half has populated as the old Soviet Union, resembles it. As for Putin being 'fond' of it, communism doesn't work and he knows it. If Putin doesn't know it, and tries to bring it back, it will only weaken Russia - which has a flat (rate) tax, btw. Putin is also a politician who needs votes, including those of old folks nostalgic about the USSR. Ronald Reagan used to say nice things about Franklin Roosevelt for the same reason. And, as evil as the USSR was, part of that evil was due to security measures imposed due to fear of another WWII. Security measures here since 9/11 are getting scary to me.
"Foriegn policy should address how we address these simple facts and do so within an Objectivist framework."
There are very few Objectivists in 'our' government although a few claim to be. We are not threatened as a nation. The time to attack Iran was 35 years ago. Saddam Hussein did not have WMDs and his government was no where near as bad as the Saudi Arabian government - which 'we' are committed to defending and whose religious police, in 2002, beat schoolgirls fleeing from a burning building because they didn't have their headscarves on.
Ayn RAnd was certainly not one for putting one's self in the shoes of another but, if your enemy is really an enemy (or not), I think it's a good idea to do that. Both Secretary of State James Baker and long-time West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher promised Gorbachev that the West would not move east. Starting in 1999 under Clinton, the West has been doing exactly that.