WW2 Question - please see below!
Why could it be argued that Soviet actions during the Second World War & the immediate post-war years were not signs of Soviet aggressiveness but rather responses to actions initially taken by the West?
I think that a part of this answer would have to go back to Soviet paranoia. Part of the Soviet Union's response set after World War II was to ensure that it would no longer be threatened from nations in the West. Germany and other continental forces were seen as dominant ones, and the narrative of Russian History up to that point was to constantly guard against attack. In trying to establish a buffer of nations that were Russian friendly, many in the Soviet Union believed that they would no longer have to fear reprisals of attacks from the West. This could be one way that Soviet actions could be interpreted to not be as much anti- West, but more pro- Russia.
I don't think it could be so argued. The Soviet Union and the Comintern (the world communist movement) had both declared that the goal of communism must be to convert the whole world to communism. This was declared long before World War II. The communist system was a totalitarian form of government, and it could never be efficient in the production of wealth, therefore its long-term survival required that the wealth of other nations and areas be absorbed, hence empire.
The major fear of Russia and the Soviet Union was of invasion from the west. They had been invaded by Napoleon in 1812 and Hitler in 1941. So they wanted to have a buffer zone against invasions from the west.
They might well have thought that they would be in danger again after the war. The US, France, and GB looked like they were ganging up on the Soviet Union. For example, they were being very kind to their parts of Germany and the Soviets thought they might rearm West Germany and have it be part of an alliance that was meant to attack the USSR.
The Soviets were also worried about the fact that only the US had nuclear weapons and they wanted the US to have farther for their bombers to fly before they could reach Soviet territory.
One can argue anything for the argument sake. But how credible the arguments are is quite another thing.
Fact is that, even before World War II, Stalin of Russia had been following a strategy of aggression and had a treaty with Germany in which the two countries had agreed to divide Poland between two of them. Thus both Germany and Soviet Russia had adopted a policy of aggression from the beginning. If later, Germany felt that it can over power Russia also and attacked, just as it has attacked so many other countries, that does not provide some special justification for Russia to act aggressively towards its own allies or other countries.
Further aggression of Hitler as well as Napoleon were not directed against Russia alone. If, other countries, facing the consequences of aggression of Hitler and Napoleon, did not feel threatened by Germany or Japan, when these two persons responsible for aggression were no longer there, what is the justification for Soviet Russia alone to use that as an excuse for its own aggressive?
It is important that two major enemies of Allied forces during the World War II, Germany and Japan, enjoy very good relationship with countries like USA and UK. If these countries find no reason to force their will on these two countries. what can be the justification for Russia to force its will on any other country?