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After the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation was on its way to integrating itself into the Western community politically, economically and socially (by Western World I mean the so-called "First World" countries like Germany, UK, France, Italy, Japan, USA and so on). After Putin followed Yeltsin, not much changed. Soon, powered by high oil prices and good relationships to Western investors and companies, Russia became more and more wealthy and overcame the transitional crisis it suffered in the 90s. Western Companies started to build more and more facilities in Russia. NATO even declared that Russia was no longer a threat and Russia and NATO even started partnership projects.

But suddenly, somewhere after the financial crisis, Russia became hostile to the Western World again. It attacked Georgia, it attacked Ukraine, it started to support Anti-EU-parties in the EU and perform risky maneuvers near NATO ships, spreading horrible lies about NATO, EU and the USA in TV and on the Internet and threatening NATO.

Why this sudden turnaround? Soon after Russia began to stop integrating itself into the Western community, the wealth stopped and Russia's condition become worse and worse, economically speaking. When did this happen and what could be the reason(s) for the decisions behind Russia's actions? Was it the Financial (Subprime) Crisis? Was it America's Intervention in Iraq (but this happened way too much earlier)?

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    You got your timeline all wrong, sorry. The divergence didn't START at financial crisis, it simply became more obvious, in your face, and effective. It started with Clinton's bombing of Serbia (in case anyone's not getting the historical irony, I have 2 words for you: "July Crisis"); and entrenched itself in the precise 1990s crisis you mentioned, which most Russians blamed on the West.
    – user4012
    May 20, 2016 at 16:46
  • 3
    Since the Bolsheviks killed everyone and the entire country was run by people who wanted to overthrow western society itself. Jul 31, 2017 at 20:05
  • 5
    @easymoden00b care to read the post's body and not only its title? First line is enough in this case Jul 31, 2017 at 20:10
  • 3
    From the Russian perspective, that looked like this: the US as the leader of the West have been working hard to prove that international politics is an immoral business. In the end, they succeeded. Since morality has been put out of the table, and there has been no intrinsic faith to the West (the NATO forces might be used against Russia, and the possibility is enough of a warning), the Russians were all like “let's quit it and see what happens”. This is a perspective, and not an answer.
    – Evgeniy
    Jun 27, 2018 at 8:49
  • 9
    The "Western community" changed a lot in its values during the last 10-20 years. Russians are not fond of gay marriage or of massive immigration from Muslim countries. However, many leading EU politicians have been strongly advocating for both, this was not really prominent in the early 90s. (not sure if this is a reason, but it might serve as one explanation)
    – vsz
    Jul 13, 2019 at 15:26

10 Answers 10

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There were many preexisting diverging views on international law. The open disagreements about e.g. the NATO intervention in Kosovo don't constitute the main problem, because in such a case the disagreement is made explicit, everyone knows what the differing views are, problems can then be prevented. The main issue are the many cases where Russia believes that according to a strict interpretation of international law, the West was wrong but that nevertheless the West did have good arguments and some reasonable compromise was reached. Take e.g. the Iraq war. In this case Russia disagreed with the decision to go to war so that's not a good example, but the adoption of UNSC resolution 1441 is an example where international law has been compromised (from the Russian point of view) but with Russia's approval.

Similarly, the way Iran was dealt with at the UNSC happened mostly over Russian objections but still with Russian approval. Bush and Putin discussed the necessity of adopting a chapter 7 UNSC resolution barring Iran from enriching uranium, an agreement was reached where Russia would support the proposed UNSC resolution but the US would then not obstruct Russia from completing work at the Bushehr nuclear powerplant and then deliver fuel to it. Here it's important to note that Russia always had the view that there was no evidence that Iran's nuclear program was used for a weapons program so there were no legal grounds for adopting a chapter 7 UNSC resolution for which the requirement is not only that there must be a problem but that this problem must put international peace and security at risk.

So, Russia's constructive attitude in international affairs was actually not always what it superficially seemed to be. Russia's adopted a pragmatic view toward the application of international law. So, in the Mid East the West, particularly the US, has certain interests that may require setting aside the fine print of international law, and that it would be unreasonable to veto UNSC resolutions just because these fine prints stand in the way.

The West of course never adopted such a view, in its own opinion there were never any such minor violations of international law. Then these two diverging views would never lead to problems as long as the West is the one who is engaging the most in international affairs. This was the case for a long time because Russia was just too weak after the end of the Cold War.

In 2008, the status quo changed due to Russia's intervention in Georgia. This led to a set back in relations between the West and Russia. From Russia's point of view, the West did not treat Russia in the same way as Russia would have treated the West had the West engaged in a similar intervention. Russia felt betrayed, double standards were applied where the West would get a pass for not sticking to the letter of international law to defend its interests far outside its borders, while the West would throw the book at Russia even when dealing with outright military aggression (note that Georgia launched a large scale military attack against Russian forces in South Ossetia).

So, in 2008 we moved from an academic disagreement that could always be ironed out diplomatically, to a real world problem that could no longer be ignored. Nevertheless, from an ideological point of view, nothing of substance had actually changed.

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    -1: this does not even attempt to answer the question. It's rather just a copy-and-paste of political slogans from "Pravda" newspaper, barely having any linkage to the reality. A special gem is the statement about the Russian armed invasion to Georgia, worth a second downvote if it were possible.
    – bytebuster
    May 21, 2016 at 19:52
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    @bytebuster The question is why Russia is behaving the way it is, and that means we need to look into how Russia perceives the situation. This Russian point of view is not consistent with the Western view (which I make abundantly clear); obviously not, otherwise the problem wouldn't exist in the first place. Now, I know that you probably favor an answer that promotes the Western view as the only possible view that any country must have, which would mean that Russia also shares the Western view but is not acting according to it. I think this is an untenable position. May 21, 2016 at 20:35
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    @bytebuster It's rather just a copy-and-paste This is precisely what all your comments look like.
    – Matt
    May 21, 2016 at 20:43
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    +1 good enough answer. You only forgot to mention about US withdrawal from AMB treaty in 2001. Besides NATO expansion it was another major disappointment of Russia's elite in West approach to their country. Munich speech of Putin in 2005 was first real indication of relation are breaking. BTW Georgian war 2008 was started by Georgia as concluded by EU parliament investigators. It was all media circus, not real problem for relations.
    – lowtech
    Oct 25, 2016 at 15:26
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    This account of the russo-georgian war is dubious, but the rest of the answer explains the Russian mindset on IR well - though sources/official accounts would improve it
    – Gramatik
    Jun 26, 2018 at 20:06
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The "when" is simpler and better understood than the "why" part. First articles expressing complete surprice at the turnaround started comming out around 2006-2007.

tl;dr (skip to the last paragraph for the summary)

Putin's political party created a youth organization whose name NYTimes translated as "we". It was reported to be a party-sponsored organization akin to the "young pioneers" of the Communist era. But at that time Russian Federation still had multiple competitive political parties. So a youth organization of a political party seemed completely out of place given that the Russian popular culture still considered Soviet era a joke of the past. But there was a consolidation of economic power under the umbrella of Gazprom while, at the same time, many of Gazprom executives were also government members (again, I am saying this based on a number of reports I read around those years in the US press). This put Putin's political party in the position of being both in charge of large parts of the economy (through direct ownership) and in the position of majority in the government.

Which brings us to the "why" part. This is best explained with a Star Wars quote. Cheesy as it may be, Leia, at some point, said to Tarkin, "the more you tighten your grip, the more systems will slip through your fingers." And this is what happened. A lot of independent economic power houses arouse in RF as a result of bringing a western-style economy to RF. They were more powerful than the government and could challenge government authority by being able to corrupt any government institutions which would attempt to curtail their power.

Putin's response was two-pronged. Politically, he initiated a campaign of ultra-nationalism. Economically, he started flexing the muscles of the state to arbitrarily enforce arcane laws in order to force most successful independent business to sell controlling interest of their shares to Gazprom. This turned the government from a weak ineffectual paper institution into the strongest economic player in the country.

And this is where the "losing the grip on power" happened. No one individual can do more than what can be done in 24 hours a day. Most people who spent lifetimes or generations to acquire influence have vetted individuals, and created institutions for vetting individuals, who were loyal to them.

The rise of Putin's influence happened in a very short time -- 5 years or less. Which meant that the newly acquired power had to be shared with those who helped to acquire it, but who had their own agendas. It may not look like it, and the illusion depends on it looking otherwise, but when most of the power is in the hands which do not have intricate dependence on the leader, then those behind the leader are the ones wielding the power.

Power to destroy can only act as a deterrent. But power to enable empowers daily. The Gazprom became the new apparatchiks. They controlled the economy and they controlled the presidency by controlling what the president could do. But the consolidation of political power doomed the civilian institutions.

The first time there was a manufactured military crises (and it turned out to be Georgia), the military took the chance and asserted itself as the dominant national institution. From that point on, the rhetoric of Russian political discourse was from the point of view of military might. The state propaganda slowly turned the view of everything else as somehow incorporated into the military view of society.

The ascension of the military class was completed with the invasion of Crimea. After that, all institutions became subservient to the military.

For example, it is now not uncommon to see a Russian on the Internet to attribute to NATO-member countries characteristics found in Russia (I've seen arguments against "NATO-propaganda" and such). To the people living in these NATO-member countries these arguments sound like nonsense because these characteristics simply aren't present. But, convinced by the internal Russian propaganda, even the English-speaking Russians have come to view the world from the point of "but they are doing the same thing, so it's ok that we do it."

This isn't the same Putin who came to power to replace Yeltsin in an effort to continue building Democracy in Russia. He lost the power to reform. He lost it by concentrating too much power at the top and then not being able to wield it.

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There are thee main reasons why we started having strong anti-Western sentiments in XXIth century:

  • NATO intervention in such countries as Iraq, Libya and Syria. Please don't tell me about oppression of human rights in these countries, as in that case some Western-supported regimes in the Persian Gulf should be also overthrown.

  • Western-supported overthrowal of pro-Russian governments in Georgia and Ukraine. Well, that's definitely not a way how friends behave with you.

  • Double-standards in international affairs. We feel that the international law is getting applied if and only if it has merits for the West, which is extremely unfair from our point of view.

Of course, we could just accept what's stated above for the sake of economics, which is simply a choice between the wealth and the justice.

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    Most of those "western-supported" things are actually supported by the US, not (actively) by western european countries. Actually, France is still today reguarly mocked as being "surrenders" by the US jsut because of their refusal to join in the invasion of Iraq.
    – Bregalad
    Mar 19, 2018 at 11:17
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    @Bregalad Just a point of contention, france isn't mocked as "surrenders" just because of their refusal to invade Iraq, it's a much longer-standing joke than just that.
    – David Rice
    Jun 26, 2018 at 14:20
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    The Iraq case is rather different from the Libya and Syria cases. In the former, the country was at peace and the US and some of its allies waged an unprovoked war. In the latter two, internal conflicts had sprung up and at some point many if not all NATO nations decided to join the battle on one side. As for the 'overthrowal of pro-Russian governments in Georgia and Ukraine' - news from Georgia rarely makes national headlines here so I cannot say. In Ukraine, I recall that both the 2004 and the 2013 protest were, again, mostly an internal issue and I do not recall any western intervention.
    – Jan
    Feb 7 at 11:59
  • @Jan The US has been funding pro-democracy movements for a long time. It's up to you if you want to call that "intervention". The governments who are the target of the funding certainly think so. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colour_revolution#Russian_assessment
    – Allure
    Jun 23 at 5:02
16

There is a somewhat-famous long read in Russian about it, by Sputnik & Pogrom, the democratic nationalist journal of the time (2015).

You can translate and read it, highlights include:

  • In 2000 after taking power, Putin suddenly suggests that Russia can join NATO. Apparently he was serious, but NATO didn't want to even hear about it.
  • On 911 of 2001, Putin is the first to relay condolences to Bush, open airspace to supply War on Terror. Then he says in a speech that the Berlin wall fell for good, cold war is over, authoritarianism is done for and it is thanks to Russia.
  • In December 2001, Bush announced USA is going to withdraw from the ABM treaty. Russia is not happy about that. However, later a new, weaker treaty is signed.
  • Putin criticizes the war in Iraq. Tries to realign with the EU.
  • The USA refuses to evacuate its military bases in ex-USSR Central Asia which were established to fight War on Terror with consent and support from Russia.
  • Maidan in Kiev (the 2004 one), Putin is not happy. Romance is over.
  • Baltic states in EU and use that fact to hinder Russia-EU alignment, Kremlin is enraged.
  • 2005 and later, the EU fails to ease the visa situation with Russia thus limiting real integration. USA wants to put ABM systems in Europe, refuses to cooperate with Russia in that regard. In response, Russia withdraws from CFE treaty, resumes strategic bomber patrols.
  • 2007, München speech (see other answers). Putin is not happy about NATO expansion.
  • Obama's USA-Russia relations reset fails. Putin still talks about Europe spanning from Lisboa to Vladivostok.
  • 2013, Russia starts to build EAEU. USA is not happy, Hillary declares plans to hinder it.
  • 2014, Euromaidan, Crimea is overrun, referendums in LDNR.

The actual article contains much more stuff.

11

See source Trust deficit: The roots of Russia’s standoff with the West

Immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russians did look at the West positively, but that changed because:

  • NATO expansion after promising Gorbachev it would not expand. Then US president Bill Clinton apparently took the view that since Russia lacked the power to oppose NATO expansion, the US didn't need to take Russian interests into account anymore. Edit: Clinton claims that he expanded NATO because he wanted to "work for the best while preparing for the worst".

In his view, today’s inflamed geopolitical crisis was rooted in the post-Cold War failure to create a security system, primarily in Europe, that would fully include Russia. Western leaders gave Mikhail Gorbachev strong verbal assurances NATO would not be expanded into the former Soviet sphere but, as Mr. Gromyko ruefully notes, Mr. Gorbachev failed to get that in writing. Following the USSR’s demise, U.S. President Bill Clinton took office and adopted other plans. That lesson was not lost on the Russians.

“After the collapse of one pillar of the former bipolar world order, it became fashionable in the West to think that the world order could become unipolar, with the U.S. at the helm,” he says. “In the 1990s, Russia descended into its worst crisis since 1917. It not only ceased to be a superpower, it suffered political, economic, and social collapse as well. It was not even clear that Russia would survive physically. So, perhaps believing that Russian interests and views didn’t matter anymore, Clinton made the decision to enlarge NATO to the east.”

“But just because Russia couldn’t do anything about it at the time doesn’t mean that we accepted it. We never did. Since then the process of NATO expansion has been unstoppable, and so has the subsequent chain of events.”

The Western alliance has since taken in all of the former Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact allies, as well as the three former Soviet Baltic republics. Mr. Gromyko says the Russians signaled repeatedly to Western counterparts that inducting Ukraine or Georgia into the alliance would be a red line. At its 2008 Bucharest Summit, NATO shelved those countries’ applications, but issued a statement insisting they would eventually join.

  • Economic reforms recommended by the West went very, very badly.

“You can blame Putin, or some kind of Russian stubbornness, but that wasn’t the main thing,” he says. “In the early ’90s we wanted to be a prosperous, democratic country, and the West was the model for our development. But reforms enacted on Western advice produced economic disaster and mass misery. People started to believe that the West didn’t want Russia to succeed. It looked like the U.S. wanted Russia to become a junior partner, like Germany or the U.K. But most Russians wanted to follow an independent policy, to be friends and partners with the West, but to be ourselves.”

  • Aggressive US foreign policy, coupled with apparent US incompetence.

He says several events led many Russians to question not only the idea of U.S. leadership, but competence. The 1999 war over Kosovo illustrated to them that NATO was not simply a defensive alliance. The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and subsequent Middle East misadventures, created the impression the U.S. was an aggressor, and one that didn’t seem to know what it was doing. The 2008 financial crash tarnished the U.S. economic model.

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  • I'm well aware that Yeltsin had some outbursts on NATO, but the thing is the West didn't take him too seriously. And then Putin and the Russian political class wasn't exactly assertive on that in the first few years of his presidency, from what I can tell. So it's easy in hindsight to say "you lied to Gorbachev", but the "lie" was out there in the open for quite some time with little pushback that would register in the Western corridors of power.
    – Fizz
    Jun 21 at 12:36
  • Besides, Yeltsin outbursts vis-a-vis of NATO were qualitatively different, in that he said he/Russia felt humiliated by the expansion, not threatened. Which is probably more or less why the West thought they could pacify him, and later Putin with various NATO-Russia consultative structures. Putin himself signed up to one of these in 2002.
    – Fizz
    Jun 21 at 12:55
  • @Fizz I recommend reading the answer I just wrote to your question. It demonstrates for example that the idea was humiliated but not threatened to be incorrect.
    – Allure
    Jun 21 at 12:57
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    The LSE blog is laughable as well. It acknowledges that NATO or US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, but argues that since those invasions were not directed at Russia, therefore it is irrational for Russia to feel threatened by NATO. If you believe that logic, then we have that since Russia has not invaded Latvia/Lithuania/Germany/etc recently, it is irrational for them to even want to be part of NATO to protect against Russian aggression. I do not understand how this kind of blatant self-contradiction is not visible to the author.
    – Allure
    Jun 21 at 13:00
9

Two events may have dramatically influenced Russias course:

  1. The involvement of western forces in the economic collapse, such as currency speculations against the Ruble that contributed, or the George Soros political influence.
  2. The expansion of NATO eastwards despite promises to the contrary. Russia gave up its control of eastern Germany and allowed the reunification of Germany on the condition that NATO does not expand eastwards towards the Russian border. That promise was broken and today NATO forces are stationed exactly where Russia was afraid of them - directly at the Russian border.

When the people you try to befriend behave themselves like that towards you (meddling in your internal affairs, massively damaging your economy and possibly preparing for a government overthrow, breaking their promises and making your fears come true) then you would distance yourself from them as well, right?

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    I think we need a new tag, similar to "Godwin" whenever "George Soros" is used as a magic word.
    – RedSonja
    Mar 19, 2018 at 10:03
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    It is not in doubt that Soros is using his money to influence politics. I am not judging him here, simply pointing out that his very open influence in eastern European and later Russian politics has many enemies.
    – Tom
    Mar 19, 2018 at 10:37
6

What changed was Putin's decision to consolidate power and not allow political challenges from the oligarchs. As Russia emerged from the post-Cold War period and became more stable and affluent, the wealthier Russians began to mount challenges to Putin's rule. These challenges were done legally and openly, as one might expect in a modern democracy... but the responses were not as one might expect.

These political challenges were not countered within the political process (ie, by defeating the challengers in elections, and so on) but by circumventing the rule of law to prosecute the oligarchs for fabricated crimes. Although this staved off the problem of political challenges, it also frightened off foreign capital, slowing down the economy and making Russia more reliant on exportation of oil and gas. This initially seemed like a no-lose situation for Putin, as petroleum was extremely expensive at this time. Although Europe was the only reliable customer of Russia's oil/gas exports, all the alternative sources of oil/gas had to pass through Russia's sphere of influence to get to Europe.

Georgia was a potential NATO member and a great location for middle eastern pipeline routing. Ukraine is similarly a potential NATO member and the gateway for almost all of Russia's European gas exports. Russia's military adventurism serves the dual purpose of distracting the populace from their increasingly empty bellies and allowing Russia to interfere with potential threats to petroleum exports. But with oil prices low and US natural gas exports coming soon (by sea) to the EU, Russia cannot keep this up forever.

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    -1: Putin started take power away from oligarchs since his early days as country leader, in early 2000's. It was period of warm relations with west.Changes have started since 2001 AMB treaty withdrawal by Bush.
    – lowtech
    Aug 2, 2017 at 14:19
  • 4
    His mistake didn't bear immediately poisonous fruit, but that doesn't change the causation. Putin's centralization of control eventually led to the strangulation of the non-oil sectors of the economy, which forced Russia to rely upon military adventurism to protect oil exports. Single party rule and massive corruption doesn't harm the Chinese as much because their economy isn't as one dimensional as the Russians.
    – Jim W
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:03
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    Keep in mind that the oligarchs are still there, still stealing everything, just under the control of Putin. Putin's decision to stop the oligarchs from funding political opposition rather than stopping them from stealing was the mistake that caused all the other ills.
    – Jim W
    Aug 2, 2017 at 15:24
6

Gorbachev suggested to the West at time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact be dissolved and that a pan-Euroasian security pact be enacted. This suggestion was rebuffed by the West.

This was a golden opportunity to integrate Russia into Europe that was missed by the short-sightedness of the West.

Moreover, he stipulated that NATO not move further east. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this verbal agreement was ignored and NATO began to push further east. When Gorbachev objected, he was told that the agreement was verbal and hence not worth the paper it was written on - that is none.

So whilst it is correct to say Russia at the dissolution of the Soviet Union was on the cusp of integrating with Europe, it was the actions of the West that stopped it from doing so with the consequences we see today in Ukraine.

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    @jan: Those aren't the words he said. What he said was "the decision for the US and its allies to expand NATO into the east was decisively made in 1993. I called this a big mistake from the beginning. It was definitely a violation of the spirit of the statements and assurances made to us in 1990. With regards to Germany, they were legally enshrined and observed." Feb 7 at 13:49
  • Gorbachev agreed to the reunification of Germany in 1990, in exchange for James Baker, then national security advisor to George HW Bush, that NATO would not expand further eastward. Up vote for Mozibur; thank you for a good answer. cc @Jan Mar 7 at 15:20
5

I think that Russia feels threatened by NATO and EU expansionism to its borders combined with undemocratic Ukranian realignment with the West. I say "undemocratic" because the pro-Russian leader was ousted in a popular uprising and since then no elections have been held. This feeling of encroachment resulted also in the seizing of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine where majority Russian populations live. Putin himself has complained about these matters. Everything done in the West is done for good and virtuous reasons but everything Russia does are manifestations of a renascent evil empire. Putin is an extremely popular leader with 80% approval ratings so most Russians seem to feel the same way.

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There were no real benefits for Russia from that integration — just losses, like loss of power and influence. This was one-sided integration. While Russia at least tried to integrate, there was no real will from the West to integrate Russia. The West saw Russia all the time, even if not as an enemy, then at least as their main antagonist and treated it that way.

So if we compare this integration to joining a club, then the West never wanted Russia to become a member of their club. Once Russia noticed that, they were not searching for membership anymore.

Some important dates, or more precise events:

1999 turning over the atlantic

2007 Munich speech of Vladimir Putin

2014 "coup" in Ukraine (The West strongly refuses to call that situation a coup and calls it propaganda)

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  • Some more details, e.g. with dates, would be nice. I believe you captured the essential spirit of the matter, so +1 and thank you. Mar 7 at 15:22
  • 1
    @Ellie Kesselman Have added some dates, that should be of importance.
    – convert
    Mar 8 at 10:56
  • @wrod So are you tallking about the link number 3? The link seems not to be from russian side. This event is of importance for this answer. This is the russian point of view on that events, with which you fairly can completly disagree. Also the were slogans on Maidan like "shoot him in the head" an pictures of Yanukovich with a bloody hole in his head, so the posibility he could get killed is not 0.
    – convert
    Mar 8 at 13:07
  • yes, I think as long as you mention that it's controversial, it's fair to link to the Russian vantage point
    – wrod
    Mar 8 at 15:41

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