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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    May I suggest that you ask these as two questions. It seems they will be more likely to get good answers that way. – The Pompitous of Love May 19 '16 at 15:27
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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 '16 at 16:46
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    ... Looking at specific details, Russia has been supporting Georgian separatism (Abkhazia etc...) since 1990s too. – user4012 May 20 '16 at 16:47
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    @easymoden00b care to read the post's body and not only its title? First line is enough in this case – Mario Trucco Jul 31 '17 at 20:10
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    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 at 8:49

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 '16 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. – Count Iblis May 21 '16 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 '16 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 '16 at 15:26
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    "In 2008, the status quo changed due to Russia's intervention in Georgia." .... from that sentence until the end of the answer is nothing but fakenews propaganda. – A.fm. Dec 2 '17 at 10:01

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.

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 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 at 14:20

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.

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 '17 at 14:19
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    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 '17 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 '17 at 15:24

Two events may have dramatically influences 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 at 10:03
  • 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 at 10:37

As to 'since when', it's the simpler question. The Munich speech is the turning point. The attack on Georgia took place just the year after.

As to 'why', it's a more difficult question, very subjective. In any case, miscommunication is a crucial point. The Russians interpreted the end of the Cold War as the end of ideology, expecting the West to throw ideology out of their ways of doing international politics. “Ideology is evil”. Also, the Russians expected a greater share in management of the world, with the world being significantly less managed (“more democratic” at the nation level) than in the bipolar times.

In short, the Russians never accepted they were the only ones responsible for the Cold War. It was assumed from the very beginning that the guilt was shared with the West, and with the US specifically. So, when the West, and the US specifically, refused to bend their ways after the end of the Cold War, the first reaction was the surprise, and the second reaction was a shock, then the resentment.

I think that propaganda played a role in all that, but that role was not by any means a crucial one.

Source: looking from the inside.

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