Putin’s rise to power paralleled that of United States president George W. Bush, who was also elected in 2000. Initially the leaders of the two former superpower rivals established relatively warm relations. Bush famously remarked after his first meeting with Putin in June 2001: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul….” By the end of their terms, however, the relations between the two countries were strained, and they began to worsen significantly in 2008 when some political observers talked openly about a renewed Cold War.
The sharpest point of contention came in early 2008 when the United States and most of the countries belonging to the European Union (EU) recognized the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, a Russian ally.
Putin vigorously protested the West’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence, and Russia’s leaders warned that if Kosovo could secede, then there was no legitimate reason why South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two secessionist-leaning regions of Georgia, where Russian troops were playing a peacekeeping role, could not also be recognized as independent. The conflict worsened in April when the Bush administration backed Georgia’s effort to become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the old Cold War alliance formed to contest the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact bloc. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, a number of former Warsaw Pact nations, notably Poland and the Czech Republic, had become members of NATO. However, none of these countries bordered Russia, as did Georgia. Russian political and military leaders increasingly began to believe that NATO expansion was aimed principally at encircling the Russian Federation.
Although France and Germany blocked the U.S. attempt to approve a Membership Action Plan for Georgia to become part of NATO, Russian leaders were also antagonized by a U.S. announcement in August 2008 that it would station an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system in Poland. The United States insisted that the missile defense system was targeted at Iran and meant to shield Western Europe from a possible attack by the Islamic republic. However, Russia had long been opposed to the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Russia saw the ABM systems as potential first-strike measures, in which a surprise nuclear attack could eliminate most of Russia’s nuclear weapons while a missile defense system could protect the nation launching the first strike from retaliation, thus undermining the nuclear deterrence thought to be guaranteed by the doctrine of mutual assured destruction. All of these developments were part of the background when Georgia’s president Mikhail Saakashvili launched a surprise attack against separatist forces in South Ossetia in early August.
The attack included an artillery barrage against the South Ossetian capital of Ts’khinvali, where Russian peacekeepers were stationed. In response Russia invaded Georgia, routing Georgian troops from South Ossetia and striking some major Georgian cities located outside South Ossetia, including the city of Gori, not far from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. The fighting lasted for about a week during which both sides suffered hundreds of casualties, and thousands of Georgians and South Ossetians became refugees to escape the war zone.
Although a ceasefire was soon arranged, Russia’s invasion was condemned by the United States and the EU as an infringement on Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia responded that the United States encouraged the Georgian military offensive and was complicit in it, with Prime Minister Putin suggesting that it was part of U.S. domestic politics during a presidential election year. In late August 2008 Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, much as it had threatened to do when the United States recognized Kosovo’s independence. Russian president Dmitri A. Medvedev argued that the people of the two regions had clearly expressed their preferences for independence in several referenda. However, Russia appeared to have few allies on the decision to invade and to support independence. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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