So in less than eight years Bush went from a strategy of “keep Russia in the tent” to a strategy of “make Russia democratic” to a strategy of “isolate Russia by expanding NATO as far as possible into the former Soviet Union.” Pursuing one of these strategies might have worked. Pursuing two of them was very risky, but could potentially have succeeded with a lot of high level attention and a healthy serving of luck. Pursuing three entirely different strategies in such a short period of time was begging for failure, and with such wild swings in policy it should come as no surprise that when Bush left office relations with Russia were worse than at any point since the end of the Cold War.
As Moscow saw things, there was only a very brief period when the U.S. was trying to keep Russia “in the tent.” Putin came to believe that his early cooperation on Afghanistan had been repaid with a series of slights and provocations, and unsurprisingly he responded with increasing antagonism. That started with the earlier expansion of NATO in 2002, and the next attempted round of expansion simply made things worse. It’s worth adding that Moscow didn’t see the democracy promotion and NATO expansion agendas as entirely distinct from one another, but as part of a coordinated effort to roll back Russian influence in the former USSR and destabilize the regime at the same time. The political changes in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan between 2003 and 2005 were seen as part of this effort, which U.S. support for the new leaders in these countries seemed to confirm.
As it turned out, Moscow was crediting Bush’s Russia policy with more coherence than it seems to have possessed, but the resulting distrust and hostility were nonetheless easily foreseeable consequences of these policies. The most troubling part of Baker’s account of is that the Bush administration was conducting a dangerous and confrontational Russia policy without understanding how the Russians would react to any of it. Despite pursuing a number of policies that predictably antagonized Russia, worsened its relations with its neighbors, and harmed U.S.-Russian relations, the Bush administration seemed perpetually clueless as to why Russia was becoming more antagonistic.