Mark Salter rewrites the history of the 2000s:
His mistaken assumption that the resetting could be undertaken unilaterally by the United States implicitly encouraged Putin’s diagnosis: namely, that the problems in the relationship had all been caused by that international bully, George W. Bush, who, among his other sins, had the audacity to support the self-determination of former Soviet republics [bold mine-DL].
This is deeply misleading, and it’s important to understand why it is. In fact, many of the problems in the U.S.-Russian relationship were made worse by decisions that the previous administration took. Bush did not create these problems, but he managed to exacerbate them over five or six years. Putin believed that he had offered the U.S. significant cooperation in the aftermath of 9/11, and then saw the U.S. expand NATO into the Baltics, back “color” revolutions in neighboring countries, and try to make Ukraine and Georgia into U.S. clients and eventually members of NATO. The disagreements between the U.S. and Russia on these issues pre-dated Bush, but he spent most of his presidency going out of his way to provoke and annoy Russia on these issues. Half of the “reset” was simply to stop being so clumsy and provocative. Disagreements naturally remain, but they are mostly not used as excuses to wreck the relationship.
Bush wasn’t just supporting the “self-determination of former Soviet republics.” They had already exercised their self-determination in the ’90s when they achieved independence. Bush was actively working to bring countries that bordered Russia into NATO and promote his “freedom agenda” there in a thinly-disguised effort to “roll back” Russian influence in former Soviet space, and to that end he uncritically backed the most egregiously anti-Russian political forces in those countries. This foolishness reached its unfortunate conclusion with the August 2008 war that was caused in no small part by American-backed pledges that Ukraine and Georgia would be brought into NATO, the recognition of Kosovo, and the enthusiastic support for Saakashvili that the Georgian president mistook for approval of his aggressive handling of the separatist republics. All of this was an avoidable disaster for Georgia, and it was further confirmation that Bush’s approach to the region was badly flawed.
Meanwhile, Ukraine and Georgia have chosen governments less hostile to Moscow, which has had a positive effect on the U.S.-Russian relationship. Gvosdev explains:
Just as the election of Viktor Yanukovych as president of Ukraine in 2010 took that country out of contention as a friction point between Russia and the United States, the electoral victory of the Georgian opposition and the installation of Bidzina Ivanishvili as prime minister in Tbilisi has also helped the U.S.-Russia relationship. Ivanishvili, while not prepared to renounce Georgia’s Western aspirations, is nonetheless much more open than his predecessor to improving relations with Russia and finding compromises that President Mikheil Saakashvili has been unwilling to entertain. Over the past several months, Georgia has receded as a flashpoint between Moscow and Washington.
Depending on what the U.S. does in Syria, many of these gains could be lost very quickly. Of course, that is what Salter hopes will happen, since like most critics of the “reset” he doesn’t want good relations with Russia.