A number developments in the former Soviet space have taken US by surprise:
- Russia's economic ressurgence
- The reversal of color revolutions of the early 2000's
- Moscow's independent foreign policy
- Diminishing power of the pro-western camp in Russia
- Russian response to Georgia invasion of South Ossetia in 2008
It was these factors which moved the US to orient less on Central Asia, the Caucasus and more on Ukraine instead
The text below is an excerpt from a longer essay from Rostislav Ishchenko, a prominent Russian commentator.
We cannot say that the US has not followed the situation in Ukraine in 1990s and has not assembled a loyal group of politicians, bureaucrats, and public figures. It was a normal practice “just in case” (any intelligence always uses any opportunity to acquire valuable assets in countries with important strategic position, particularly if it does not cost too much). But in 1990s the US dealing with the Yeltsin’s Russia ready on most issues to follow in the wake of the American politics, paid it back by recognizing some Moscow control over the post-Soviet space as the sphere of Russian vital interests and tried not to emphasize their interference into the internal affairs of the post-Soviet countries.
From the start of 2000s, Russia’s foreign policy became more and more independent. Naturally, many politicians with the ties to Washington remained in power, but the influence of the pro-American lobby was no longer decisive, and the dynamics and vector of the change left little doubt: the new Russian political elites adopted a course on the restoration of independence in the foreign and internal policies. Putin was ready to remain a friend and ally of the US but on equal terms and not as a vassal.
That was an appropriate time to make use of the anti-Russian assets in post-Soviet countries. Importantly, almost all successful or failed “color revolutions” in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) occurred in 2003-2008 (from the “revolution of roses” in Georgia to the ”war of 08.08.08). The goal of these coups was not simply to cut Russia off from the post-Soviet region but to create a string of hostile states along its western and southern borders (up to the border with Mongolia and China). As a result, the opportunities for Russia to conduct independent foreign and economic policies would have been blocked, the resources tided up by the hostile surrounding consisting of the former Soviet republics.
The reputation of the Russian government inside and abroad would have been constantly undermined by continuous provocations (like those that Saakashvili supplied in abundance). At the same time, Moscow would have been restricted in its ability to respond to such provocations, since any decisive move would have provoked an open war with a block of post-Soviet states (Yushchenko tried to embroil Ukraine in the Russian-Georgian conflict, but, according to the plan, there should have been 10-11 such Georgias and Ukraines). Thus, Russian would have been up against a block of countries from the Baltics to Baikal. The US could have interpreted that as a war of former colonies fighting against Russian neocolonialism applying to Russia the UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples from 14th of December 1960 (by the way, adopted by the General Assembly on the USSR initiative) and all other resolutions of the UN General Assembly on the subject.
Russia missed the hit in 2003 in Georgia and in 2004 in Ukraine. Moscow managed to stop further spread of the “color infection” (the coups have not moved beyond Bishkek, but even in Kyrgyzstan the “revolution” was followed by the same “color” counter-revolution).
During the 5-day war in August of 2008, Russia launched the geopolitical offensive. From that moment on, all power of Washington was employed not to marginalize Moscow in order to to prevent it from becoming a geopolitical challenger of Washington, but to destroy the already established geopolitical rival.
Russian efforts brought about peace (however fragile and unstable) in the Central Asia as well as blocked the American interests in the Caucasus. The latter was in the large degree due to two factors: that Kadyrov took it upon himself to stabilize the situation in the Northern Caucasus and that pro-American regime of Saakashvili thoroughly discredited itself by the defeat in the war (politicians that succeeded Saakashvili, although not friendly to Russia, are more reasonable, which provided an opportunity to stabilize the relationships). All these factors made Ukraine by the end of 2010 the key country for the US in the post-Soviet space.