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Why Russia resents US tack

As Bush hosts Putin to repair fraying ties, a mood of misgiving rooted in the 1990s looms over the summit.

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As presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin began their 24-hour visit in Kennebunkport, Maine, Sunday to patch up a fraying relationship, a long list of flash points loomed over them.

But what may weigh most heavily is a mood of misgiving rooted in the 1990s – a decade that saw social breakdown, impoverishment, and democratic eclipse in Russia.

For many in the West, the realization that ties with Russia are in trouble has dawned only recently. But the narrative of many Russians recalls nearly two decades of "unfair" treatment, beginning with the betrayal of hopes that the West would build a post-cold-war order that Russia could fully belong to.

"[Former Soviet leader] Mikhail Gorbachev's new thinking helped to end the cold war, but he did not get an equal response from the West," says Anatoly Chernyayev, one of Mr. Gorbachev's top foreign policy advisers in the waning years of the USSR. "We took more steps than the West ever did, and unfortunately the Soviet Union disappeared; Russia was humiliated, liquidated as a great power."

That view is echoed by Gavril Popov, Moscow's popular mayor during the tumultuous and hope-filled days that led up to the USSR's collapse. He was a staunch reformist and coleader of a pro-democracy movement that played a key role in Russia's decision to abandon communism and join the Western-led world community.

It's a bit jarring, then, to hear Mr. Popov today enumerate a long list of ways he believes the West – particularly the US – failed to offer Russia meaningful help after the Soviet Union faded, and even contributed to the social and political problems that followed.

"Any democratically minded person couldn't help but be disillusioned," he says. Ultimately, he adds, the deep disappointment of the 1990s led to backlash against Western values and support for Mr. Putin, who in February railed against "unilateral" US foreign policy in a speech in Germany.


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