Now, Russian experts do not seem so sure.
Since former president Vladimir Putin decided to shoulder aside his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and seek a fresh term as Russia's supreme leader, the tone of discussion about Russia in the US has grown much harsher, many note.
N PICTURES: Top 8 Putin Marquee Moments
Mr. Putin's recently publicized plan to establish a "Eurasian Union" – a strong economic, and potentially political, alliance of former Soviet states – has rekindled fears among many in the West that Russia's strategic goal is to bring back the USSR and return to its historic rivalry with the US.
"We had hoped that the reset with the US might help Russia move into a friendlier, closer relationship with the West, but that seems to be fading fast," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Now it seems the general opinion in the US is that Russia is fast becoming an authoritarian state with the scarecrow figure of Putin as its next president. It's all starting to feel a bit hopeless."