“It is primarily a response to the "color revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia in 2003 and 2004, when pro-Western governments replaced pro-Russian ones. What the West celebrated as a flowering of democracy the autocratic Putin saw as geopolitical and ideological encirclement.
Ever since, Putin has been determined to stop and, if possible, reverse the pro-Western trend on his borders. He seeks not only to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO but also to bring them under Russian control. Beyond that, he seeks to carve out a zone of influence within NATO, with a lesser security status for countries along Russia's strategic flanks. That is the primary motive behind Moscow's opposition to U.S. missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic.”
Mr. Kagan is the geopolitical strategist. But let’s put it this way: Has democracy on Russia’s borders ever been a problem for Mr. Putin? Try this thought experiment: Imagine if Georgia had renounced all desire to join NATO; would any of this have happened? Remember, President Putin still refuses to couch Russian demands in terms of territorial ambitions or support South Ossetian demands for independence, with good reasons. (Although you never know, now that Georgia has bit the bait and then some.)
My take: The United States and Western Europe continued to push a geopolitical agenda to expand NATO that explicitly excluded Russia long after it made any sense. That agenda was concocted when Russia had hit bottom as an independent state. Now, in the short-term, Russia can afford to throw its weight around in the near-abroad. All that the US/EU can do is complain.
NATO membership is like a nuclear weapons arsenal. For a nation with aspirations, the process of getting its hands on the prize is when the security risk crests. President Saakashvili should have known. But the Bush administration led him on by pursuing a geostrategic policy that had outlived its useful life.