They watched America go back on her word -- given when the Red Army withdrew from Europe -- and push NATO into Poland, the Baltic States, the Balkans, and, now, Ukraine and Georgia. This is the political equivalent of Great Britain -- had the United States come apart in the Civil War -- making Virginia, South Carolina and Texas dominions of the British Empire.
They saw U.S. agents, under cover of Bush's "democracy crusade," effect the defeat of pro-Russian governments in Kiev and Tiblisi -- though the project failed in Minsk -- and the election of regimes pledged to reorient their policies toward the EU, NATO and the United States.
They saw Americans colluding with former provinces of the Soviet Union to develop pipelines that would bypass not only Iranian territory, but also Russian territory.
They saw the U.S. bases in Central Asia they had approved for the Afghan war taking on a permanent character.
They listened as U.S. neoconservatives cheered for Chechen rebels and officials from Cheney to McCain bashed Putin and Russia, with some calling for her expulsion from the G-8.
Putin concluded, not incorrectly, that these Americans do not want partners, they want poodles. But Putin is not Blair. A patriot and nationalist, he has set about restoring Moscow's independence and self-respect, and started looking out for Russia first. He was determined to stand up for Russia, even if it meant standing up to the United States, which is why so many Russians respect him.
He imposed a flat tax, stripped the oligarchs of their assets and jailed them or ran them out of the country, liquidated the Chechen murderers of Beslan, started using his oil wealth the way great powers always do, and began to reorient his foreign policy without consulting Washington, as Washington never consulted him.
Though the West is losing Russia, Russia is not lost. But the minimal price of regaining Russian good will is to start treating her like a great nation. That means getting out of her face, getting our alliance off her front porch, and getting our bases and our Cold War agitprop agencies and pests out of her back yard.
Russia today threatens no vital interest of the United States. Is it too much to ask that we treat Russia and her "space" the way we want Russia and Russians to treat ours?