When the Green Berets were first announced, the Russians, particularly the siloviki base that first warned Putin against trusting America, went ape shit. First America took East Europe, the Baltics and its former wealth; now the Americans were moving in on what was left, working through the Caucasus and Central Asia, while Russia still couldn't even pacify Chechnya (a conflict which America would now be in an even better position to manipulate).
Just like with the ABM treaty, Putin reacted by keeping a low profile for the first few days after the Green Berets-in-Georgia announcement, then he calmly announced that there was "no reason to get hysterical." His hand was still weak, and he saw no gain in reacting hysterically and looking even worse.
As time went on, it was becoming clear that Bush really didn't plan to leave the military bases he was setting up in Central Asia. I remember working on an Op-Ed piece at the time for the San Jose Mercury News about this, and when I suggested to my editor that the thinking in Russia was that Bush was planning to stay in Central Asia and take what he could, Russia be damned, she was horrified: "No, we couldn't do that," she said. "That would be so wrong of us."
"Yeah, but what can Russia do about it? Nothing," I said.
"But...we're just not like that," she argued. "We're not that ungrateful. The American people would not be happy." Well, we did it. And as usual, the American people didn't care.
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The rest of 2002 was about the lead-up to the war in Iraq. This is when neo-cons were genuinely outraged, feeling a sense that they were getting stabbed in the back by a merely-spiteful Russia for not supporting the war. Of course, the fact that Russia stood to lose potential tens of billions in oil contracts, and that America stood to gain those tens of billions, also played a role. But most Americans dismissed Russian (and French) objections to the war as mere jealousy and spite.
From Russia, however, America looked like it had literally gone insane, with no limits to its war-aggression, part Wermacht, part Napolean's Army. And now America was building up its military capability all around Russia's southern flank in Central Asia and Georgia, and expanding further.
It was at this time that the real battle in this new "cold war" - the Yukos battle - was coming to a head. Yukos was fast becoming one of top three or four oil companies in the world. Its chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was feted by the very top elite circles of American/Western power, regularly hobnobbing with Bill Gates and Dick Cheney among others.
What we didn't know until later was that Khodorkovsky was already deep in a high-stakes struggle with Putin over control of Russia's oil pipeline network. Owning pipelines was the Kremlin's one stick it wielded over the oil oligarchs. Khodorkovsky understood that for Yukos to further boost its position, it would need to at the very least wrest control of the pipeline network away from the Kremlin. Khodorkovsky wanted to build up Yukos' value quickly to sell a huge chunk of it to one of Cheney's Texas oil buddies, reportedly either Exxon or Chevron. The reason this was so important for Khodorkovsky was that, since he essentially stole the company during the loans-for-shares privatization scheme in the 1990s, it meant that his hold on the asset was tenuous. The Kremlin could just steal it back any time, as it later did. But the Kremlin would be loathe to steal a massive asset from Exxon or Chevron.
At the same time, Cheney was formulating a worldwide oil grab which he had been working on going back to the 1990s at least. In a speech in 1998, then-CEO of Halliburton Cheney said, "I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian." The reason is simple: The Caspian Sea basin, particularly Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan's shares, holds upwards of $5-10 trillion worth of oil, perhaps more given today's prices.