By the time Putin became president the day before the new Millennium, “the initial hopes and plans of the early ‘90s [were] dead,” a leading liberal Russian politician declared. The first round of NATO enlargement had been followed by NATO’s 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, done without UN security council authorization, triggering a Russian cut-off of contact with the alliance. By 2000, the revised Russian national security strategy warned that NATO using force beyond its borders “’is a threat of destabilization of the whole strategic situation,” while military officers and politicians started claiming “that if NATO expands further, it would ‘create a base to intervene in Russia itself,’” the Washington Post reported.
Ironically, there would be one exception to the next two decades’ worth of rising tensions over NATO’s eastward creep that followed: the early years of Putin’s presidency, when the new Russian president defied the Russian establishment to try and make outreach to the United States. Under Putin, Moscow re-established relations with NATO, finally ratified the START II arms control treaty, even publicly floated the idea of Russia eventually joining the alliance, inviting attacks from his political rivals for doing so. Even so, he continued to raise Moscow’s traditional concerns about the alliance’s expansion, telling NATO’s secretary-general it was “a threat to Russia.”
“If a country like Russia feels threatened, this would destabilize the situation in Europe and the entire world,” he’d said in a speech in Berlin in 2000.
Putin softened his opposition as he sought to make common cause with the George W. Bush administration. “If NATO takes on a different shape and is becoming a political organization, of course, we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion, if we are to feel involved in the processes,” he said in October 2001, drawing attacks from political rivals and other Russian elites.
As NATO for the first time granted Russia a consultive role in its decision-making, Putin sought to assist its expansion. Italian president Silvio Berlusconi made a “personal request” to Bush, according to an April 2002 cable, to “understand Putin’s domestic requirements,” that he “needs to be seen as part of the NATO family,” and to give him “help in building Russian public opinion to support NATO enlargement.” In another cable a top-ranking state department official urges holding a NATO-Russia summit to “help President Putin neutralize opposition to enlargement,” after the Russian leader said allowing NATO expansion without an agreement on a new NATO-Russia partnership would be politically impossible for him.
This would be the last time any Russian openness toward NATO expansion is recorded in the diplomatic record held by WikiLeaks.https://archive.ph/atHx4