Colour revolutions and perceived American hostility
Starting in the early 2000s, a spate of anti-government protests swept the post-Soviet space, demanding democratic and pro-Western governance. In Georgia, it was the so-called Rose Revolution in 2003; in Ukraine, it was the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Putin believed Western forces were behind these protests, challenging his aim to establish a privileged sphere of influence to which he believed Russia, as a great power, was entitled. More specifically, Putin believed America was behind the Rose and Orange revolutions, Gleb Pavlovksy, former Putin advisor, was quoted as saying.
Moreover, in September 2004 Putin indirectly blamed the US for a domestic terrorist incident where Chechen rebels took over 1,000 people hostage, mostly children in a school in Beslan, in North Ossetia.
"Some would like to tear from us a 'juicy piece of pie'. Others help them," Putin said after the incident.
"(They) help, reasoning that Russia remains one of the world's major nuclear powers, and, as such, still represents a threat to them. And so they reason that this threat should be removed. Terrorism, of course, is just an instrument to achieve these aims."
Putin did not name the US directly, but it was understood he was referring to the US. Taken together, in Putin's view, the US had aimed to weaken Russia internally and externally.
On its part, Georgia continued on its pro-Western path and even contributed troops to US-led efforts in Iraq beginning in 2003. It also emerged as one of the largest non-NATO troop contributors to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
In February 2007, Putin gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference, in which he described as "pernicious" the US-led global order, a world where in his view, "there is one master, one sovereign."
This speech signaled the first clear anti-Western shift in Russian foreign policy trajectory foreshadowing Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In this speech, he told the West precisely who he was.
Invasion of Georgia
Then, August 2008 saw a shift in Moscow's policy toward the Black Sea when Russia invaded Georgia, following longstanding simmering tensions, including over the Russia-controlled breakaway region of South Ossetia.
At the time, a naval task group conducted an amphibious landing in Abkhazia, which served as a signal to Ukraine and other Black Sea states that Russia could conduct such operations in the future.