We have been trying to make our choice for a long time - whether to rely on the advice, help and credits of others, or to develop on the basis of our own traditions ('samobytnost') and our own strength. Many states in the world were faced with a similar choice. If Russia remains weak, we will indeed have to make this choice. This will be the choice made by a weak state, a weak choice.
(Putin, state-of-the-nation speech, 8 July 2000 1)
Russia emerged blinking and bawling as an independent state in 1991: blinkingin surprise, since the unthinkable had happened and the once mighty world power, the USSR, had disintegrated with little warning; bawling to bemoan the loss of imperial territories accumulated over centuries. The independence of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania together with Moldova was one thing, since the territories were only reacquired during the Second World War, but the separation of the Slavic republics of the Ukraine and Belarus was something else. A truncated Russia emerged, with an unclear sense of its own identity and fearful for the future. For all his faults and equivocations, Yeltsin had at least accepted the reality of a smaller Russia. The fourteen other republics once united with Russia in the USSR were in his view unequivocally independent, and for this reason he was condemned by Russian nationalists and the communists for betraying what they perceived to be Russia's national interests. A Yugoslav scenario of endless wars to maintain a 'greater Russia' (such as those fought by Slobodan Milosevic¡ under the slogan of a 'greater Serbia') were avoided, but no consensus had been achieved by the end of the 1990s on Russia's proper size and character. National identity is about defined and defensible space; it is also about imbuing that space with a sense of common purpose and destiny. This was the challenge that faced Putin on assuming the presidency.
Although an independent Russian state had emerged in 1991, the task now was not only to provide that state with sinews and muscle, a process that we