The only realistic choice for Russia is the choice to be a strong country, strong and confident in its strength, strong not in spite of the world community, not against other strong states, but together with them.
(Putin, state-of-the-nation speech, 8 July 2000 1)
Throughout the 1990s all sides of the political spectrum had insisted that 'Russia is a great power'. Although they may have meant different things by this, such a rare display of unanimity suggested a profound consensus that Russia was not just an ordinary country but had a unique role to play in the Eurasian region and in the world at large. One of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, a nuclear power, enjoying huge technological and cultural achievements, sitting atop enormous reserves of hydrocarbons and other natural resources, and with a history as an ally of Britain in the defeat of continental dictators, Russia felt itself different from other medium-ranking powers because it was different. Although in the 1990s it may have found itself trapped in poverty amidst a sea of plenty, even its location at the Eastern end of the European sphere of prosperity suggested that sooner rather than later its fortunes would improve. How to convert potential into reality? Would Russia become one of those countries of which it is said that they will always have a great future? Putin clearly was aware of the great gulf between rhetoric and reality, and sought to tailor Russia's ambitions to feasibility while not losing sight of what made Russia distinctive.
Putin's over-riding purpose from the very first days of his presidency was the normalisation of Russian foreign policy. Russia was to be treated as neither supplicant nor potential disruptor, but as just one more 'normal' great power. Through a combination of luck, skill and circumstances Putin achieved this remarkably quickly and effectively. By the time of the second Iraq war of 2003 Russia was treated no differently than any other country.