From poisonings to annexations: a timeline of Russia’s fallout with the West

Alexei Sorokin
6 min readNov 13, 2021

I’ve observed Russia for decades, from within and outside. I traveled a lot for education and eventually immigrated to the US, but feel I have a good grasp of how Russia and its relation with the West have evolved. Below is my account of the key events — a casual one, not an attempt to analyze history or make judgments.

Yeltsin and the 1990s

It was a very turbulent decade as Russia tried to march away from the Soviet epoch towards a bright future. Russia’s relations with the US were probably at their historic high. The country was broke and on its knees but trying to rebuild. The US was quite literally helping Russia with its effort to transition to a new system. If you’re in the I-hate-Yeltsin-he-sold-and-destroyed-everything camp — and many Russians today are like that— you look back at this “help” with loathing. Indeed, the reforms and privatizations, prescribed by Western economists, created a lot of pain and turbulence; a select few got extremely rich and powerful, and the vast majority of the population was impoverished throughout the Nineties. Still though, if you look at the picture below and think that Clinton and Yeltsin were buddies, it’s because they were. Cold War no longer.

Arrival of Putin (1999)

To remind, Yeltsin himself, as he was resigning in 1999, backed Putin as his successor. There was a democratic election in which Putin was elected President but Yeltsin definitely paved the path for Putin’s arrival to the big scene.

I don’t think back in the day the West necessarily looked at Putin in a negative way, his KGB background notwithstanding. With caution? Maybe. But no one really knew who he was, how he would be, how Russia would be.

Yukos and Khodorkosvky (2003)

In my opinion, this is the single most important event in Russia’s modern history.

I was working for Morgan Stanley’s office in Moscow when I saw the headline “Russia Freezes Yuko’s Assets”. It felt like Russia’s chances of building a successful economy, attractive to foreign investors, had collapsed in an instant. Yes, Russia’s privatizations were murky, but it was shocking to see such a politically- motivated attack by the Russian government…

Alexei Sorokin

A Russian immigrant in America, father of 4, Cambridge and Harvard Business School alum. I run and write every day. More here: