But Russian officials say they are intent merely on protecting their country.
"But all of this does not mean that we have overcome our differences," the former foreign minister said. The U.S. and its allies must keep in mind that Russia is strong militarily and economically, that it retains a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and that it has worked for global stability, he said.
Besides investing heavily in upgrading their strategic nuclear arsenal, Russian officials have signaled that they will use it if necessary: a message that Moscow will not be cowed by the threat of NATO airstrikes.
Putin has tried to use the U.S. presence in the region for his own purposes. Recognizing that Islamic militancy on Russia's borders presents a great danger, he joined the Bush administration's war on terrorism. In his most crucial policy move, he used his influence in Central Asia to help the United States set up bases to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Putin saw an opportunity to forge an alliance with President Bush that would enable him to paint Russia's war against Muslim separatists in Chechnya as part of a common fight against terrorism. The strategy appears to have paid off, to a large degree, as Washington has muted its criticism over allegations of torture and civilian slaughter by Russian troops.
Analysts say Russia also has used the U.S. presence in Central Asia to counter an interloper it fears even more: China.
China's 1.3 billion people and rapidly growing economy, sitting next to Russia's depopulated Far East, engender "vague horror scenarios" of Chinese expansion, said Dmitry Trenin, deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Putin has made strides toward cooperation with China, concluding an economic and security pact in 2001 and signing a border agreement in November. Yet Putin also hedged his bets by facilitating a "temporary" U.S. presence, analysts say.
"The idea was, if the U.S. comes, it's a strong counterbalance to China. They don't have deep roots in the region, like China does. The U.S. will leave sooner, rather than later," said Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.
Russia may have miscalculated.
Officials at NATO, created in 1949 as a bulwark against the Soviet threat, say Russia is proving a reliable partner by participating in joint military exercises, helping halt illegal weapons shipments and sharing intelligence on terrorism and drug trafficking.
"There is discussion on all the most fundamental issues: theater missile defense, defense reform. We're discussing issues even where there's political sensitivity. We had an open discussion on Ukraine just a few days ago, and it was a frank discussion, a very frank discussion," said James Appathurai, NATO spokesman in Brussels. "Of course we do have differences of opinion on some issues."
But many in the West question whether Russia is committed to transparency in government, democratic elections and a free press. "That is, in a sense, where the true test of the long-term strength of the relationship will be," Appathurai said.
In an open letter to the European Union and NATO in September, more than 100 U.S. and European political leaders and academics, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former U.S. envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), warned that Russia was "breaking away from the core democratic values" of the U.S. and Europe.
"President Putin's foreign policy is increasingly marked by a threatening attitude towards Russia's neighbors and Europe's energy security, the return of rhetoric of militarism and empire, and by a refusal to comply with Russia's international treaty obligations," the letter said.
The main lines of new military, economic and political competition in the former Soviet republics, an area the Kremlin calls its "near abroad," form a tight circle around Russia.
Although Russia has reminded the U.S. of its pledge that bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are temporary, the pace of construction belies the idea that the U.S. will be leaving soon.