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'New Europe' urges West to rethink Russian ties

Seizing on the conflict in Georgia, East European countries are pushing for strong measures against an aggressive Moscow they say they know all too well.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 18, 2008

Gori, Georgia: Russia said it would start withdrawing its forces Monday.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

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They live in a historically battered region between West and East, the Rhine and the Volga, Berlin and Moscow. Now, as Russian tanks rumble in Georgia, the states of "new Europe" are urging the West to rethink its relationship with Russia and are pushing for new security and strong measures against an aggressive Moscow they say they know all too well.

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From Poland to Ukraine, the Czech Republic to Bulgaria, Russia's invasion of Georgia with tanks, troops, and planes is described as a test of Western resolve. The former Soviet states are vowing to thwart Russian aims – in deals with the European Union, in a missile-defense pact with the US, and in trade and diplomacy.

Polish and Baltic officials, most of whom grew up under Soviet occupation, have long chafed at being described in Western Europe as too "Russia-phobic" in their oft-repeated warnings about Moscow's intentions. But now in this gritty capital, the refrain is, "We told you so."

The strength of Polish feeling against Russia is measured by the quick completion of a US missile defense pact last week, after 18 months of wrangling in Warsaw and Washington. While the US has stoutly argued that the missiles were meant as a shield against rogue attacks from Iran, their strategic value here has apparently shifted. Polish opposition to hosting 10 proposed missile silos dropped by 30 percent in the week after Russia's military move in Georgia, according to polls in Warsaw.

"The events in the Caucasus show clearly that such security guarantees are indispensable," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Ukrainian officials now say they encourage talks with the US on a similar shield. The suggestion over the weekend came despite Russian deputy military chief Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn's warning that Poland's missile shield would expose it to a Russian attack. "Poland, by deploying ... is exposing itself to a strike – 100 percent," said General Nogovitsyn.