'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.
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In recent years "new" Europe has tussled with "old," with Germany in particular, over NATO expansion for Georgia – most recently in April at the alliance summit in Bucharest, Romania, where Berlin opposed it. Former Soviet states now in NATO argue that Western ideas about liberal reform in Russia were naive at best and self-serving at worst: They see Vladimir Putin's Russia as disparaging civil society, reverting to brute strength with small nations, seeking empire, and exploiting divisions inside Europe, and between Europe and the US. Russia is not a 'status quo' power under Mr. Putin, they say, but rather willing to change principles in pursuit of greatness.Skip to next paragraph
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Most Poles will agree that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili made a serious mistake in trying to enter South Ossetia with force. But they feel it was an error that Russia seized upon in a planned operation to annex Ossetia and Abkhazia, where they say a new millionaire class in Moscow is rapidly buying up coastal property.
"When we woke up and saw Russian tanks in Georgia, we knew very well what this meant," says Bartosz Weglarczyk, foreign editor of Gazeta Wyborcza. "The Russian talk about helping others and bringing peace to Georgia.... We don't buy it. When did Moscow ever enter a country without 'bringing peace?'
"Now it is back to basics," he adds. "For us, it is all about staying out of the Russian sphere. We forgot about Russia for a decade. Now as Frankenstein is being reassembled under a former KGB chief, we remember it again."
But few Poles believe Moscow is ready to use military force as far east as Poland, lacking the discipline required by the grand ideas of Marxism and shown in Soviet days. "The Russians want to keep their money, their property in Monaco and Palm Beach, and have a good life," says one official. Moscow will, however, seek to exploit weakness and divisions in the West, say Polish diplomats, officials, and citizens, in a new type of energy and economic war of which Georgia is an example.
Five presidents from East Europe traveled to Georgia last week to show solidarity and to challenge Russia. East European states are reexamining their policy of allowing dual passports that can be used by Russia as a reason for entering their country, as was done in South Ossetia. Ukraine wants to limit the Russian Navy's use of its ports. EU members from the East vow to block new Russian efforts for a liberal trade deal. Polish President Lech Kaczynski criticized Germany and France for mollifying Russia in order to protect commercial interests. Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves argues vociferously that Georgia should still be admitted to NATO.