THE Kremlin's new hard-line policies and destabilization in the Soviet Union are causing reappraisals everywhere - especially among former Soviet satellites. Few believe the Soviets will try to systematically reoccupy Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. But Mikhail Gorbachev's cozy ``common European home,'' a notion entertained last year by leaders as varied as Czech President Vaclav Havel and German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, is now spoken of mainly with irony.
The about-face in the USSR leaves Eastern European states in limbo. They want independence from the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact, yet they can't expect any kind of binding security assurances from NATO, or NATO allies. Who will guarantee these states? Formally, no one.
Soviet troops are withdrawing from the east, but it is an ugly withdrawal. Troops leaving East Germany through Poland are defecting en route - causing a serious dispute between the Poles and the Soviets. The Soviets are backing down on agreements to clean up their abandoned military sites.
A new source of anxiety in the old East bloc has been the lack of resolve among European Community members about the Gulf war. There's been little unity in the EC on the Gulf - Germany, France, and Britain have gone their own ways. This appears as weakness to the East Europeans. Germany's hesitancy to support NATO ally Turkey in case of attack is viewed apprehensively.
These orphaned states are turning to the US. President Bush made it clear to an envoy from President Havel last month that the US would help find ways to construct alliances between NATO and the newly liberated East-bloc states. More confidence-building measures and informal assurances will be needed.
For now, Eastern Europe may have to ``go it alone.'' Western states don't want to intervene in regional disputes - between Romania and Hungary, say. Nor, for that matter, do East-bloc states want to be dragged into each other's problems.
The US must continue a vigorous dialogue with Eastern European governments. Washington can also facilitate rapprochements between reluctant EC members and their brothers and sisters to the east.
Eastern Europe's liberation changed the world. Billions are now being spent in the Gulf in the name of that new world. But in this hour, the West must continue to invest in and support Eastern Europe's fight for freedom.