Boisterous Bear, Wounded Eagle: U.S.-Russian Tensions From a Post-Communist Perspective

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (right) shake hands on Aug. 20 in Warsaw after signing a deal to deploy part of a United States missile shield on Polish territory. (Photo: Janek Skarzynski / AFP-Getty Images)

Despite some recent diplomatic successes in post-Communist Europe, the United States has suffered a significant setback in Georgia. In view of the bloody events there, the overall strategic balance on the old continent and in the Caucasus has tipped definitely and perhaps permanently toward Russia.

Last week, the United States and Poland signed a deal that inevitably will lead to the installation of 10 American ballistic missile silos. In addition, American technical advisors might possibly be stationed on the military base that is to host the new weapons. This "Third Site" (1) is part of the so-called "National Missile Defense plan," which is global in scope.

Only a formal ratification of the bilateral treaty in the Polish parliament, or Sejm, is now required to clinch the missile agreement. In the view of Bronislav Komorowski, a former defense minister and chairman of the lower house chamber, it is almost a done deal.

For its part the Czech Republic, 40 years after the Warsaw pact invasion, signed a similar deal with Washington in July to host a radar station outside of Prague. The remilitarization of the region is now complete and a new buffer zone or cordon sanitaire to ward off the Russian bear is in place.

Washington's Proteges in Warsaw Haunted by the Past

Haunted by the rumblings of Russian tanks and chronically stricken with an age-old pathological hatred for everything Russian, Poland's ruling class has acted like a hysterical maiden seeking to hide under Condoleezza Rice's stylish chiffon skirt. But instead of soothing her terrified client state, Rice has fanned the flames of fear as if the cold war was still on.

The urbane and elegant erstwhile Soviet scholar knows very well that this missile pact, besides being a huge windfall for United States-based arms contractors, is deliberately provocative to Moscow and designed to further entrap it in NATO's grip. As proof of her "stick it in your eye" diplomacy, Rice has yet to visit Moscow (after being in Warsaw and Tbilisi) to explain and reassure the Kremlin on the United States' long-term intentions regarding Russia.

Meanwhile, the corporate media continues to expound the make-believe blatant falsehood that the weapons shield based in central Europe is aimed against an attack from Iran. Teheran has issued many menacing and outlandish threats against Israel. Hence, the installation of antimissile defense systems there by the Pentagon seems perfectly justified for security and strategic reasons.

But not once has anyone in the Iranian leadership ever said or even hinted or implied any intention to strike any European Union member state, including Poland or the Czech Republic. So why put the defense hardware in Eastern Europe if not to antagonize Russia?

Furthermore, if Washington really seeks to protect itself and its NATO allies from the "rogue state" why hasn't it placed the defense shield in a more geographically suitable spot, such as Turkey (a NATO member state) or Azerbaijan, the oil rich state (and another NATO aspirant) located in Russia's "near abroad?"

Strangling the Bear With NATO's Noose

You do not have to be a Soviet studies expert (or a post-Communist scholar) to know that the American missile defense shield will create a Russian backlash (as we have seen in Georgia). It may even have irrevocable consequences for the West. Washington has reignited a new cold war and an arms race in the region (which was the intent of the American arms lobby).

In the short term, Moscow in a countermove may shift more troops and nukes to its Kaliningrad enclave bordering Poland and the Baltic states, which joined NATO in 1999 and 2004, respectively.

Warsaw's Wishful Thinking

If Poland thinks the United States will risk a nuclear confrontation with Russia then its leaders suffer from short-term memory or have forgotten about Washington's inaction during Moscow's imposed martial law in 1981. They also forget the Anglo-American and French "sell out" to Stalin in Yalta and Potsdam when the Western powers did not lift a finger, fire a single shot, or send a single soldier in defense of Polish territory to stop the Soviets.

Furthermore, the missile agreement has sealed the fate of Poland, which has now effectively become along with the Czech Republic an American military outpost to badger Russia on its former turf.

Dividing Lines Redrawn in Europe

At the heart of Washington's weapons shield plan, coupled with NATO's expansion policy, is a classic divide and conquer multilayered stratagem. The first layer: divide the European Union from Russia. This is done by placing a firm wedge between Moscow and Brussels, thus the United States scuttles the possibility of a nonconfrontational European Union approach toward Russia, which could possibly lead to a Europe "whole and free" or, as French President Francois Mitterrand once suggested at the end of the cold war, to an area of prosperity stretching from the "Atlantic to the Urals."

Washington also seeks to rally its increasingly unruly European partners around the principle of NATO's collective security blanket. War vets like Senator John McCain have used rhetoric that recalls the old evil empire hegemon. Using Russia as a convenient scarecrow unifies the alliance, already strained by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia's new bugaboo status in Brussels only further cows central European states to do Washington's bidding. This stratagem also impedes any chance that the European Union may one day cast off Uncle Sam's stewardship of European defense in favor or a C.F.S.P. (common foreign and security policy).

On another level, the United States has also sought to divide the continent in a more nefarious way between "old" and "new" Europe. In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq invasion, the United States launched an arm-twisting campaign to get the Czech, Polish, and Hungarian newcomers to NATO to sign on and support the illegal American war and occupation. Eventually, despite misgivings, all the new NATO central Europeans sent soldiers or "boots on the ground" to participate in the military campaign as part of the now practically disbanded "coalition of the willing."

And finally, in 2008, with the installation of the missile shield, Washington seeks to alienate the citizenry from their governments. An example of this is how deeply divisive the issue has become in the Czech Republic. Such tactics undermine the democratic notions of civil society once espoused by leading anticommunists such as Vaclav Havel.

The ruling pro-American elite in central Europe persist with the project, giving little or no consideration at all to public opposition. NATO's nomenklatura in Prague and Warsaw act just like Red Army thugs once did by going ahead with the weapons deals, despite the fact that a sizable portion of the citizenry remains opposed to it, as is the case of the Czechs, who deeply recent Washington's military meddling in their country.

So this weapons industry-sponsored exercise in rearmament is being imposed from above in an antidemocratic and authoritarian manner. It harkens back, in the minds of many Czechs, to the nasty days when central Europeans were subjugated by their Warsaw pact ideological comrades and "protectors."

Back to the U.S.S.R.?

The West seems to have a distorted or almost delusional view of Russia. Yes, to the dismay of some and to the delight of others, Russia is making a comeback. It is doing so by reasserting itself internationally while clearly and firmly demarking a "red line" around its current borders that the West would be well advised to respect and not dare crossover.

In the wake of the mini proxy war in Georgia between the old-time superpower rivals, NATO's expansionist bonanza or "geopolitical binge" seems finally to have come to an end. In central Asia, the alliance's war machine is breaking down. It is already suffering from critical "overreach" in terms of its bloated size. Although bogged down in the Afghan conflict, NATO is promising eventual membership to states surrounding Russia. This is a recipe for disaster.

What kind of strategic commitments will NATO offer Ukraine or Georgia? For Poland, membership status seemingly means an "ironclad" American guarantee to defend Polish territory from a "rogue state." (Does this means Iran or North Korea?) Despite the charade and assertions to the contrary from "Condi and company," everyone in Eastern Europe knows the "bad guy" meant here is really Russia.

As for further NATO enlargement, perhaps, the United States would send the cavalry to rescue central Europe if need be. But will Washington risk a nuclear showdown with Russia over the Black seaport of Sebastopol or over a Russian enclave in the Caucasus if Ukraine or Georgia one day join the military alliance? Permit me to take a calculated guess and say that it will not.

War and Peace in the 21st Century

Recent history reminds us of what happens when Western nations overdosed on power and set their sights on Moscow (as Hitler's Germany did). In the early 19th century, the disastrous Napoleonic wars, which lasted 12 years (1803-1815), ended with a humiliating retreat of the most formidable fighting force of its time: General Bonaparte's Grande Armée.

These invasions of Russia were preemptive strikes launched in part to prevent the threat of a Russian invasion of Poland. Today, once again, Poland has aligned itself with a great military force to fend off the bear to the East. Yet now, we seem to be entering a renewed cold war accompanied by rearmament in the region between the Baltic and the Black seas (due mainly to NATO's aggressive expansion strategy to strangle Russia).

This marks an era of confrontation, with Russia being recast by the West to play the part of the former Soviet Union. The Georgian sudden and inglorious rollback from South Ossetia is just a precursor to much bigger regional alignments to come. These shifts are unlikely to be in the West's favor.


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