John Schwenkler referred me to the open letter addressed to Obama by numerous central and eastern European politicians, and I was already going to say something about it, but John O’Sullivan’s very odd column on the same subject deserves some comment first. I call it odd because I would have thought O’Sullivan would be able to see by now that the “reset” is entirely one-sided and the fears of all these regional leaders are completely misplaced. At most, the “reset” now means that Washington will (probably) stop Cheney-like hectoring of the Kremlin about its internal affairs, and in return Washington expects the Russians to assist on any number of international problems while all of the old provocations with NATO expansion and missile defense proceed at a somewhat reduced pace. After a promising beginning earlier this year, conventional attitudes towards Russia are returning (I suppose they never really left), perhaps out of a mistaken belief that relatively greater Russian weakness will make Moscow more compliant and amenable to policies it regards as absolutely unacceptable. This ensures the same depressing dynamic of escalating hostility that has governed U.S.-Russian relations for at least the last fifteen years. Once again, the malign influence of Biden is there for all to see.
More remarkable than his misreading of current Russia policy is O’Sullivan’s unthinking repetition of the pro-Georgian line about last year’s war:
Such assurances would be more comforting to Central and Eastern Europe if Russia had not already violated such principles (and various international treaties) by invading Georgia and annexing two of its provinces – and done so with impunity and eventual Western acquiescence. What the restive Easterners want is closer integration with America so neither Russia nor other hostile powers will be tempted to future “revisionism.”
For one thing, the enclaves had already practically been annexed years before when the people in those enclaves began claiming Russian citizenship. Why did they do this? One reason was that the people in Abkhazia and South Ossetia don’t want to be Georgians. Tbilisi has wanted to reincorporate them into Georgia, which is what Saakashvili was attempting to do last year by force. Saakashvili’s attempt failed, and a consequence of this has been that the de facto separation of the enclaves has deepened and the desire not to live under Georgian rule has intensified. O’Sullivan portrays the war as if it were an unprovoked attack by Russia, when one investigation after another has placed the bulk of the blame for the war on Saakashvili. Perhaps the most irritating part of pro-Georgian arguments is this absurd charge of revisionism leveled against Moscow, when it is Tbilisi that has been trying to engage in revisionist policies to reclaim territories lost in the early ’90s. It is as if Belgrade had still been trying to take back control over Bosnia in 2008 and the EU were being accused of being a revisionist power by preventing this.
As for the letter itself, it is focused entirely on threats from Russia–there are no “other hostile powers” on the horizon for the signatories to the letter. One wonders what closer integration America could provide beyond NATO membership and strong existing bilateral trade and diplomatic ties that would put the minds of these leaders at ease. It also seems significant that all of the signatories are mostly former presidents, prime ministers and ministers. Far from necessarily being representative of their current governments or nations, the signatories to this letter could be displaying their pro-American or Atlanticist credentials for their own reasons. Perhaps this is unfair, but from the format and some of the individuals involved (e.g., Kwasniewski, Havel, etc.) I am unfortunately reminded of the so-called “letter of the eight” and the Vilnius letter from 2003, whence so many stupid ideas about “New Europe” derived.
It may be that an anti-Russian open letter is more representative of the views of the many nations of central and eastern Europe than were the pro-war letters of 2003, but we should be wary of taking this letter as the voice of the region. As far as the war was concerned, all of the governments that signed on to those letters were doing so against the wishes of vast majorities of their respective publics. It may be worth noting that the missile defense program proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic, which the signatories seem so intent on seeing completed, has not been terribly popular with actual Czechs and Poles. It is hardly a surprise to find European leaders embracing policies that do not command broad support from their voters, but we should keep this foremost in mind whenever we are discussing specific security and foreign policy questions concerning Europe.
As Biden’s visit to Kiev and his comments there make clear, the open letter was unnecessary, the “reset” is largely cosmetic, and it seems probable that Poland and Czech Republic are once again going to have a U.S. security policy imposed on them with the cooperation of their own political classes that are out of touch with broad swathes of both nations. In other words, it is business as usual.
P.S. It occurs to me that one of the reasons why so many Americans cultivate a distrust of Russia is this song-and-dance our government engages in at the start of every new administration in which Washington pretends to want to start afresh, changes nothing in its policies and then uses the Russians’ annoyed, negative reactions as proof that good relations are impossible. Because Bush patted Putin on the back and said stupid things about his soul, we are meant to believe that this was supposed to make Moscow forget Kosovo, NATO expansion and scrapping the ABM Treaty. Now that Obama and Biden have said pleasant things about a “reset” and complimented Medvedev a few times, things can continue on much as they did before, and the political class will later express its bewilderment when the Russians grow impatient with this completely one-sided arrangement.