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East Europeans Push for Closer Ties With NATO

Russian vote rekindles fears of domination - and of acquiescence to Moscow by West

THE political earthquake in Moscow, coupled with cautious responses in Brussels and other Western European capitals, have some Eastern European nationals thinking of Yalta or Munich, as they strive to break out of the vicious cycle of history.

Eastern European governments fear a resurgence of Russian imperialistic desires after nationalist and neocommunists scored a stunning victory in last Sunday's parliamentary elections. The results could turn Russia's political landscape upside down.

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``The Russian elections don't give us ground for optimism,'' Slovak Foreign Minister Jozef Moravcik said during a Monday visit to Bonn.

Eastern Europe, especially Poland, throughout history has been an object of Russian territorial ambition. Mr. Moravcik described the region as ``a victim of [Russian] imperialism with the West's assistance.''

Now it appears that restoring Russia's former glory is the top goal of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the neofascist Liberal Democratic Party, the biggest winner in Sunday's vote. And many in former Soviet satellite states worry Russian President Boris Yeltsin won't resist the growing nationalist pressure.

To blunt a possible Russian neoimperialist move, the West, particularly NATO, should intensify efforts to extend security guarantees to Eastern European nations, Moravcik and others say.

NATO is the best guarantee against East Europe being ``thrown back into the sphere of influence from which they have extricated themselves only with great difficulty,'' Moravcik added.

But such pleas are receiving passive responses in Brussels, headquarters for both NATO and the European Union, as well as Washington and European capitals.

Germany is perhaps the nation most interested in Eastern European stability, given its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said he was ``surprised'' by the Russian election results, and indicated they may actually slow the process of Eastern Europe's integration into NATO, rather than speed it up. Extra caution on NATO expansion is needed, he explained, so as not to antagonize Russia as Moscow sorts out its domestic political situation. It's the economy

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``What they [Eastern European governments] have to fear more than a Russian tank attack is an election result similar to that in Russia - a backlash to reforms,'' a prominent Western diplomat said. ``Military therapy isn't a solution for economic problems.''

During a visit to Brussels last week, Mr. Yeltsin strongly opposed Eastern European membership in NATO. Western officials said Russia does not have veto power on NATO membership decisions, but they now appear reluctant to cross Moscow.

NATO and the Western European Union, the defense branch of the European Union, announced Tuesday there would be no policy change toward Russia following the parliamentary vote. That means NATO is unlikely to alter what it is already offering to Eastern Europe - a US-sponsored cooperation plan known as ``Partnership for Peace.''

The program would increase political and military contacts between NATO and former Warsaw Pact nations, including Russia. But it would not extend security guarantees to those Eastern European nations seeking them, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

NATO is expected to formally approve the program at a Brussels summit Jan. 10-11. What remains to be determined is whether the alliance will provide assurances to interested Eastern European nations about their eventual inclusion in NATO.

Many Eastern European diplomats, meanwhile, call the Partnership for Peace idea insufficient.

``It is a half-measure designed to please everyone, but that will end up not satisfying anyone,'' said an Eastern European diplomat based in Brussels.

Some Eastern European diplomats characterize the West's current action as an appeasement policy. Parallels are made to the decisions made at the 1945 Yalta summit, in which the victorious World War II powers - the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union - agreed to divide Europe into spheres of influence. The decision led to the continent's division by the Iron Curtain for almost 50 years. Munich revisited?

A few Eastern European diplomats say a more appropriate analogy for the current situation may turn out to be the 1938 Munich accord, in which the West allowed Nazi Germany to seize Czech territory in the hopes of appeasing Hitler.

``When the Soviet Union was a superpower, NATO stood up to it beautifully. But now that the Soviet Union has broken up, NATO is incapable of standing up,'' a Brussels-based East European diplomat said. ``It's incomprehensible.''

Western officials say Eastern Europe will be ready for NATO membership only after it has made sufficient progress on democratic and market-economic reforms. But Moravcik, the Slovak foreign minister, said security guarantees would hasten the region's economic transformation.

``Hesitation and the vague attitude on the part of Western Europe only creates an atmosphere of mistrust,'' Moravcik said.

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