Walesa, Havel attack Obama policy in Eastern Europe
Polish and Czech icons Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel led the signatories to a letter published in Poland Thursday which criticised NATO as becoming irrelevant to their strategic needs in the face of "revisionist" Russia.
Warsaw -- Some of the biggest names in Central and East European politics have signed a public letter to President Barack Obama outlining their deep disturbance at US policy in the region.
Polish and Czech icons Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel led the signatories to a letter published in Poland last week which criticised NATO as becoming irrelevant to their strategic needs in the face of "revisionist" Russia.
The address marks the latest sign of a growing willingness to question Obama's foreign policy moves after Republican attacks at home which sought to undermine the US leader following high-profile moves to cosy up to Moscow.
"Indeed, at times we have the impression that US policy was so successful that many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all and that they could 'check the box' and move on to other more pressing strategic issues...That view is premature," said the letter.
"Despite the efforts and significant contribution of the new members, NATO today seems weaker than when we joined.
"In many of our countries it is perceived as less and less relevant -- and we feel it," they said, pointing to NATO's apparent indifference to Russia's August 2008 war with would-be alliance member Georgia.
"Like you, we await the results of the EU Commission's investigation on the origins of the Russo-Georgian war. But the political impact of that war on the region has already been felt," the letter said.
"Many countries were deeply disturbed to see the Atlantic alliance stand by as Russia violated the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and the territorial integrity of a country that was a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council -- all in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders," it added.
"Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods," the signatories said, although they stressed they also "welcome the 'reset' of the American-Russian relations."
The signatories, many of them influential in toppling communism from 1989-1991 and from countries which offered solid support to the previous George W. Bush administration, urged the Obama team to take a firm line with Russia.
"When it comes to Russia, our experience has been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West's security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well," they said.
Urging a reaffirmation of Europe-US ties, they called for "a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe."
"It (NATO) is the only credible hard power security guarantee we have," they said.
They stressed that how Obama handles Bush's plans to install a missile shield in Poland and associated radar facilities in the Czech Republic "could have a significant impact" across the region.
The Obama administration is currently reviewing the project.
"Abandoning the programme entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region," they said.
The three-page letter, published Thursday in Poland's liberal Gazeta Wyborcza daily, was also signed by another former Polish president in Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Others included Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus, Latvia and Romania's ex-presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Emil Constantinescu, Estonian ex-premier Mart Laar and several former foreign and defence ministers from the region.
In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were the first ex-communist states to join NATO.
Ex-Soviet Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as former communist Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2004.