East Europeans eye Russian assault warily

13th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

Leaders say EU response has been weak.

Vienna -- Russia's show of military force against Georgia has raised hackles in Eastern Europe and prompted calls for a strong European Union stand.

But as Russian forces widened their assault earlier this week on the Caucasus nation before the ordered ceasefire Tuesday, a former Latvian president suggested that the 27-nation bloc's response to the crisis has been weak.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who was in office when the three Baltic nations joined the EU and NATO in 2004, said that she was "surprised and frustrated" that the EU "was unable to come up with a united, coordinated and condemning" stance against Moscow.

Her comments to the diena.lv news portal were in line with a wariness of resurgent Russian power in much of Eastern Europe, nearly two decades after the Soviet empire's collapse.

However, some commentators also blamed US-friendly Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for what they portrayed as a provocation against Russian troops that backfired.

In Poland, the Georgia conflict gave new impetus to debate about whether the former Warsaw Pact nation should host elements of a proposed US anti-missile shield.

The Bush administration says the project -- a radar array in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland -- is aimed at countering threats from countries like Iran, not Russia.

But Polish President Lech Kaczynski seemed to suggest otherwise by saying last weekend that the Caucasus war is a "very strong argument" for Poland to make a missile defense deal with the US.

While the Czech government has signed an agreement on the radar, US talks with Poland have stalled.

In a swipe at Moscow, neighboring Ukraine joined EU members Poland and Lithuania in calling for a European Union peacekeeping mission in parts of Georgia under de-facto Russian control.

That followed a weekend plea by Poland and the Baltic nations for the EU and NATO to "stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the East of Europe."

Kaczynski labeled Moscow the aggressor in the outbreak of fighting over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. He even offered to let Georgia put out information on the conflict through his presidential website.

EU foreign ministers planned emergency talks for Wednesday. The six-day interval since the fighting flared was one reason why Vike-Freiberga voiced frustration about Europe's response to the crisis.

NATO, too, has its limits. Several members of the US-led military alliance, notably Germany and France, are wary of upsetting Russia, a key energy supplier and business partner.

While Georgia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program in 2005, European nations at the alliance's summit in April balked at US pressure to put the former Soviet republic on a path to full membership.

If Georgia were in NATO, other members would be pledged to come to its defense in case of an outside attack.

"Western nations are probably breathing a sigh of relief that Georgia did not get the green light at the NATO summit in Bucharest," the Romanian daily Gandul said Monday in an editorial.

"Georgia's president also lost on this front...Europe cannot afford war with Russia," the newspaper said.

DPA with Expatica

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