Home News History weighs heavy in Russia’s ties with Eastern Europe

History weighs heavy in Russia’s ties with Eastern Europe

Published on 09/11/2009

Moscow — Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, relations remain tense between Russia and the former Eastern bloc countries, as Moscow blames the European Union for blocking a rapprochement.

"These relations are tainted with memories on both sides that can’t be smoothed over so quickly," said Maria Lipman, an expert at the Carnegie Centre in Moscow.

"Eastern European countries are building up their new identity by insisting on their return to Europe after Communist subjection. Russia, on the other hand, is going through the loss of its status as a superpower," Lipman said.

Russian society hasn’t made an "effort of memory" to come to terms with its Soviet past, said Denis Volkov, a sociologist at the independent Levada centre.

This may explain why Russia rejects any alternative historical interpretations of World War II and refuses to investigate the massacre of Polish officers on Stalin’s orders at Katyn in 1940.

These resentments weigh heavy on bilateral relations and make it harder for Moscow to achieve a rapprochement with the European Union, whose members include most of the other former Communist countries in Eastern Europe.

Important negotiations between Russia and the European Union on a partnership agreement have been blocked for two years over Russia’s ban on imports of Polish meat.

New geopolitical choices such as Eastern European countries entering NATO, and Poland and the Czech Republic consenting to host elements of a US missile shield have exasperated Moscow, which blames the influence of Washington.

Poland and the Baltic States are also at the forefront of opposition to the Nord Stream, the gas pipeline that would connect Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea, seeing this as a way for Moscow to bypass them.

Furthermore, these countries support the pro-Western regimes in Ukraine and Georgia, which Moscow still considers more or less a region where it should hold sway.

"Russia doesn’t believe in the independence of the former satellites of the Soviet Union, considering that if they don’t depend on us any more, then they depend on others," Volkov said.

This hostility towards "traitors" and hirelings of Washington is also promoted by Russia’s state-controlled television and shared by the public, which is used to anti-American slogans of the Soviet era, Volkov added.

Vladimir Kumachyov, an expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, defended this world view.

"In order to serve the United States, the new Europe is entering a confrontation with Russia," he said. "Washington doesn’t want to see Russia grow closer to the European Union, since this would make Europe more independent from America."

"Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic sabotage energy projects and oppose the entry of Russian business into their countries, to the detriment of enterprises that the Russians could have saved," he complained.

As for the more friendly countries, such as Serbia, analysts explain increasing contacts as the results of pragmatic mutual interests in the energy sector.

The conflict in Georgia has shown that "Russia has no allies," Lipman said. Even Belarus, the former Soviet republic that is closest to Russia, has failed to recognize the independence of the two separatist regions in Georgia, she said.