Commentary Magazine


Russia & Europe

To the Editor:

George Weigel’s brilliant article, “Creeping Talbottism” [March], should have included a clear statement that pessimism about Russia does not mean rejection of a grand optimistic vision of the future. For example, I think that it is important to support a united political bloc “from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” but one should also point out that such a noble ideal is unlikely to materialize in the foreseeable future, perhaps not even during the first half of the next century. The reason for this prediction is connected to the deep economic, political, and cultural differences among the states in the area. During Gorbachev’s perestroika there were some experts in the U.S., all hopelessly out of touch with reality, who said that the Soviet empire should not be dismantled, in order to save the already existing degree of integration. Such a naive approach by Gorbaphiles to the problems of integration did not work then, and similar mistakes should not be repeated in post-1991 circumstances. So it should be emphasized that realism about the midterm prospects of Russia does not exclude a desire to build a foundation for a closer alliance in the future.

There is also a positive feature of the Partnership for Peace (PFP): it is a good and sufficiently ambiguous framework for building cautious security cooperation between Russia and NATO. But it makes no sense to apply the PFP scheme to the Visegrad countries [Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary], which should be accepted as full NATO members as soon as possible. The same applies to the Baltic states; I think Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania should become NATO members together with (or immediately after) the Visegrad states.

Mr. Weigel mentions the fact that Poles and others are concerned about Russia’s new assertiveness. But this message could be sharpened. It is easy to see why tiny Estonia is afraid of huge Russia, but one must have considerable imagination to figure out how Russia could be afraid of Estonia. Furthermore, one may ask, why are the Visegrad countries, the Baltic states, and some other East and Central European states afraid of what is behind the Kremlin’s rhetoric about the “near-abroad” and spheres of “vital interest”? Are these countries all mistaken; have they all misunderstood the historic changes in Moscow? Do the populations of these countries all suffer from short-sighted Russophobia? Why are all these countries so unanimous in their fear of Russia; why are they not equally afraid of Germany or other West European powers which have historically also been their adversaries? Why should the Kremlin feel offended if a plain empirical truth is stated: Russia has so far not been able to ease the worries of its small neighbors? Why should a democratic Russia feel “encircled” or “alienated” if membership in NATO eases the fears of its small neighbors, given that there is no strategic threat from the West to Russia? If the Russian government really thinks that the fears of the East and Central European countries are groundless, why cannot Russia assure them of its good intentions by allowing (or even encouraging) them to join NATO?

Andrus Park
Estonian Academy of Sciences
Tallinn, Estonia

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