Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Obama reaches out to Russia but abandons Eastern Europe

By Ian Connerty, guest columnist

This week US President Barack Obama sent Vice President Joe Biden on a whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe to do some serious damage control.

Biden will meet with political leaders in Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania in a vain attempt to reassure them that the US will continue to protect them against a newly emboldened Russian Bear.

This follows an earlier trip by Biden to Ukraine and Georgia who are also nervous that Russia is ending its long hibernation that began when the Berlin Wall famously came down in November 1989 heralding the break up of the USSR.

Since then the United States has expanded its influence in these former USSR satellite states, while Russia was licking its wounds and very nearly went bankrupt.

Former President George W. Bush developed strong ties with all of the former satellite states by, among other things, promoting NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. Then came the ill-fated hostilities in Georgia last year backed by the US. Russia quickly moved its armed forces into Georgia and told the US in no uncertain terms to get out of their home turf. Bush backed down and Russia is now re-exerting its influence on neighbouring states.

President Obama has reversed Bush’s policies of confronting Russia and is trying to improve relations with the former Superpower.

Last June Obama went to Moscow to cement the new relationship by agreeing to cancel the Missile Defence system that Bush promised to Eastern Europe. Bush said the system was needed to aim missiles at a hostile Iran. Russia did not agree and felt that Moscow was dangerously in range of the proposed missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Not surprisingly, the day after Obama cancelled the proposed missile defence system, Russia said they would help the US in dealing with Iran.

That was the deal. A chance for peace in the Middle East now and put Eastern Europe on the back burner. As a result, Eastern European countries that until very recently enjoyed US support in standing up Russia, quite rightly feel betrayed.

Today Russia is no longer the economic basket case it was in 1989. It is piling up huge profits from oil and gas resources thanks to a National Energy Program put in place by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

And Mr Putin found some very eager customers for his natural gas reserves in Western Europe not Eastern Europe, notably Germany, France and Italy. In fact, Germany is a financial partner in a new pipeline that will deliver Russian gas under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, bypassing Poland.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that Germany, France and Italy don’t seem to care that much about Eastern Europe and their new concerns about Russia. They want Russian gas and are prepared to treat Russia as an ally in order to get that gas.

As a result, the newly emancipated Eastern European countries will to be left on their own, once again, to deal with the Russian Bear.

And we all know what happened the last time the Bear got hungry – Eastern Europe became a tasty morsel to be swallowed up. This time President Obama has offered them up on a platter as he tries to play nice with his new found friend Vladimir Putin.