Thursday, February 14, 2008

Eastern Europe is Heating Up Again

Just when we thought that Europe was no longer a problem (perhaps we have been ignoring it due to the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa...), forces in Eastern Europe have started to turn it into a hot spot once more.

Perhaps some of these issues will fizzile, but for now, bitterness and tension are growing over events-about-to-happen, as well as a West vs. Russia proxy war over the loyalty of Eastern Europe States.

The first fight: Will the undecided factions of Eastern Europe end up pro-West or pro-Russia? Ukraine and Serbia are critical battlegrounds (where places like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Albania are clearly West-leaning, and Moldova and Belarus are Russian-leaning), where both sides are using propaganda and low-level political support (including criticism of opposition parties) to help coalitions loyal to them win. Yuschenko's victory in Ukraine two years ago scored a big win for the West, but his mandate has broken, and Ukraine is back up in the air. Pro-western forces barely won re-election in Albania. Why all the fighting over these states? The sense that a Cold War is returning is slowly and very reluctantly creeping back into foreign policy circles.

The second fight: Missile Shields. The US has made deals with Eastern states like Poland and Ukraine to provide (technologically questionable) anti-ballistic missile technology, and has been working for years to actually deliver--this shows a clear anti-Russian hostility (though the US State Department once insisted that it was to protect Europe from Iran) from both the US and these Eastern European states. The EU has been quiet on the subject, giving the US a silent mandate to continue. But the Russians are furious; enough so that Putin has threatened to target Eastern European states with its ballistic missiles if these states go ahead with US missile shield plans. I am not quite sure why the US is insisting on the shield, other than (now) to avoid looking like it will back down to Putin's demands.

The third fight: Kosovo. Elements of Serbia are strongly against the Kosovo secession, as is Russia, while the US and EU support it. The barely-majority government of Serbia has decided to let Kosovo go, despite its strong displeasure with the idea, and has told Serbia to brace for the fracture. The West will recognize Kosovo and give it the diplomatic legitimacy it needs to get on its feet, but all elements are hoping that this is the final fracture of the failed experiment of Yugoslavia.

As Russia grows, the West-Russia fight is likely to grow in magnitude, as well. The Russians are looking for, at the least, respect from the West. But until Russia is willing to play by the West's rules, the EU is unlikely to accept Russia into the fold, and high tensions will remain for a great deal of time to come.

The big losers out of all of this are, of course, the buffer states: former Soviet republics whose economies are only barely starting to recover from the Soviet planned economy can do little to stand up to Russia without Western support, and surely, many of them would rather work with all of their neighbors to improve their domestic economy, rather than engage in a faux Cold War, but they may be forced to choose a side. Should such coercion happen, they can only lose; siding with either coalition will hurt their economy if the losing coalition cuts them off, and leaning against Russia is likely to lead to very high security risk, unless the West is willing to fight for these nations (it's not). This is a classic bandwagoning problem, and we may see more of it in the future.

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