Russian Bear Still Roaring

“The bear still has teeth,” notes Robert D. Kaplan, writing for The Atlantic. The Obama Administration’s decision to scrap the Eastern European missile defense system has left some former Soviet satellite states at the mercy of Moscow once again — or at least, that’s how they see it.

Understandably, some Poles and Czechs reacted to Obama’s announcement with outrage. They’ve backed the United States in most of the wars and deployments of the past decade. Now their reward turns out to be continued exposure to the designs of Russia.

Moreover, the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 “still sends shivers down the spines of Poles,” according to Kaplan, because they fear an economically powerful but energy-dependent Germany joining forces with the military powerful Russia. Poland has no geographical barrier to protect itself against such an unholy alliance while it is exactly for the sake of having barriers that Russia is resistant to the pro-Western course of many Eastern European governments.

There is little threat of actual invasion, that much Kaplan admits, but Russia has other methods at its disposal: “organized crime networks, intelligence operations, and constant intimidation.” Besides, no matter how Westernized countries as Poland and the Czech Republican may have become, “Russians will always be able to operate there more easily than most Westerners, because of their related Slavic languages.”

So why is the United States letting this happen? Because it needs Russia’s help — “to put pressure on Iran, to help us with supply routes into Afghanistan, and, perhaps, to balance against China.” But Russia is far from a reliable partner. It maintains its own agenda with regard to Iran which it does not want to upset and enflame Islamic extremism on Russia’s fringes. And with China, Russia sits in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and in the informal BRIC alliance along with Brazil and India. It seems unlikely that Russia will ever definitively pick the American side in its struggle against either, present and future, antagonist.

Is it worth to risk the allegiance of Eastern Europe in order to please Russia then? Yes. Because as much as losing that allegiance would hurt Washington, making an enemy out of Russia once again would be all the more devastating.