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Russia: Analysis From Washington -- Old Lines And New Ones On Map Of Europe

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 30 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Seven years ago today Moscow formally ended its nearly half-century military presence in the former East Germany and two Baltic countries, a Russian withdrawal that changed the geopolitical map of Europe in ways many in Russia continue to find difficult to accept.

On 30 August 1994, Moscow formally renounced its post-World War II occupation rights in what had been the German Democratic Republic and simultaneously pulled out of Estonia and Latvia. Troops had been withdrawn from Lithuania a year earlier.

The Russian withdrawal from German soil was the subject of high-level talks between Russia and the Soviet Union's former wartime allies, which also had enjoyed occupation rights. The withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia and Latvia was largely the result of negotiations between Moscow and the governments of these two countries.

Many at the time viewed both of these decisions as representing the end of the lines that divided Europe during the Cold War. And some optimistically asserted that this Russian withdrawal marked the end of a divided Europe.

But even as many celebrated, some on each side took actions that the other perceived as drawing new lines that could keep the continent divided. In part this was a simple logical necessity: any geopolitical arrangement short of the most universal requires distinguishing between those who are inside it and those who are not.

More importantly, these new lines reflected the desire of countries that had been found on one side of the line during the Cold War never to be situated there again. Virtually all the countries of Eastern Europe have sought to join the European Union and NATO primarily because they view membership in these Western organizations as a guarantee that they will remain on a different side of a line than they were in the past.

Most Western governments support these aspirations, seeing them as the gradual spreading eastward of the values of liberal democracy and free-market economics that the West defended during the Cold War. And as a result, most in the West have argued that the extension of these institutions eastward transcends old lines rather than draws new ones.

Not surprisingly, some in Russia and many the West view the expansion of these Western institutions as moving the line between Russia and the West eastward -- and thus threatening areas that many in Moscow continue to view as being within its traditional zone of influence.

While some had expected that Russian attitudes on this point would soften, two reports in the Russian press this week suggest that this may not be the case.

On 28 August, an article in Moscow's "Komsomolskaya Pravda" argued that the Baltic countries soon and Ukraine later are likely to become members of NATO and other Western institutions. Moscow, the paper suggested, cannot stop this process, but it pointed out that it can render it relatively innocuous to Russian interests.

Indeed, the article said, President Vladimir Putin's talk about possible Russian membership in NATO is intended to make the alliance "absurd." If Russia is inside the Western alliance, the paper argued, the alliance would be transformed and by implication neutered as an institution that could threaten Russia's national interests or geopolitical concerns.

And on the same day, another Moscow newspaper, "Nezavisimaya gazeta," reported on an ongoing exercise by the Russian military and some members of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The paper said that the exercise posits conflicts between three fictional entities: "Northland," "Westland," and "Southland." But standing behind these names are real forces and real countries, the paper said. And these reflect current Russian military thinking.

"Northland" includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. "Westland" includes the United States and NATO. And "Southland" includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajik guerilla forces. For purposes of this military game, the Russia-led "Northland" is the defender and NATO's "Westland" and the Islamic "Southland" are the threats, the paper said.

The paper suggested that this maneuver, which was designed by Russian military planners, represents "a quixotic mix of anachronisms from the Cold War and elements of a Brave New World." In short, it reflects the vision of some Russians that the old lines on the map have not so much been eliminated as obscured for a time.

But the paper noted that in one respect there has been progress: the maneuver scenarios realistically call for Russia to defend itself. Soviet-era scenarios had always required the military to defeat NATO and march across Western Europe to the shores of the English Channel.

Seven years after Moscow pulled its forces from German and Baltic soil, people on both sides of the old line are still struggling with that line and new ones that are being drawn in the post-Cold War era.

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