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CEE Region Welcomes Open Letter To Obama Administration

  • Heather Maher

Yuriy Shcherbak

Yuriy Shcherbak

There has been praise across the region for an open letter that was sent to U.S. President Barack Obama this week from a distinguished group of Central and Eastern European thinkers.

Twenty-two pro-American intellectuals and former policy makers from former Soviet bloc countries urged the Obama administration to significantly strengthen its diplomatic and security ties with the region, or risk losing the strong post-Cold War alliances that helped usher in democracy and bring the region into trans-Atlantic security agreements.

The letter was published in the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" on July 16 and delivered to Washington later that day. Among its signers were ex-foreign ministers, prime ministers, and presidents from Lithuania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Romania.

The signatories include former presidents Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Emil Constantinescu of Romania, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia. They describe themselves as U.S. allies who remain deeply indebted to the United States for helping bring down the Iron Curtain.

Chief among their concern is that the Central and Eastern European region has ceased to be a priority on the U.S. foreign policy agenda due to what they consider the misguided notion that the region is largely stable, pro-American, and on a secure path to full trans-Atlantic integration.

To the contrary, the signers say, the region's traditionally close relationship with the United States faces a raft of threats -- from citizens skeptical of NATO membership and increasingly critical of the United States, to Russia's return to what it calls a "revisionist power pursing a 19th century agenda with 21st century tactics."

The group is most concerned about what it sees as a weakened NATO that seems ambivalent about defending its newest members, and a strong Russia that seems increasingly intent on restoring the old Soviet sphere of influence on its borders.

'Important Document'

Speaking in Kyiv, Yuriy Shcherbak, a former Ukrainian ambassador to Washington, called the letter “a very important document” and said he wished a current Ukrainian leader had been part of its drafting and signing.

"With this letter, they are attracting the attention of the United States to the fact that this region requires very serious attention by the United States and requires strengthening of the security of the region," Shcherbak said.

"Ukraine`s position is very special as it not covered by [the] NATO defense umbrella. This is a very important document. It would have been very good if some Ukrainian political leaders had signed this document and offered their opinion on how Ukraine can improve the security situation,” he said.

In Tbilisi, David Darchiashvili, who heads the committee for European Integration in the country’s parliament, praised the letter for its blunt assessment of Russia’s behavior, which pointed to last year’s Russian-Georgian war as evidence that Russia is aggressively seeking to expand its sphere of influence.

"I think the recent steps by the U.S. administration indicate that the people in Washington are well aware of what problems they are facing with Russia's current authorities and policies," Darchiashvili said.

"But it is still very important for this to be underlined and emphasized by other players, especially those from Central and Eastern Europe. The letter -- which was signed by very prominent personalities -- clearly says that today's Russia is nothing else but a revisionist power, which in the 21st century acts by the rules of the 19th [century]. Russia's behavior could have hardly been judged more accurately," he said.

Alexander Rondeli
'Extraordinary'


His fellow Georgian, Alexander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies, called the letter “extremely important” for making the case that even NATO members in the region aren’t sure where they stand in the trans-Atlantic alliance.

"The letter is extremely important, the signatories are extremely important, and the text is extraordinary," Rondeli said. "All relevant problems are being displayed in their complexity. I think this is a direct appeal towards the U.S.: 'Don't leave us alone. Even if we are part of Europe and members of NATO, we're not quite sure that we indeed are.'

"Last year's Russian aggression against Georgia obviously fed doubts about how secure one can feel in this region. They see that Russia becomes increasingly aggressive and urge the U.S. to stand by their side," he continued.

One of the letter’s signatories, former Romanian President Emil Constantinescu, also weighed in, one day after the letter was sent to the White House.

Speaking in Bucharest, Constantinescu said the European Union and United States should develop a common policy for their dialogue toward Russia, and added that if Central and Eastern Europe is to have a real impact on international affairs, the region must not only maintain, but continue to develop, its relationship with the United States.

MEmil Constantinescu
"The U.S. cannot simply put aside this region [Central and Eastern Europe], not even by invoking the success of its policies there, or the lack of imminent problems," Constantinescue said. "We think the U.S. and EU should play a common role in the world."

The signatories say they didn't write the letter to add to the Obama administration's already long list of foreign policy problems, but rather to offer a new agenda that, 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, will help ensure another 20 years of close cooperation with the United States.

Their recommendations range from the relatively simple -- "the United States should reaffirm its [role] as a European power and make clear that it plans to stay fully engaged in the continent even while it faces pressing challenges" elsewhere -- to the fairly complex: "NATO needs to make the Alliance's [common defense] commitments credible and provide strategic reassurance to all members."

The group says the "the thorniest issue" is America's planned missile-defense installations, and admits that public opinion is sharply divided throughout Central and Eastern Europe. But it advocates working "as allies" to decide the future of the program and warns that "unfounded Russian opposition" should not determine the final outcome.

The Bush administration reached agreements last year to station interceptor missiles at a base in Poland and a linked radar base in the Czech Republic. Russia vehemently opposes the plan. Obama is skeptical of it and is undertaking a thorough review.

"Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region," the letter says.

Washington has had no official reaction.

RFE/RL's Georgian, Ukrainian, and Moldovan services contributed to this report.
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