Twenty-five years after communism, Central and Eastern Europe are in trouble. Feb 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 22 • By JEFFREY GEDMIN
In 1932, the year Lithuania’s elder statesman Vytautas Landsbergis was born, Europe was starting to come apart. Several countries, led by Greece, were defaulting on sovereign debts. In the north, a fascist coup nearly succeeded in Finland. To the south, an antisemite named Julius Gombos became prime minister of Hungary. The National Socialist German Workers Party (aka the Nazi party) won 36 percent of the vote in Prussia. As 60 hopeful nations met in Geneva for a world disarmament conference, an Austrian named Adolf Hitler was in the process of obtaining German citizenship.
Landsbergis, much like the late Václav Havel—the Czech playwright turned president after the collapse of communism a quarter-century ago—has led one of those improbable lives Communist rule seemed to spawn. The son of a famous Lithuanian architect, Landsbergis was a professor of music during the Soviet era. Before that, as a young boy he had lived through fascism (his family sheltered a Jewish teenager in the early 1940s). Like Havel, Landsbergis entered politics out of obligation and necessity. He was fiercely anti-Communist and anti-Soviet. And like Havel in Czechoslovakia, Landsbergis became Lithuania’s first head of state after independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
Today, Landsbergis thinks freedom and peace in this part of Europe are again in jeopardy. He believes in deterrence, pure and simple. At a conference of the Transatlantic Renewal Project in Warsaw, he urges the West to convey to Russian president Vladimir Putin and associates that aggression “will end with them hanged at Red Square.” If you have Landsbergis’s biography, you see no point in beating around the bush. In January 1991, he witnessed the Kremlin backlash against Lithuanian independence, with Soviet forces moving against civilians in the capital, Vilnius, and several other cities. Thirteen Lithuanians were killed and nearly 1,000 injured.
Today, the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia feel vulnerable. After the events in Ukraine—and still remembering Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia—they fear that Moscow may use energy, espionage, “little green men” (masked unmarked soldiers in green army uniforms), and other means to destabilize their young democracies. Estonia and Latvia have significant ethnic Russian minorities, 25 percent and 28 percent, respectively. In fact, Russians make up roughly half the population of the Latvian capital, Riga. It’s unclear whether NATO has specified what nonconventional forms of aggression would trigger article 5 of the NATO treaty, under which member states regard an attack on one as an attack on all. In 2007, Estonia suffered a massive cyberattack thought to have originated in Russia. The country’s banks and media, government and parliament were thrown into disarray. In this part of Europe, countries not members of NATO are getting jittery as well.
The Swedes are sensitive. Over Easter last year, Russian aircraft simulated a bombing raid on Stockholm. More recently, a submarine thought to be Russian turned up in the waters off the Swedish capital. “The Russians,” one Swedish official tells me, “are deliberately trying to undermine the confidence of our armed forces.” There’s not much confidence in those armed forces to begin with. Since the end of the Cold War, the Swedish Air Force has scaled back by 70 percent, the navy by 80 percent, and the army by 90 percent, from approximately a half million soldiers to 50,000 troops. According to a 2013 poll, 6 percent of Swedes believe their country can defend itself. While Sweden’s center-left government opposes NATO membership, for the first time more Swedes favor, rather than oppose, joining the alliance.
The Finns are pensive, too. In Finland, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia and where incursions by Russian aircraft are now a weekly occurrence, Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said in September, “We should have become a [NATO] member in 1995 when we joined the EU.”
Like Landsbergis and others in the neighborhood, the Finns are marinated in history. Back to 1932: In that year the country signed a nonaggression pact with the USSR, only to see it unilaterally renounced by the Soviets before the decade was out, when Soviet forces shelled one of their own villages and claimed Finland was responsible. “Everything is possible, nothing is to be excluded,” says Landsbergis of the situation today. It was incidentally a Finnish magazine, Suomen Sotilas, that first noticed that those mysterious soldiers in Crimea—the men in green without insignia—happened to be carrying the full suite of weapons and equipment exclusive to Russian special forces.
The ‘complex’ negotiations with Iran.Dec 8, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 13 • By REUEL MARC GERECHT
Predictably, President Barack Obama and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have decided to extend again the Joint Plan of Action, the interim nuclear deal they concluded in November 2013. Unlike the last extension, which was for four months, this one is for seven months; the “political” parts of the deal, Secretary of State John Kerry assures us, should be done by March, while further “technical and drafting” details may take until July.
As Germans celebrate reunification, they are reluctant to confront a Russia that is once again seeking to divide the continent Nov 24, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 11 • By JAMES KIRCHICK
No U.S. leadership, no NATO.Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By JOHN R. BOLTON
Vladimir Putin’s efforts to establish hegemony over Ukraine may now have reached a decisive point both for the balance of power in Central and Eastern Europe and for the NATO alliance. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko warned on August 30 that Russia’s invasion of his country and extensive aid to pro-Moscow separatists could soon “reach the point of no return,” becoming a generalized conflict. German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that “the situation is increasingly getting out of control.”
Tiananmen Square and truth-telling. Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By DENNIS P. HALPIN
In a March 28 speech at the Körber Foundation in Berlin, China’s president, Xi Jinping, called for historical truth-telling. He had in mind the Rape of Nanking, the massacre carried out by Imperial Japan’s forces in 1937-38 during their occupation of the then-capital of the Chinese Nationalists (the city is now called Nanjing).
Don’t lose sleep over international ‘control’ of the Internet. Mar 31, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 28 • By ARIEL RABKIN and JEREMY RABKIN
The Commerce Department issued a low-key bureaucratic announcement on March 14: The government will not renew its contract with the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN), under which ICANN has administered the Internet’s domain name system since the mid-1990s. U.S. government supervision will be superseded next year, according to the announcement, by new arrangements to “support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking.”
Mar 17, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 26 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
On February 23, five days before Russia invaded Ukraine, National Security Adviser Susan Rice appeared on Meet the Press and shrugged off suggestions that Russia was preparing any kind of military intervention: “It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence returned and the situation escalate.” A return to a “Cold War construct” isn’t necessary, Rice insisted, because such thinking “is long out of date” and “doesn’t reflect the realities of the 21st century.” Even if Vladimir Putin sees the world this way, Rice argued, it is “not in the United States’ interests” to do so.
Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
There’s a Washington think-tank variation on the board game Risk, and here’s how it goes: I give you a short statement about Obama policy in the Middle East, and you have to say who it’s from.
“The Persians are taking over Iraq and Syria and building a nuclear weapon. Are you Americans crazy? You think you will outsmart them in Geneva? They send Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah troops to fight in Syria and you do nothing? You draw a red line over chemical weapons and let Putin erase it?”
Forget chess, Turkey is failing at geopolitical checkers. Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08 • By LEE SMITH
A recent spate of newspaper articles suggests a concerted media campaign targeting Turkey’s foreign intelligence service, the MIT, its director, Hakan Fidan, and almost surely his boss as well, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a piece published by the Wall Street Journal and another by the Washington Times, Fidan is said to be supporting al Qaeda affiliates in Syria fighting against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
12:51 PM, Aug 13, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
In a report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Obama administration unequivocally denies the existence of secret detention facilities operated by any part of the U.S. government.
5:20 PM, Jul 3, 2013 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
For the second time in two years, an Egyptian autocrat has been deposed. In Syria, another embattled tyrant – this one robustly supported by Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia – looks like he might hang on. Across the Muslim world, the political future hangs in the balance.
1:53 PM, Dec 17, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
The State Department released a statement today expressing deep concern for Syrian airstrikes targeting Palestinians.
11:18 AM, Oct 1, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
A pro-America rally is scheduled to be held tomorrow outside the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel. The expression of support for America is being organized by Im Tirzu Movement in order to "remind the United States that Israel is America's best friend in the Middle East"
While potentially downsizing our military. 12:48 PM, May 10, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
I've had my nose buried in an interesting, if not a bit alarmist, piece on a potential naval spat with China. The paper, titled "How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015" (how's that for an eye-catcher?), raises the red flag on the PLA Navy's intent to raise the black flag. That scenario, whether it's 5 or 10 years off, could be dire. China's strategy on high-end asymmetrical warfare is everything their ancestral tactician Sun Tzu said it should it should be: simple, focused, and aimed at all of the U.S. Navy's weak points. The United States, with its ever expanding list of warfighting missions, doesn't enjoy such simplicity.
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