August 26, 2008

Hungarian Commentator Warns of Possible Anti-Russian Coalition in Central Europe

Text of report by Hungarian privately-owned liberal newspaper Nepszabadsag website, on 22 August

[Commentary by Endre Aczel: "Cold War?"]

The end of the eight-year Bush era will go down in history as the time when the right to the cold war rhetoric, forgotten for almost 20 years, was reasserted.

The US President would be most pleased to isolate Russia, and, in return, the Russian political elite, together with its leaders, would launch a counterattack with the defenders' cry of anguish from a fortress under siege. Anti-Russian hysteria is sweeping across the United States, and anti-US (and also anti-Georgian) across Russia. Following almost two decades of appeasement, this is a worrying new development. We have not heard about Russian aggression against a sovereign state since 1979 (Afghanistan). But nor have we heard - this time on Russian side - about compensating the other party's missile deployment efforts not in a diplomatic but in a similar manner (with cash payment). In case you do not yet know it, Russia is a nuclear power.

On the surface, the principal causes of the "rampage" are Russia's slowness to withdraw from the Georgian territories it invaded and the Polish-US agreement concurrently concluded on the new Central European anti-missile defence system, which Russia strongly disapproved.

If we analyse the way things have progressed, we can see that the United States, the only superpower in the world, is still unable to discard its fixation on treating Russia as a defeated power. In the Bush era, there has not been a single place on earth where the Washington administration did not equate the strengthening of his positions with the simultaneous weakening of Russian positions.

The Russians, nevertheless, assumed rather naively that there are places - as for example the Caucasus, regarded as the "soft underbelly" of Russia, where the United States does not have strategic interests, and where it would recognize and accept others' [interests]. Moscow had every reason to make such assumptions. After all, the reason why Russian peacekeepers are allowed to be stationed at the hub of the Georgian conflict, that is, in independence- seeking Abkhazia, with the UN's approval is because in return, Russia voted for the US intervention in Haiti, carried out as a UN fig leaf. True, it took place in the Clinton era, but it was an edifying experience, was it not?

In the Bush era, the United States has protested against Russian interests almost apathetically. Let me provide some examples: Kosovo independence, quitting the ABM Treaty to escape vulnerability, or the deployment of a US-Czech-Polish missile defence system to prevent an alleged - and in Russia's view ridiculous - Iranian missile attack. Not to mention the almost endless NATO expansion, which is attempting to include also Ukraine and Georgia. From these two, the former is more interesting because Russia's Black Sea fleet is stationed on the Crimean peninsula, which was bestowed on Ukraine by [Nikita] Khrushchev.

Well, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union asks in an article drafted for The New York Times what disadvantage Russia could suffer, that is, what formidable power can be generated, if NATO terminates strategic cooperation with it. Nothing, he concludes, because it is unnecessary for Russians to sit in organizations, even if it is the club of the world's eight leading industrialized countries (G8), or the NATO-Russia Council, where Russians are not considered as partners but as dinner guests at most.

In actual fact, Russia has wanted "this" without success for the last several years, but the reply has always been that we want "that". The Georgian conflict is a watershed also in the sense that the United States (from Kosovo to the missiles) is not in a position to exert control over Russia, and the US military-political games that were rehearsed would be played out by the Russians themselves. At least in those places where Russians are in charge.

To learn a salutary lesson, some major issues also have to be discussed, including the trustworthiness of the United States. The United States was not able to take any steps against Russian military action in Georgia. No matter how much influential US circles were trying to instigate Georgian President Saakashvili - as far as is known, professionals from the State Department were not doing that - to test Russia's determination, when it came to it there was only one thing that counted and that was Russia's military superiority. There and then, and up till today. Anyone would bet that neither in the UN, nor outside it, no settlement will be made against Russia's interests.

It is an interesting and typical episode in this story that Viktor Orban elaborated his views in an official letter. It is a late triumph for him. In his rendering, history shows that for decades or longer, NATO has not recognized - but he, on the contrary, has - where the real enemy resides, as it has been looking for nationalists and anti-Semites, putting Fidesz into that category, but Orban has known, and has been saying ever since then that the enemy is in Russia.

Let me explain. NATO took into consideration the events in Yugoslavia, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and did say - rightly - that local nationalism was the doctrinal enemy, but it did not mention anti-Semitism. Orban blurred the distinction between them to refute permanent US accusations (since 2001) of not wanting to distance himself from the anti- Semitic far right. Now, after the revelations about Russia, he would be willing to apologize to his former accusers.

True, Viktor Orban is one of the politicians who interpret the entire Georgia story as the manifestation of Russian aggression against an independent state (Georgia) regardless of what Georgian forces did in Tskhinvali on 8 August. I have not read any statement from anybody, only from him, about former Soviet states, satellite states, and everyone who is a NATO member or wants to be one, being afraid of Russia from now on. (Consequently, Hungary, too.) Nor have I read anything on the US-Polish missile deal being a "response" to the Russian intervention in Georgia. These two affairs have nothing to do with each other, unless somebody wants to stir up emotions. The Fidesz chairman has made a major mistake about this, and he will surely be told.

Apart from Viktor Orban, who, for over a year, has been trying to curry favour with the United States without self-restraint or criticism, virtually dressed in a US uniform, and acting contrary to his old beliefs, the Russians (Medvedev and Putin) had better face the fact that their "muscle flexing" in Georgia could force small states in Eastern and Central Europe, outraged by the Russian military brutality, to form a coalition. Simply because they have memories and firsthand experience, even though they are NATO members today, and can rest peacefully.

Originally published by Nepszabadsag website, Budapest, in Hungarian 22 Aug 08.

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