Split Over Russia Grows in Europe

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 8, 2008; Page A10 

BERLIN, Nov. 7 — Russia sent President-elect Barack Obama a message this week when it threatened to “neutralize” the proposed U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. But analysts said the tough talk from Moscow had another aim as well: to exploit a festering divide within Europe.

Many Eastern European countries have become increasingly alarmed over what they consider Russia’s aggressive attempts to re-create a sphere of influence over satellite states of the former Soviet Union. Such concerns soared after Russia sent troops into Georgia in August, sparking a brief war.

The worries worsened Wednesday when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the Kremlin would move short-range missiles into Kaliningrad, a sliver of Russian territory on the Baltic Sea bordering Poland and Lithuania, if the United States proceeds to base parts of a missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus called the Russian threat “beyond comprehension.”

In contrast, Germany, France and other countries in Western Europe play down any security risks posed by Moscow and instead see Russia foremost as a lucrative — if unpredictable — trading partner. These countries, which former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once derided as “Old Europe,” generally consider the U.S. missile defense project to be an unnecessary irritant.

Peter Struck, a former German defense minister and now parliamentary leader of the Social Democrats, one of Germany’s two ruling political parties, called Medvedev’s speech “understandable” and blamed the Bush administration for provoking Moscow. In a radio interview, he said he hoped Washington would soften its “intransigent position” on the missile shield.

As a protest over the war in Georgia, the European Union withdrew in August from negotiations with Russia over a “strategic partnership” agreement. On Wednesday, just hours before Medvedev gave his speech in Moscow, E.U. officials reversed their position and indicated they would soon resume talks. The shift was led by French and German officials who argued that engagement with Russia was more likely to succeed than isolation.

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