1989-2009: Moving The Berlin Wall To Russia’s Borders
November 7, 2009
1989-2009: Moving The Berlin Wall To Russia’s Borders
November 9 will mark the twentieth anniversary of the government of the German Democratic Republic opening crossing points at the wall separating the eastern and western sections of Berlin.
From 1961 to 1989 the wall had been a dividing line in, a symbol of and a metonym for the Cold War.
A generation later events are to be held in Berlin to commemorate the “fall of the Berlin Wall,” the last victory the West can claim over the past two decades. Bogged down in a war in Afghanistan, occupation in Iraq and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the United States, Germany and the West as a whole are eager to cast a fond glance back at what is viewed as their greatest triumph: The collapse of the socialist bloc in Eastern Europe closely followed by the breakup of the Soviet Union.
All the players in that drama and events leading up to it – Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, George H. W. Bush, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa – will be reverently eulogized and lionized.
Gorbachev will attend the anniversary bash at the Brandenburg Gate and the editorial pages of newspapers around the world will dutifully repeat the litany of bromides, pieties, self-congratulatory praises and grandiose claims one can expect on the occasion.
What will not be cited are comments like those from Mikhail Margelov, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, on November 6. To wit, that “The Berlin Wall has been replaced with a sanitary cordon of ex-Soviet nations, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.” 
With the unification of first Berlin and then Germany as a whole, the Soviet Union and its president Mikhail Gorbachev were assured that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would not expand eastward toward their border. Gorbachev insists that in 1990 U.S. Secretary of State James Baker told him “Look, if you remove your troops and allow unification of Germany in NATO, NATO will not expand one inch to the east.” 
Not only was the former East Germany absorbed into NATO but over the past ten years every other Soviet ally in the Warsaw Pact has become a full member of the bloc – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Russia has twice before been attacked from the West, by the largest invasion forces ever assembled on the European continent and indeed in the world at one time (Herodotus’ hyperbolical estimates of Xerxes’ army notwithstanding), that of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812 and of Adolf Hitler in 1941. The first consisted of 700,000 troops and the second of 5 million.
Moscow’s concerns about military encroachments on its western borders and its desire to insure at least neutral buffers zones on them are invariably portrayed in the U.S. and allied Western capitals as some combination of Russian paranoia and a plot to revive the “Soviet Empire.” What the self-anointed luminaries of Western geopolitics feel about neutrality will be seen later.
With the expansion of the U.S-dominated military bloc into Eastern Europe in 1999 and 2004, in the latter case not only the remaining non-Soviet former Warsaw Pact states but three ex-Soviet republics became full members, there are now five NATO nations bordering Russia. Three directly abutting its mainland – Estonia, Latvia and Norway – and two more neighboring the Kaliningrad territory, Lithuania and Poland. Finland, Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan are being prepared to follow suit and upon doing so will complete a belt from the Barents to the Baltic, from the Black to the Caspian Seas.
The total length of the Berlin Wall separating all of West Berlin from the German Democratic Republic was 96 miles. A NATO military cordon from northeastern Norway to northern Azerbaijan would stretch over 3,000 miles (over 4,800 kilometers).
As a Russian news commentary recently noted in relation to the U.S. spending $110 million to upgrade two of the seven new military bases the Pentagon has acquired across the Black Sea from Russia, “The installations in Romania and Bulgaria go in line with the program of relocation of American troops in Europe announced on 2004 by then president George Bush. Its main goal is the maximum proximity to Russian borders.” 
The wall being erected (and connected) around all of European Russia is not a defensive redoubt, a protective barrier. It is a steadily advancing phalanx of bases and military hardware.
Last month NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was in Lithuania to inspect the Siauliai Air Base from where NATO warplanes have conducted uninterrupted patrols over the Baltic Sea for over five years, skirting the Russian coast a three-minute flight from St. Petersburg.
New Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said at the time “We have been assured that NATO is still interested in investing in defence of the Baltic region….I am happy to see the NATO Secretary General here, in Lithuania, in the only and most important NATO air force base in the Baltic states. This is one of the main NATO defence points in the Baltic region.” 
In neighboring Poland a newspaper report of last April provided details on the degree of the Alliance’s buildup in the nation:
“NATO’s investments in defense infrastructure in Poland may amount to over 1 euros (4.3 zlotys) billion over the next five years….
“Poland is already the site of the largest volume of NATO investment in the world.
“Currently, construction or modernization work on seven military airports, two seaports, five fuel bases as well as six strategic long-range radar bases is nearing completion. Air defense command post projects in Poznan, Warsaw and Bydgoszcz have already been given the go-ahead, as has a radio communication project in Wladyslawowo.
“New investments will include, among other things, the equipping of military airports in Powidz, Lask and Minsk Mazowiecki with new logistics and defense installations.” 
The nation will soon host as many as 196 American Patriot interceptor missiles and 100 troops to man them as well as being a likely site for the deployment of American SM-3 anti-ballistic missile batteries.
As mentioned earlier, Washington and NATO have secured the indefinite use of seven military bases in Bulgaria and Romania, Russia’s Black Sea neighbors, including the Bezmer and Graf Ignatievo airbases in Bulgaria and the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase in Romania. 
Gen. Roger Brady, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, was in Romania on October 28 to oversee joint military trainings where “the U.S. Air Force flew about 100 sorties; half of those sorties were flown with the Romanian air force.” 
The Pentagon leads annual NATO Sea Breeze exercises in Ukraine in the Crimea where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based.
It also conducts regular Immediate Response military drills in Georgia, the largest to date ending days before Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia and the resultant war with Russia in August of 2008 and one currently just being completed. This May the U.S. led the annual Cooperative Longbow 09/Cooperative Lancer NATO Partnership for Peace war games in Georgia with 1,300 servicemen from 19 countries. 
The Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe, General Carter F. Ham, was in Georgia a few days ago and “got acquainted with the carrying out of the Georgian-US military training Immediate Response 2009” which included “visit[ing] the Vaziani Military Base and attend[ing] military training.” 
A Russian official, Dmitry Rogozin, spoke of the joint military exercises, warning that “We all remember that similar activities carried out last year were followed by the August events.” 
A Georgian commentary on the drills confirmed Russian apprehensions by reiterating this link:
“Georgia is fighting for peace and stability in Afghanistan in order to eventually ensure peace and stability in Georgia, as one good turn will undoubtedly deserve another in the fullness of time.” . Which is to say, as Georgia assists the U.S. militarily in Afghanistan, so the U.S. will back Georgia in any future conflicts with its neighbors in the Caucasus.
The world press has recently reported on Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski’s three-day visit to the U.S. to among other things “meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton…to discuss Afghanistan and a new US proposal for a missile shield”  and attend a conference at the Brookings Institution where he said of the Polish-Swedish-European Union Eastern Partnership program to recruit Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine into the “Euro-Atlantic” orbit and of Moscow’s concerns that the West was moving to take over former Soviet space, “The EU does not need Russia’s consent.” 
What created the most controversy, though, was his address at a conference sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) called The United States and Central Europe: Converging or Diverging Strategic Interests?
The main motif of the conference was, of course, the twentieth anniversary of the end of the Cold War as symbolized by the dismantling of the Berlin Wall.
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski gave a presentation replete with references to Russia’s alleged “imperial aspirations,” its threats to Georgia and Ukraine and its intent to become an “imperial world power.” 
Sikorski, no stranger to Washington, having been resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute and executive director of the New Atlantic Initiative there from 2002-2005 before returning home to become Poland’s Defense Minister, suggested that recent joint Belarusian-Russian military exercises necessitated stronger NATO commitments in Northeastern Europe. Saying that the Alliance’s Article 5 military assistance obligation – which is why, by the way, there will soon be almost 3,000 Polish troops in Afghanistan – was too “vague” and offered as a more concrete alternative something on the order of the 300,000 U.S. troops stationed in West Germany during the Cold War. 
The Polish government has subsequently denied that its foreign minister explicitly called for American troop deployments, and in fact he did not, but his comments are in line with several other recent events and statements.
For example, Poland revealed in late October that it planned a massive $60 billion upgrading of its armed forces. “Minister of Defense Bogdan Klich announced a plan…to modernize the army within 14 programs: air defense systems, combat and cargo helicopters, naval modernization, espionage and unmanned aircraft, training simulators and equipment for soldiers….
“Klich announced plans to buy new LIFT combat training aircraft, Langust missile launchers, Krab self-propelled howitzers, Homar rocket launchers, as well as several more Rosomak tanks and 30 billion zloty will be spent on army modernization alone.” 
The arrival at the same time of the American destroyer USS Ramage and its 250 marines, fresh from NATO war games off the coast of Scotland, “to participate in a military exercise with Polish navy officers,” proves Sikorski’s wishes are not being ignored.  Before leaving, the USS Ramage “which was participating in joint US-Polish maneuvers…shelled the coast of Poland, local TV-channel TVN24” reported.  Commander Tom Williamson at the U.S. embassy in Warsaw said “The USS Ramage crew is being interrogated in relation to the case.” 
Another American warship that had participated in the NATO naval maneuvers off Scotland, Joint Warrior 09-2, docked in Estonia afterward. The Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyer USS Cole.
The guided-missile frigate USS John L. Hall which included “embarked sailors of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 48 Detachment 9”  arrived in Lithuania early this month. A U.S. navy officer said of the visit: “We are here as part of the United States Navy’s continuing presence in the Baltic Sea….We are also here to work with the Lithuanian Navy, who has been a valuable partner and our visit here is part of the ongoing relationship between our two countries and our two navies.” 
As American warships were demonstrating their “continuing presence in the Baltic Sea,” Estonia’s defense minister affirmed that “NATO has defence plans in the Baltics and they’re being developed” , and his Latvian counterpart said, “It is important for Latvia that the new Alliance Strategic Concept will include points about the collective unity for the enforcement of the strategic security in the Baltic Sea region and the common responsibility for the future of Alliance military operations.” 
Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo told The Associated Press “that his country sees new threats since Russia’s invasion of Georgia last year and a cyber attack that targeted his country in 2007.
Aaviksoo met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Pentagon on November 3 and said “that for Estonia the presence and visibility of the US in Europe and its mutual trust and support are very important.” 
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, an American expatriate and former Radio Free Europe operative, offered to hold NATO drills in the Baltic states.
Defense Minister Imants Liegis recently confirmed that “Latvia is to hold large-scale military exercises in summer, in response to the Russian-Belarusian strategic exercises.”  Not alone, no doubt.
The above catalogue of military activities and bellicose statements should put to rest sanguine expectations resulting from the end of the Cold War, which never in fact ended but shifted its operations – substantially – eastwards.
Those whose names will be evoked and invoked on November 9 on the occasion of the anniversary of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall didn’t fare well in the immediate aftermath.
Three years afterward Georgia H. W. Bush, even a year after Operation Desert Storm, became only the third American president since the 1800s to lose a reelection bid.
Four year after that Mikhail Gorbachev ran for the Russian presidency and received 0.5% of the vote.
In his last race for the Polish presidency in 2000 Lech Walesa, when his nation’ electorate had finally seen through him, got 1% of the vote.
But he and fellow Cold War heroes of the West march ever onward in confronting Russia during the current phase of the new conflict.
In July, in what they titled An Open Letter to the Obama Administration from Central and Eastern Europe, old/new Cold War champions like Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Valdas Adamkus, Alexander Kwasniewski and Vaira Vike-Freiberga – Adamkus lived for several decades in the U.S. and Vike-Freiberga in Canada – ratcheted up anti-Russian rhetoric to a pitch not heard since the Reagan administration.
Their comments included:
“We have worked to reciprocate and make this relationship a two-way street. We are Atlanticist voices within NATO and the EU. Our nations have been engaged alongside the United States in the Balkans, Iraq, and today in Afghanistan….[S]torm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon.”
“Our hopes that relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods.”
“The danger is that Russia’s creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region.”
“Our region suffered when the United States succumbed to ‘realism’ at Yalta. And it benefited when the United States used its power to fight for principle. That was critical during the Cold War and in opening the doors of NATO. Had a ‘realist’ view prevailed in the early 1990s, we would not be in NATO today….”
“[W]e need a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe. It is the only credible hard power security guarantee we have. NATO must reconfirm its core function of collective defense even while we adapt to the new threats of the 21st century. A key factor in our ability to participate in NATO’s expeditionary missions overseas is the belief that we are secure at home.” 
The collective missive also resoundingly endorsed U.S. interceptor missile plans for Eastern Europe and held up the Georgia of Mikheil Saakashvili (another former U.S. resident) as the cause celebre for a new confrontation with Russia.
On September 22 Britain’s Guardian published a similar group Open Letter, this one from Vaclav Havel, Valdas Adamkus, Mart Laar, Vytautas Landsbergis, Otto de Habsbourg, Daniel Cohn Bendit, Timothy Garton Ash, André Glucksmann, Mark Leonard, Bernard-Henri Lévy, Adam Michnik and Josep Ramoneda, called Europe must stand up for Georgia, which featured these topical allusions ahead of the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of World War II and the twentieth of the demise of the Berlin Wall:
“As Europe remembers the shame of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939 and the Munich agreement of 1938, and as it prepares to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall and the iron curtain in 1989, one question arises in our minds: Have we learned the lessons of history?”
“Twenty years after the emancipation of half of the continent, a new wall is being built in Europe – this time across the sovereign territory of Georgia.”
“[W]e urge the EU’s 27 democratic leaders to define a proactive strategy to help Georgia peacefully regain its territorial integrity and obtain the withdrawal of Russian forces illegally stationed on Georgian soil….[I]t is essential that the EU and its member states send a clear and unequivocal message to the current leadership in Russia.” 
Georgia has become a new Czechoslovakia twice, that of 1938 and of 1968, a new Berlin, a new Poland and so forth. Eastern and Western European figures like the signatories of the above appeal, contrary to what they state, are nostalgic for the Cold War and anxious to launch a new crusade against a truncated and weakened Russia.
Along with 1990s-style “humanitarian intervention,” such campaigns are their stock in trade.
But the demand for more American military “hard power” in Europe as well as the Caucasus and the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders may provoke a catastrophe that the continent and the world were fortunate enough to be spared the first time around.
1) Russian Information Agency Novosti, November 6, 2009
2) Quoted by Bill Bradley, Foreign Policy, November 7, 2009
3) Voice of Russia, October 22, 2009
4) President of the Republic of Lithuania, October 9, 2009
5) Warsaw Business Journal, April 20, 2009
6) Bulgaria, Romania: U.S., NATO Bases For War In The East
Stop NATO, October 24, 2009
7) U.S. Air Forces in Europe, October 29, 2009
8) NATO War Games In Georgia: Threat Of New Caucasus War
Stop NATO, May 8, 2009
9) Trend News Agency, October 28, 2009
10) Rustavi2, October 31, 2009
11) The Messenger, November 3, 2009
12) Deutsche Presse-Agentur, October 28, 2009
13) Polish Radio, November 3, 2009
16) Polish Radio October 27, 2009
17) Polish Radio. October 28, 2009
18) Russia Today, October 28, 2009
19) Polish Radio, October 28, 2009
20) United States European Command November 2, 2009
22) Baltic Business News, October 27, 2009
23) Defense Professionals, October 26, 2009
24) Eesti Elu, November 4, 2009
25) Russian Information Agency Novosti, November 2, 2009
26) Gazeta Wyborcza, July 15, 2009
27) The Guardian, September 22, 2009