Former Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga has joined other Central and Eastern European leaders in raising concern about what they see as waning U.S. interest in the region.
In a July 16 open letter to President Barack Obama, 22 intellectuals and former policymakers asked the U.S. administration to reconnect with the region “around a new and forward-looking agenda.”
They wrote that the region “is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped worrying about” and that U.S. policy appears to assume all is well.
“That view is premature,” they continued. “All is not well either in our region or in the transatlantic relationship. Central and Eastern Europe is at a political crossroads and today there is a growing sense of nervousness in the region. The global economic crisis is impacting on our region and, as elsewhere, runs the risk that our societies will look inward and be less engaged with the outside world. At the same time, storm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon.”
The role of the NATO is in doubt and the defense alliance needs to be strengthened, they wrote.
The letter writers also pointed to Russia as a problem for security in the region.
“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 (European Union) have not been fulfilled,” they said. “Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods.”
The White House did not immediately respond to the letter, which was made public a week after Obama met with Russian officials in a Moscow summit.
The Joint Baltic American National Committee shares many of the same concerns expressed in the letter, Managing Director Karl Altau said in an e-mail.
“Particularly worrisome from the Baltic perspective is the Kremlin’s increased whitewashing of the historical record and the recent creation of a commission to glorify and legitimize the Soviet narrative of World War II,” Altau wrote. “That narrative deliberately disregards other narratives, and proven facts of how the Baltic countries were occupied and annexed by the USSR.”
The letter from the 22 Central and Eastern European leaders called on the Obama Administration to follow six steps to improve relations with Europe:
- Reaffirm America’s role as a European power, while Europe must adopt a more global perspective and “be prepared to shoulder more responsibility in partnership with the United States.”
- Work for “a renaissance of NATO as the most important security link between the United States and Europe.”
- Determine the future of the planned American missile defense installations in coordination with European allies, not based on “unfounded” Russian opposition.
- Creation of a strategic partnership between the U.S. and the European Union.
- Lend its political support to improving Europe’s energy security.
- Open the U.S. Visa Waiver Program to Poland and Romania, “arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states” in the region.
Besides Vīķe-Freiberga, signers of the letter included such leaders as Valdas Adamkus, former Lithuanian president; Lech Walesa, former Polish president; Mart Laar, former Estonian prime minister; and Sandra Kalniete, a former Latvian foreign minister.
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