On May 7, 2005, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of VE-Day, President George W. Bush made a remarkable gesture on behalf of the United States of America. In a speech in Riga, the capital city of Latvia, he apologized for America's role at Yalta in carving up the Eurasian continent to Josef Stalin's liking.
But I'm not sure that switching out the Soviet Union for the European Union is the way to put the mistake of the Yalta Agreement to rest. Even while Bush was speaking in Riga, Washington was using NATO to help the European Union in its attempt to carve up the Eurasian continent to its liking.
Bush's speech had included a ringing defense of democratic government. A reporter at the press briefing after the speech asked how Bush squared the U.S. promoting democracy on the one hand while on the other orchestrating 'peaceful democratic revolutions' in Eastern Europe.
By then it was open knowledge in Europe that the United States with the help of Western NATO partners had been behind the people's revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. The revolutions had simply installed puppet regimes in Georgia and Ukraine that were more to Washington's liking than the previous puppet regimes it'd installed.
Unfazed, Dubya replied, "The idea of countries helping others become free, I hope that would be viewed as not revolutionary, but rational foreign policy, as decent foreign policy, as humane foreign policy."
We can see how rational this policy has turned out to be. And one way to illustrate the meaning of "counterproductive" is to promote freedom while at the same time setting an example for autocrats on how to create and maintain a Potemkin democracy.
Another downside to USA covertly intervening in the affairs of other nations -- intervention that never stays covert for long -- is that it makes it easy for governments of all stripes to blame the USA for situations in their countries that are not of American making. The U.S. democracy doctrine, foolishly applied, has been the gift that keeps on giving for foreign governments that don't want to clean up their act. So I'm not sure that the weaponization of democratic ideals can be considered decent and humane.
What does seem certain at this point, nine years out from Bush's historic apology, is that Washington has not entirely absorbed the lesson of the Yalta Agreement. Not to rake up the past too much, but when I consider that the rise and expansion of the European Union have been largely funded by Germany, it's looking to me as if Germany's government is accomplishing with check writing and legalese what Hitler did with standing armies before the Allied powers chased him into a bunker.
There will be no chasing the European Union into a bunker. And on any serious U.S. objection to EU expansion, the United Kingdom will not be acting on the side of the USA as it did during the first two world wars.
As to when and if these same thoughts will ever occur to policymakers in Washington -- perhaps someday, after all the Mediterranean countries, to include Egypt and Israel, have been folded into the European Union, someone in the White House or Congress might observe, 'Gee, those Europeans sure are expansionist, aren't they?'
By then, however, it would be too late in the day for anyone in Washington to appreciate the idea of Russia as a countervailing force against European Union expansion.
The current headlines about Ukraine suggest not much has changed since 2005 concerning the European Union's perennial tussles with Russia. The big change came the year before, when Latvia along with seven other former Soviet countries, including Poland and Hungary, joined the European Union.
As to Washington's role in Ukraine, a country high on the European Commission's list of next candidates for inclusion in the EU, it's not been the only meddler in Ukraine, any more than it's been the only meddler in the affairs of the Mediterranean nations of Egypt, Syria or Libya; EU countries have also meddled. Yet it's never Berlin, Brussels, Paris or London that's left holding the bag when meddling goes seriously awry. It's always Washington.
So while I'm still wishing the European Union well at this point in history, I'm afraid I no longer buy Washington's rationales for the EU piggybacking on NATO. It's not pukka sahib, in my book, to justify use of an American-led military defense pact to support continued expansion of a powerful trade bloc on the grounds that its members always feel threatened by Russia.
I myself feel threatened by a number of issues that my government is not dealing well with, and I think a great many Americans would agree that right now it's time for the United States to focus more on getting its own house in order. The question is whether we can ever do this without hearing from Europeans that we're isolationists.
As long as I'm raking up a little history I might as well republish two 2005 U.S. news reports on Bush's visit to Latvia. Once a year, on the eve of VE-Day, I reread the reports then I ponder, as I've done this very night, which I see by the clock has given way to May 8.
Happy VE-Day, Europe.
(See the second report for Bush's reply to the reporter about U.S. sponsored 'democratic' revolutions; emphasis in the report is mine.)
Bush condemns Soviet oppression, expresses regret for U.S. role
By RON HUTCHESON
Knight Ridder Newspapers
May 7, 2005
RIGA, LATVIA - (KRT) - President Bush on Saturday called Soviet oppression in Europe "one of the greatest wrongs of history" and accepted some American blame for it.
Speaking to a Latvian audience with bitter memories of Soviet domination, Bush expressed regrets about the 1945 Yalta agreement that divided Europe into U.S. and Soviet spheres of influence. The pact, approved by Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin near the end of World War II, effectively cleared the way for the creation of Soviet satellites in Eastern and Central Europe.
Bush said the agreement "left a continent divided and unstable" and led to the "captivity of millions" of Europeans who fell under Soviet control.
The president's remarks in Riga echoed comments in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the two leaders engaged in a long distance debate over the roots and legacy of the Cold War.
Putin has been forced to deal with Russia's Soviet past as he prepares to host Bush and more than 50 other world leaders at a celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Monday's planned celebration in Moscow's Red Square has been tainted by criticism over the Soviet Union's early alliance with Nazi Germany and its oppressive domination of Eastern Europe and the Baltic nations after the war.
In an interview with German television journalists, Putin agreed with Bush about the Yalta pact, but shrugged off criticism of the Soviet Union's efforts to control neighboring countries.
"There is nothing surprising about it. It built them in its own image and likeness, and it was a well known system, a system which, unfortunately, as far as our people is concerned, was not based on democratic principles," said Putin, a former agent of the KGB, the Soviet version of the CIA. "But such were the realities of the times."
He added, "Thank God, we have abandoned the realities of those times in the interests of the Russian people and in the interests of all the peoples of the European continent."
Bush delivered his remarks, the keynote speech of his five-day trip to Europe and Russia, after meeting with Baltic leaders who have refused to join him in Moscow. Many in the Baltics view the end of World War II as they day they swapped Adolf Hitler for Stalin.
Bush urged former Cold War enemies to put the past aside so they can focus on building vibrant, stable democracies. He linked the growth of democracy in Europe to his larger goal of spreading freedom around the globe.
In a blunt message for Putin, Bush said Russia should not fear the spread of democracy on its doorstep.
"Repression has no place on this continent ... All the nations that border Russia will benefit from the spread of democratic values - and so will Russia itself," he said. "No good purpose is served by stirring up fears and exploiting old rivalries in this region."
At an earlier news conference with leaders from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia - all former Soviet puppet states - Bush called for free elections in neighboring Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship.
In response to a question from a Lithuanian journalist, Bush rejected the idea that Putin might force Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko to step down if Bush would accept continued Russian influence in Belarus.
"That's what we're lamenting here today," Bush said, referring to World War II-era deals that carved up Europe. "We don't make secret deals. The only deal that I think is necessary for people is the deal of freedom."
Bush did pay heed to Russian sensibilities during his speech by urging Latvia and other Baltic nations to end discrimination against ethnic Russians in their midst. Russians in Latvia complain that they are treated like second-class citizens, even though they account for nearly 29 percent of the population.
"A country that divides into factions and dwells on old grievances cannot move forward, and risks sliding back towards tyranny," Bush said. "No wrongs of the past should ever be allowed to divide you, or to slow your remarkable progress."
Estonia and Lithuania are boycotting the Moscow ceremony. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga plans to go, but she has irked Putin by repeatedly calling for him to apologize for Soviet misdeeds.
Bush and Putin will meet for dinner Sunday night before the ceremony, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to say whether Bush would deliver a similar message to the Russian leader.
"The president has spoken with President Putin about that in the past," McClellan said.
Putin told the German journalists that Russia has already renounced its Soviet past and wants to move on.
"All we hear is that our country must recognize the illegitimacy of these decisions and condemn them. I would like to repeat: We have already done so," he said. "Are we expected to do it every day and every year? This just makes no sense."
Bush Lectures Putin on the Joys of Democracy
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
The New York Times
RIGA, Latvia (May 7) - President Bush used the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat to warn President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Saturday that "no good purpose is served by stirring up fears and exploiting old rivalries" in the former Soviet republics on his borders."All the nations that border Russia will benefit from the spread of democratic values, and so will Russia itself," Mr. Bush said in a speech in the Small Guild House, a neo-gothic meeting hall in the heart of Riga's Old City. "Stable, prosperous democracies are good neighbors, trading in freedom and posing no threat to anyone."
The day before a meeting and dinner with Mr. Putin, Mr. Bush warned him once again about retreating on democracy, saying that "all free and successful countries have some common characteristics - freedom of worship, freedom of the press, economic liberty, the rule of law and the limitation of power through checks and balances."
In the last year the United States has grown concerned over Mr. Putin's prosecution of business leaders,[his increasing control over the press and his involvement in the affairs of Georgia and other neighbors. [Pundita note: these "business leaders" were called 'oligarchs' in Russia, and for good reasons]
Mr. Putin has not reacted positively to such criticism from Mr. Bush in the past, and this week he told the CBS News program "60 Minutes" that Mr. Bush had little business lecturing him about democracy when the 2000 presidential election in the United States was decided by the Supreme Court.
In a joint news conference with Baltic leaders in Riga earlier in on Saturday, Mr. Bush put more pressure on Mr. Putin by calling for "free and open and fair" elections in Belarus, the last dictatorship in Europe, whose president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, is backed by Mr. Putin.
*Mr. Bush also did not dispute the premise of a question from a reporter implying that the United States is behind revolutionary change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
"The idea of countries helping others become free, I hope that would be viewed as not revolutionary, but rational foreign policy, as decent foreign policy, as humane foreign policy," Mr. Bush said. *
Mr. Bush, who is on the second day of a five-day trip to Latvia, the Netherlands, Russia and Georgia, is trying to ensure that his attendance at the celebration of the 60th anniversary in Moscow on Monday of Nazi Germany's defeat does not endorse the Soviet repression and rise of totalitarianism that followed.
So in his speech here, Mr. Bush leveled his harshest criticism against Russia for its actions after World War II, and seemed to lean as much toward a denunciation of postwar Soviet actions as celebratory words for the Nazi defeat.
"As we mark a victory of six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox," Mr. Bush said. "For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but not the end of oppression."
He added that "the captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history. "The Russians have been angered by Mr. Bush's trip to Latvia and his scheduled visit to Georgia on Monday and Tuesday, and have accused the United States of meddling in the affairs of their former republics, now independent nations with contentious relationships with Moscow.
Mr. Bush's words in Latvia on Saturday seemed likely to anger the Russians even more, because he repeatedly used the word "occupation" to describe the Russian actions in the Baltics - Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia - after World War II. The Russians have furiously responded that they were invited in.
"Look, I fully understand there's a lot of anger and frustration involved in the three Baltic countries about the occupation," Mr. Bush said at the news conference. "I expressed that to President Putin. But he didn't need me to tell him, he fully understands there's a lot of frustrations and anger about what took place."
The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a nonaggression pact in August 1939, just weeks before Germany's invasion of Poland precipitated World War II. Soviet troops joined German forces in occupying Poland, and the next year the Soviet Union also entered Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and incorporated them into the Soviet Union as republics.
After the Soviet Union joined the war on the side of the Allies in 1941, German forces overran the three Baltic countries and occupied them, with local support, until Soviet troops retook them near the end of the war.
Mr. Bush added at the news conference, "my hope is that we're now able to move beyond that phase of history into a phase that is embracing democracy and free societies."
But in his speech, Mr. Bush indirectly acknowledged that the United States and Britain shared some blame for the annexation of the Baltics, noting that the 1945 Yalta agreement, in which Europe was carved up by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, was in an "unjust tradition" of earlier treaties like the Munich and Molotov-Ribbentrop pacts.