In the past few years, the cornerstone of Eastern Europe’s progress, the US security umbrella, has started to seem increasingly, and dreadfully, shaky.
Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States has riled up the country in all sorts of ways imaginable (and some unimaginable ones) but it has also sent shock waves abroad, especially across the so called “new democracies” of Eastern Europe.
Well, these are the countries that a mere 25 years ago emerged from underneath Soviet oppression, having “enjoyed” for decades Soviet communism, surviving with no rights or freedoms, no development opportunities, and no consumer goods worthy of the name.
The countries from the Baltics down to the Balkans have moved a long way since then. While they are still faced with domestic economic and political challenges, they have nonetheless built vibrant economies, civil societies, and democratic institutions.
Their citizens are enjoying unprecedented wealth, freedom, and opportunities. For many of them, these developments have been epitomized by EU and/or NATO membership.
All of this progress, however, has been based on a single prerequisite: American support for liberal democracy and American security guarantees for Eastern Europe.
Eastern Europe Abandoned?
Unable to stand on their own against potential aggressors, and unable to rely on any tangible military guarantees from Western Europe (despite all the cheap talk the West Europeans might offer), the Eastern Europeans are largely dependent for their security (and, hence, for their prosperity: how can you have the latter without the former?) on the United States of America.
Why Western Europe doesn’t care about protecting its poorer, embattled eastern brethren from potential aggression and occupation when it would be the next in line (remember the Cold War?) is a complex topic which is barely relevant to the hastened heartrate of current global developments.
What matters more, however, is that in the past few years the cornerstone of Eastern Europe’s progress, the US security umbrella, has started to seem increasingly shaky.
First, then US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillaryy Clinton’s “reboot” of America’s relations with Russia has largely been a disaster resulting in the scrapping of US missile defense plans for Poland and Czechia, while nonetheless embittering an emboldened Russia.
Then came the inconsistent behavior of the Obama Administration during the Arab Spring debacle which is still playing out in the gory civil war in Syria, and, by implication, in the no less ugly war in Ukraine.
The failure of the West to support Ukraine when Russia encroached upon its territory in Crimea and seemingly Donbass has sounded further alarm for the other nations of Eastern Europe regardless of whether they might be NATO and EU members.
Against this backdrop, you can imagine how the Eastern Europeans have been listening to Donald Trump’s praise of Vladimir Putin and his talk of cozying up to Russia, which started on the campaign trail, and continued after his inauguration.
In the mind of the Eastern Europeans, this rhetoric can hardly be obscured by his recent declarations of “strong support for NATO”, not to mention the conclusions of the US intelligence community that Putin used hackers to meddle in the 2016 US Presidential Elections in Trump’s favor, or the leaked intelligence dossier by a former MI-6 agent alleging that the Kremlin had compromising material that can be used to blackmail Trump.
What’s the well-being, and even survival of Eastern Europe worth to the American President compared to a spicy sex tape?
Being Historically Up for Grabs
The last time a US President (Franklin Roosevelt) made a deal with a Russian (Soviet) leader, Eastern Europe ended up in the dark ages of Soviet communism for 50 years. True, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had occupied the region anyway, having overwhelmed his ex BFF Adolf Hitler, but FDR did strike a deal with him nonetheless.
Now the “middle tier” of European states from Talinn to Sofia is wondering whether it is not up for grabs by a major neighboring power whose personal ad reads, “in need of sphere of influence”.
The most obvious “sphere of influence” candidates are Russia and Turkey.
That’s right. There is more than one bidder for the job of “Eastern Europe Sphere of Influence Grand Master”. It’s not just Russian President Putin who’s been trying to rebuild the Russian Empire and/or the Soviet Union chunk by chunk, bit by bit, Crimea by Crimea, Donbass by Donbass. His ideological twin, Turkish President Recep Erdogan seems increasingly eager to resurrect the Ottoman Empire, in whatever form possible, hard or soft.
Not so long ago, the Soviet Union stood with dozens of armored divisions at the Fulda Gap in Central Germany, while some time longer ago swarms of Ottoman Janissaries pounded on the gates of Vienna trying to storm into Western Europe.
Historically speaking, Russia and Turkey are the only non-European powers which threatened to conquer the entire continent, and had the capacity to do so since the Mongols in the 13th century, and the Arabs in the 7th.
Both the Soviets and the Ottomans did fail in subduing all of Europe but they were highly successful in raping whatever was closest to them: its eastern half.
You can thus easily understand why the nations of Eastern and Southeast Europe that have been through the Ottoman and Soviet (and Nazi, by the way) hell are petrified of Trump’s comments.
Are the Donald and the Rex going to wrap them up nicely and hand them over to their pal Putin, or to his ideological twin Erdogan in exchange for some utterly meaningless and empty tit for tat deal such as “improved relations” or “fighting terrorism”? (Or not releasing a sex tape?)
Facing Russia and Turkey in ‘New Europe’
President Donald Trump has had business ties in both Russia and Turkey, and so has his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, which to the Eastern Europeans is worrying enough.
The new US President has actually been making good on his campaign promises but the big question for all, the Eastern Europeans included, is if he is going to renege on the most basic of tenets of the American grand strategy since World War II.
Namely, discouraging a peer competitor’s rise in the giant continent of Eurasia (meaning the continent of Europe + Asia, not just the former Soviet space).
While Russia and its theoretical takeover of Europe remains the most obvious challenge in this respect, so can be an emboldened Turkey rejecting the West and building an all-out alliance with the rest of the Muslim world and the growing and increasingly encapsulated Muslim communities all over Western Europe.
Is it possible that the unpredictable new US President might bring about such cataclysmic paradigm shift on a whim?
For the time being, the anxiety all over Eastern Europe has been assuaged by Trump’s recent declarations of support for NATO, by some discrepancies between his campaign promises and post-election statements, and by pundits alleging that US government institutions, and the common sense in the Republican Party would prevent him from surrendering Eastern Europe to the Russians, or, by implication, Southeast Europe to the Turks.
Some commentators have even suggested that because of his rash judgements and fickle character, after a potential brief honeymoon, Trump will be clashing head-on with the grand “illiberal democracy” leaders of the East.
None of that has been really convincing to Eastern Europeans but let’s just say that they have at least been able to get some sleep plagued with nightmares as opposed to horror-caused insomnia.
Uncertainly remains to ride high in “New Europe”, as another Donald (Donnie Rumsfeld) once refer to the part of the European Continent fully dependent on American goodwill for its survival.
It is taxing when you know all your basic human rights, freedom, well-being, your nation’s dignity and very existence, and indeed your home and family, maybe crushed and trampled on just because some eastern satrap believes in a right to own you as a rightful “sphere of influence”.
And it is petrifying when the only power that can prevent that depends on the whims of a reality star turned the most powerful man on Earth, and the alleged capability of a “Grand Old Party” to reign him in.
The Eastern Europeans still have a good enough reason for hope. If worse comes to worst, they’ve at least had this quarter of a century of freedom and opportunity. That’s more than most of the rest of the modern world has gotten.
For the time being, everyone from Talinn to Sofia, and all who care about the West in general, will continue to sleep with nightmares of being Trumpled on.
Whatever this might mean.
Any contribution is appreciated!