By Gustavo Coronel l July 28, 2009
A group of distinguished leaders from Central and Eastern Europe has written an Open Letter to President Barrack Obama describing the current political environment of their region and expressing concerns about a perceived loss of attention on the part of the United States. Although they express gratitude for the significant help received from the U.S. in the past and understand that the country is facing pressing geopolitical challenges that occupy most of their attention, they urge President Obama not to lose sight of the region.
The list of signatories of the letter is impressive. It includes, among others, Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic; Lech Walessa and Aleksander Kwasniewski, former presidents of the Republic of Poland; Mart Laar, former Prime Minister of Estonia; Vaira Vicke-Freiberga, former president of the Republic of Latvia; Michal Kovac, former president of Estonia and former ambassadors, prime ministers and foreign ministers representing most of the republics of the region. The letter states: “Success has been so significant that the U.S might have concluded that the region is fixed once and for all and that they could check the box and move on to other more pressing strategic issues.”
This is not the case, warn the leaders. They are suffering the impact of the global economic crisis and await with trepidation the results of the European Union Commission investigating last year’s Russo-Georgian war. They are especially concerned about what they define as the passive attitude of the Atlantic Alliance as Russia violated the Helsinki Pact and the territorial integrity of Georgia, a member country of NATO’s Partnership for Peace. They perceive NATO as being weaker today than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in1991 and believe that the U.S. has to take the initiative to bring the organization to its former level of efficiency as the security link and vehicle for collective defense that it once was. In this context, they voice worries that “the United States and the major European powers might embrace the Medvedev plan for a concert of powers to replace the continent’s existing, value-based security structure.” It is evident that the security agendas of Western Europe, on the one side, and Central and Eastern Europe on the other, are not identical and what might be a satisfactory status for one region might not be so for the other.
An important component of the letter touches upon Europe’s energy dependence on Russian natural gas. The signatories make the point that “at a global level Russia has become a status quo power but at a regional level and vis-a vis our nations it increasingly acts as a revisionist one…it uses overt and covert means of economic warfare ranging from energy blockades… to media manipulation… to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.”
In particular, the letter adds: “the threat to energy supplies can exert an immediate influence on our nations’ political sovereignty as allies contributing to common decisions in NATO. That is why [facing this threat] must also become a transatlantic priority. Although most of the responsibility for energy security lies within the realm of the EU, the United States also has a role to play. Absent American support, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline would have never been built. Energy security must become an integral part of U.S.-European strategic cooperation.” The letter adds: “Central and Eastern European countries should lobby harder (and with more unity) inside Europe for diversification of the energy mix, suppliers and transit routes, as well as for tough legal scrutiny of Russia’s abuse of its monopoly and cartel-like power inside the EU…Similarly the United States can play an important role in solidifying further its support for the Nabucco pipeline, particularly in using its security relationship with the main transit country, Turkey.” The communication also stresses the need to insure the integrity of the installations, connecting pipelines and LNG terminals, which complement the proposed Nabucco pipeline in Central and Eastern Europe.
Overall, the letter is designed to promote efforts by the United States in keeping Central-Eastern Europe “as a stable, activist and Atlanticist part” of the broader European community. Although the signatories of this Open Letter no longer hold an official position in their countries, their gravitas makes it a significant foreign policy document, which provides President Obama with an excellent contribution/roadmap on which to base a strategic approach to U.S.-Central-Eastern European relations.
There is no doubt that a stronger, revised and continued political and economic relationship between the U.S. and Central-Eastern Europe is in the best interests of all parties, particularly in the face of a revisionist Russia. In this context, the energy component looms large and will merit the careful attention and consideration of the United States in the short term, as vital projects for European energy independence from Russian gas supplies, such as the Nabucco pipeline, get under way.
Gustavo Coronel, who served on the board of directors of Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA), has had a long and distinguished career in the international petroleum industry, including in the USA, Europe, Venezuela and Indonesia. He is an author, public policy expert and contributor to