THE VIEW FROM EUROPE: It’s not the Cold War 2.0, but it is brinkmanship

The rest of Europe is increasingly alarmed by Russia. Since I wrote about the Kremlin’s opposition to the anti-missile defense shield proposed by the U.S. in April, much has happened.

By Annie Turner

The rest of Europe is increasingly alarmed by Russia. Since I wrote about the Kremlin’s opposition to the anti-missile defense shield proposed by the U.S. in April, much has happened.

The Russian government was accused of cyber attacks on the Estonian parliament. In addition to joining NATO and the European Union, this former satellite state had the temerity to pass a law saying that Soviet-era monuments can be relocated. This enraged the ethnic Russians living in Estonia, who rioted. It also infuriated the Russian government which maintains a high-handed approach to its former conquests.

Next, Russian President Putin, himself, questioned the competence of British prosecutors when they requested the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent, for trial for the murder of another former KGB agent, Alexander Litvinenko. Lugovoi is accused of murdering the exiled Litvinenko by radioactive polonium-210. President Putin said the Russian constitution doesn’t permit the extradition of Russian citizens for crimes allegedly committed abroad.

In May at the six monthly European Union and Russia meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was moved to deliver a stern reprimand to the Russian president about his government’s treatment of dissidents and human rights.

These issues all but faded away, though, when President Putin threatened to point nuclear missiles at European cities if the Czech Republic and Poland allowed a radar system and missiles to be sited on their territory as part of the antimissile defense shield.

He said, “We will have to take corresponding steps in response . . . of course, we will have to have new targets in Europe,” in an interview published on the Kremlin’s Web site on the eve of the G8 summit in Germany.

President Putin went on to point out that Iran doesn’t possess the missiles that the U.S. wishes to guard against and that the Czech and Polish decisions have been made unilaterally, not through agreement with the European Union, which the Russians view as being the proper channel for actions that have implications for the whole continent.

He is also one of the few Europeans whose mind stretches back to pre-9/11 days when the antimissile defense shield’s purpose was described as protecting us all from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

Russian leaders clearly feel that their wishes are not being taken into account, and are thoroughly alarmed by the idea of American missiles in neighboring countries. Many Europeans agree that if Russia were to propose sitting protective missiles in Canada, Cuba, and Mexico, no amount of reassurance would convince the U.S. government and population that this was a good thing, not a threat.

On the other hand, President Putin is certainly making the most of the opportunity and so far has grabbed everyone’s attention; he received an invitation to be part of the initiative from President Bush, plus the promise of a bilateral meeting at the Bush family home in Maine this month.

No other foreign leader has ever been invited there, and no doubt President Putin is gratified to be asked-he’s gotten himself into a good bargaining position.

It has been argued that if the U.S. were to postpone the deployment of its antimissile defense shield, Russia might be prepared to honor the Conventional Forces Treaty in Europe, which would include the withdrawal of its military presence from Georgia and Moldova.

This would not, however, preclude the Kremlin from using energy prices as a weapon against Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria, cracking down on imports from Georgia, banning beef from Poland, and flooding the e-mail system of the Estonian parliament again in future.

Polish dealer nets Iraqi contract

Poland has some justification for feeling it’s had the rough end of the stick twice over. As well as being economically penalized by Russia, it was one of the four countries to take part in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its government was growing increasingly restive because Poland hadn’t accrued the benefits it felt it had earned for this show of support, but finally, it has gained a sizable Iraqi contract.

Bumar, the Polish manufacturer of bullets and tanks, is moving into services, a trend that is becoming de rigueur for arms manufacturers. It will train Iraqi special-forces troops in Poland and hopes to win an additional contract to send Polish teams to Iraq to train Iraqi soldiers in the use of Bumar’s Dzik armored vehicles.

The initial $25 million Iraqi service contract is part of a larger series of deals, which have yet to be allocated, to supply the Baghdad government with as much as $400 million of equipment, according to Waldemar Skowron, acting chief executive of Bumar. The Polish commercial effort in Iraq should be helped by the appointment of a new ambassador to Baghdad, retired general Edward Pietrzyk.

Bumar is completing a $370 million contract to supply Malaysia with 48 PT-91M tanks, and recently sold $200 million worth of technical support vehicles to India. It has also begun talks with Britain’s BAE Systems over cooperating on building a new tank to replace Poland’s Soviet-built T-72s and is keen to get into the South American market, a path already trodden by Russia.

All of which is good news as Bumar had lean times indeed after the collapse of the Soviet Union when its only customer was the Polish government. However, as Bumar’s overseas trade is expanding, the Polish government is buying best of breed from overseas arms manufacturers, in line with the European Defense Agency’s stringent rules which forbid favoring national champions.

The problem for Bumar is that the western arms companies against which it is competing have far greater resources and long experience of the commercial world.

While it is expected to behave like a commercial organization in terms of competing, Bumar is not given a free rein to behave like one. Last February, the government dismissed its chief executive officer Roman Baczynski as part of its policy to rid former state-owned organizations of leaders who had no link with the current administration. Bumar is going to need some fancy footwork to survive and thrive.

More in Communications