Ex-communist states' backing for Georgia rooted in Soviet trauma
Fear of Russia cuts deep?
A traumatic history at the hands of the Kremlin and enduring fears of Russia are the root of the staunch backing for Georgia offered by Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine, analysts say, according to AFP.In an unusual step Tuesday the leaders of ex-communist Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine went to Georgia for what they called a called a show of support for the former Soviet republic after Russia`s assault.
"Our visit is a sign of the solidarity of our five countries with the Georgian nation, which has been a victim of aggression," Poland`s President Lech Kaczynski told reporters.
"Once again, Russia has shown its true face," he said.
On Saturday, Poland and the Baltic states had as "former captive nations" of the Soviet Union issued a joint statement calling on the EU and NATO to oppose Russia`s "imperialist" policy towards Georgia.
Fear of Russia cuts deep, said Bartosz Cichocki, an expert at the Polish Institute for International Affairs.
"These nations still remember how in 1939 the Soviet army crossed into their territory to purportedly defend the rights of ethnic minorities," he said, referring to the invasion at the start of World War II, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union sealed a pact to carve up Poland and the Baltic states.
"And they still remember their dependence on Moscow," which lasted five decades, he told AFP.
Poland, which broke free from Moscow`s orbit in 1989, and the Baltic states, which like Georgia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union until it collapsed 1991, are all firm supporters of Tbilisi.
"In the Baltic states and Ukraine, independence is still seen as something fragile and not necessarily built to last. So if it`s not defended actively, it can`t last," Cichocki explained.
Poland and the Baltic states are solidly anchored in the West.
Warsaw joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004, while the Baltic trio entered both in 2004. They back Georgia and Ukraine`s efforts to obtain what they see as those crucial shields.
"People are certainly afraid that Russia could attack Lithuania just like Georgia. And you see that kind of view among politicians," said Lithuanian political scientist Kestutis Girnius.
While arguments rage between Moscow and Tbilisi about who started fighting, Poland and the Baltic states see Georgians as the victims.
"We`re Georgia`s closest friend in the region. We`ve suffered the same kind of violence," senior Lithuanian foreign ministry official Zygimantas Pavilionis told AFP.
The Baltic states were scarred by Soviet rule.
On June 14, 1941, tens of thousands of their people were herded onto cattle trains and shipped out to the far eastern reaches of the Soviet Union, where many died.
Moscow`s deportation drive was cut short when the Nazis turned on their erstwhile allies on June 22, 1941, pushing the Red Army out of the Baltic states as they invaded the Soviet Union.
In 1944, however, the Soviets ended the Nazis` own bloody occupation, and began a new wave of deportations lasting into the 1950s.
Poles, meanwhile, remember the Soviet killing of some 22,000 Polish POWs in 1940 in what became known as the Katyn massacre, as well as the brutality of communist rule after the war.
Moscow has argued that its assault on Georgia was in part meant to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia, a breakaway region that Tbilisi had tried to bring to heel.
That rattles Estonia and Latvia, in particular, because Russian-speakers make up around a third of their populations -- a legacy of a Soviet-era settlement drive to tip the ethnic balance.
"If military aggression is being justified by the need to protect Russian citizens, then this should cause concern for all countries with Russian nationals living within their borders," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said Saturday.
Lithuania`s President Valdas Adamkus on Tuesday said the West must remember past failings.
"We can`t allow a second Munich, when the international community climbed down to Hitler. That led to World War II, to a huge tragedy and millions of victims," he said.
He was referring to the 1938 Munich conference, when Western nations tried to ward off war by accepting Adolf Hitler`s demands that Nazi Germany be awarded Czechoslovakia`s Sudetenland region.
Hitler argued that he was defending the interests of the region`s mainly German-speaking population.
Girnius said such fears are "baseless" today.
"The Baltic states are members of NATO and Russia knows it. Russia wouldn`t dare to do there what it did with South Ossetia. Georgia isn`t in NATO," he said.