Folly in the Baltics

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The row over the removal of a statue of a Soviet soldier in Estonia is another bit of evidence why major powers should never ally themselves with small, powerless countries.

By the second day, Estonian officials were calling for the European Union to consider the Russian response as an "attack on the EU." It was, of course, no such thing, but little kids with big bodyguards are always quick to employ their surrogate muscle.

The Baltic States — Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — are small countries sitting against the breast of Mother Russia. Yes, they have suffered, both under Nazi occupation and later Soviet occupation. Yes, many brave people died in their futile effort to win their independence.

But facts are facts, and small countries that close to Russia are independent by Russia’s permission. It is in their self-interest, despite bitter memories, to cultivate good relations with Russia. But when the West comes along and says to join the EU and NATO, their politicians are encouraged to believe they can spit in the eye of the Russian bear.

World War II was a murderous business in Russia. Some 18 million Soviet citizens died in it. It resonates strongly among the Russian people, even today. It was a foolish thing to do to dismantle the statue of a Russian soldier, erected in 1947, and dump it in a park on the outskirts of the city. The bear may only growl this time, but he is still a bear.

The removal caused a riot, and the Russians are hopping mad about it — and rightly so. Just as the sins of Hitler should not be visited on the present-day Germans, so, too, the sins of Stalin should not be visited on today’s Russia. That statue does not symbolize Soviet occupation. It symbolizes the Red Army’s victory over the Third Reich. And it is a statue of a common soldier, not of Stalin.

It is a bad destiny to be born in a small country that larger countries use in their wars. When the Nazis occupied the Baltic countries, they murdered the people who were communists and who cooperated with the communists. When the Soviets came back in, they murdered the people who were Nazis and those who cooperated with Nazis or who wanted independence.

A lot of blood has been spilled in the Baltic countries, but despite our admiration for the courage of Baltic patriots, it is important to remember that they never succeeded, either against the Germans or the Russians. Little countries do not have the manpower or the resources to whip big countries.

Which brings me to the point: Alliances are only for the purpose of war-fighting. No one needs an alliance during peacetime. When Russia disbanded the Warsaw Pact armies, the U.S. should have disbanded NATO. NATO was formed in 1947 to deter the Soviet Union from attacking the West. Even so, when the age of the nuclear missiles came along, it was clear to anybody that if war came, it would be the United States and the Soviet Union. The smaller countries of NATO would have been fools to get mixed up in it. So what is the value of a military alliance with Estonia or Latvia or Lithuania? Zilch and zero.

There are some mad fools calling the shots in the West, trying to extend U.S. hegemony right up to the suburbs of Moscow. They may well end up provoking a nuclear war. NATO no longer has a legitimate purpose, and using NATO to intervene in the Yugoslav Civil War and now in Afghanistan just robs every member in it of any kind of moral high ground. It is now become simply an instrument of imperialism.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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