An ex-pat friend living in the Czech Republic e-mails on what Czechs are saying of President Obama's decision, announced today, to drop Bush-era plans for a missile defense system housed partly in their country. (The Czech Republic was to host the radar portion; Poland, the missiles.)
They weren't crazy about hosting the radar, but it's all about Russian power. Here's what he said:
This thing is a double edged sword for them. On one hand, not many Czechs are super pumped about the radar - but they are less pumped about Russia vetoing thier foreign policy initiatives.
For instance - last winter when Putin shut the gas off (or as he put it, Ukraine), everyone here saw the real play. All the eastern countries were hung out to dry by the Germanies of (richer) Europe. The Czechs, in like 2006, started getting a larger portion of gas from Norway, which although criticzed at the time, proved to be a brilliant decision last winter.
Now, the missile defense thing is what it is...more a by-product of post Marshall Plan European defense thinking - whereby EU defense policy is made at the Pentagon - than anything else. But, in this case, the Czechs and Poles really get the shaft. First, their governments bent over backwards to acommodate the requests of the US with the terms of the project - spending a lot of political capital. They did this for but one reason: to be closer to the US than to Russia in a strategic sense. Now, the US hung them out to dry (which is true - although the system is so inconsequential it doesn't matter anyway).
Now, while they may not have whole-heartedly WANTED the missile system, the cancellation of it can only be seen as a win for Russia here, and an instance of Russia getting veto power over the foreign alliances and strategic decisions of, in this case, the Czechs and Poles.
This is just classic geo-politics, nothing more. The system was a statement about (and to) Iran more than anything, and never could have done anything to deter any Russian agression, but you know politics...does reality really matter?
Sean Carney at The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reports that the Czech Republic's foreign minister was decidedly more upbeat, and that Czech politicians greeted the announcement "warmly."