Central Europe

Russia Table of Contents

Soviet influence in Eastern Europe began with Soviet occupation of territories during World War II. By 1949 communist regimes had been put into place in all the occupied states: Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, and Romania. Under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia maintained an independent position as a communist state that Soviet leaders first vilified but ultimately recognized in 1955. Domination of the East European countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (known as Comecon--see Glossary) remained a fundamental priority of Soviet foreign policy through the disintegration of both organizations in 1991. Soviet leaders used the continued existence of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe as part of the ideological justification of socialism at home because it fulfilled the Marxist-Leninist recipe of the rule of the multinational proletariat. Because of that logic, a threat to Eastern Europe became a threat to the Soviet Union itself.

In the 1950s, the Soviet military used force to restrain mass expressions of resistance to conventional, Soviet-backed regimes in East Germany (1953), Poland (1956), and Hungary (1956). After the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia quelled political liberalization in that country, the irreversibility of communist control in East European countries was formulated in what became known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, which for the next twenty years was the foundation of Soviet policy toward the region. Soviet policy makers determined that occupation forces were the only sure guarantee of continued communist rule in Eastern Europe and that some limited local control over domestic policy was necessary to avoid future resistance. When Polish workers pushed their demands for independent trade unions and the right to strike in 1980-81, the implicit threat of invasion by Soviet forces led Polish police and security forces to quell disturbances and a new, military prime minister, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, to declare martial law.

In the mid-1980s, Gorbachev's internal liberalization was paralleled by his doctrine of "many roads to socialism," which called for cooperation rather than uniformity among East European nations. That call coincided with the implicit revocation in 1988 of the Brezhnev Doctrine as Soviet military doctrine recognized the need to conserve resources (see Soviet Doctrine, ch. 9). Gorbachev's internal reform programs of glasnost (see Glossary) and perestroika (see Glossary) received varying degrees of support and imitation among East European leaders. Regimes in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland showed substantial support, but those in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Romania refused to adopt the type of far-reaching domestic reforms that Gorbachev introduced at home (see The Gorbachev Era, ch. 2). Nevertheless, by the late 1980s the nature of Soviet influence had shifted unmistakably away from coercion toward political and economic instruments of influence. The last stage of Soviet relations with the region, 1989-91, was fundamentally different. By 1990 all the East European member states of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon had rejected their communist regimes and were straining toward the West. Although Soviet policy makers struggled to keep the two multinational organizations alive as instruments of influence, events had rendered them moribund before their formal demise in 1991. Now the world redesignated Eastern Europe as Central Europe, and the great western buffer zone disappeared.

Immediately after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations with Central Europe were a relatively low priority of Russian foreign policy. This situation began to change during 1992, when many Russian reformists argued that closer ties with the new Central European democracies would bolster Russia's own commitment to democratization. Closer commercial ties also would make Central Europe's relatively inexpensive goods more readily available and afford better opportunities to make valuable connections with Western Europe as the former Warsaw Pact states moved closer to full integration into Europe.

Russia's January 1993 draft foreign policy concept stressed the importance of Central Europe. The concept proclaimed that the region "falls within the historical sphere of our interests" because it abuts "the belt of sovereign states"--Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia--of great interest to Russia. The concept warned against attempts by the West to push Russia out of Central Europe and to make the region into a buffer zone that would isolate Russia from Western Europe. Russia would counter such movements by reestablishing good trade and other relations with the Central European states.

The NATO Issue

The draft concept did not present NATO involvement in Central Europe as inherently threatening to Russian interests. Later in 1993, however, Yeltsin reversed course under the political exigency of his upcoming confrontation with the State Duma. The new position was that former members of the Warsaw Pact could join NATO only if Russia also were included. This opposition then spurred the United States proposal of the Partnership for Peace.

The military doctrine that Yeltsin decreed in November 1993 was not directed clearly at NATO. Calling for a neutral Central Europe, the doctrine warned that Russia would interpret as a threat the expansion of any alliance in Europe to the detriment of Russia's interests or the introduction of foreign troops in states adjacent to the Russian Federation. Throughout 1995 and the first half of 1996, Russian military officials continued to demand that the Central European states remain neutral. During the Moscow visit of Poland's president Alexander Kwasniewski in April 1996, Yeltsin hailed warmer ties, but he noted that the NATO issue remained the single obstacle over which the two sides disagreed.

Russia's Role in the Former Yugoslavia

In Russia's debate over its national interests and in Yeltsin's power struggle with hard-liners, a major issue was the appropriate attitude toward Serbia, a long-time ally whose aggression against several other republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, most notably Bosnia and Herzegovina, had made it an international pariah. The key question was how to cooperate with Western efforts to end the crisis in the former Yugoslavia while preserving Russia's traditional support of Serbia.

After the Serbian government expressed support for the August 1991 coup in Moscow, the Yeltsin government of the Russian Republic condemned the Serbian attacks of late 1991 on Croatia, one of the two initial breakaway republics from the Yugoslav federation. Russia supported efforts in the UN to compel Serbia to accept a negotiated settlement of the conflict with Croatia. This relatively low-key involvement shifted to a more active policy in 1993.

The 1993 foreign policy concept's language on the former Yugoslavia was rather neutral; it simply called for Russia to cooperate with the UN, the CSCE, and other parties in peacemaking efforts and to use its influence in the former Yugoslavia to encourage a peaceful settlement. As it began to speak more specifically for Serbian interests later in 1993, Russia hoped at the same time to maintain its image with the West as a useful mediator of a thoroughly frustrating conflict. However, this approach caused some tensions with the United States and its Western allies, who had hoped for straightforward Russian support of UN-sanctioned military actions against Serbian aggression. Russian hard-liners, meanwhile, urged that Russia give priority to defying what they called a "Western drive for hegemony" over the former Yugoslavia and to otherwise protecting Russian and Serbian geopolitical interests.

Hard-liners in Russia and Serbia espoused a so-called pan-Slavic solidarity that emphasizes ethnic, religious, and historical ties. Its adherents shared a frustration at diminished geopolitical dominance (in Serbia's case, the loss of influence over other parts of the former Yugoslavia, and in Russia's case the loss of control over the near abroad). Perceived threats to Serbs and Russians now outside the redrawn borders of their respective states aggravated this frustration. However, the rocky, thirty-five-year relationship between the Soviet Union and Tito's Yugoslavia disproved the natural affinity of the two nations.

Russia launched a more assertive phase of involvement in the former Yugoslavia when it opposed NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces around Sarajevo in 1994 and 1995. Russia argued that there should be no air strikes until peace negotiations had been exhausted. Russia also demanded a larger role as a superpower in decision making on UN, NATO, and other international actions involving the former Yugoslavia.

In August 1995, Yeltsin and the Russian parliament harshly criticized intensified NATO air strikes on Bosnian Serb military targets. When mediation efforts finally led to a cease-fire in Bosnia in October 1995, Russia agreed to provide troops for a NATO-sponsored peacekeeping force. After some rearrangement of lines of command to avoid direct NATO command of Russian forces, Russian troops joined the peacekeepers in January 1996. Although it cooperated with IFOR, Russia asserted its views on other aspects of the Bosnia situation. In February 1996, Russia withdrew unilaterally from UN-imposed economic sanctions on Bosnian Serbs, arguing that the Serbs had met the conditions for withdrawing the sanctions.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress