The Lithuania Missile Bluff

Yesterday Bob blogged about the Lithuania proposal to host the U.S. anti-ballistic missile shield as a bluff related to Vilnius’s energy desperation and Washington’s pressures on Poland. Today the Associated Press takes his cue:

Eastern Europe sees bluff in reports the US is eyeing Lithuania for missile defense base As talks on building an American missile defense site in Poland have bogged down over Polish demands for massive military aid, word emerged this week that Washington is eyeing Lithuania as an alternative site. But observers in Eastern Europe are skeptical that Washington would consider Lithuania seriously, suggesting it’s a stratagem to ratchet up pressure so President George W. Bush gets a deal before he leaves office in January. “I think it’s just a political game,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs. “I think it’s an attempt to show Poland that if they continue to resist, then the contract could go other places.”

The Bush administration would face a huge hurdle persuading the Democratic-controlled Congress to approve funding for a site in Lithuania. In the waning months of his presidency, it’s unlikely Bush has the time or political capital to start from scratch on missile defense.Russian opposition to Washington’s plans also makes Lithuania an unrealistic choice, analysts say. Not only is Lithuania geographically closer to Moscow, but unlike Poland and the Czech Republic, it was once part of the Soviet Union.To Russians, it “will be perceived as even more provocative than Poland or the Czech Republic,” Lukyanov said.Washington wants to set up two missile defense bases in Eastern Europe — a site with 10 interceptors in Poland and a linked radar installation in the Czech Republic. His administration says the system is meant to protect the U.S. and Europe from possible Iranian attacks.Russia, however, is furious at the idea of U.S. military installations so close to its borders, in a region it controlled during the Cold War. It sees them as initial steps in a longer-term plan that would undermine its own security.Already, Moscow has threatened to target prospective missile defense sites with nuclear missiles.In a sign of Russia’s concern over the Lithuania reports, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow has asked Washington about its intentions in the Baltic country.”We so far haven’t received any information,” he told reporters.Washington opened formal negotiations in early 2007 with Prague and Warsaw and is close to a deal with the Czechs — though a question mark hangs over whether the Czech parliament will approve the plan.But talks with Poland aren’t going as smoothly as when they began under former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who was staunchly pro-American and deeply suspicious of Russia.Last fall, Kaczynski was replaced by Donald Tusk, whose government has waged a much stronger fight to get massive military aid in return for allowing the Americans to set up the facility at Redzikowo, a sprawling former Soviet-era base in northern Poland.Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said last month that, if the U.S. is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in allies like Egypt and Pakistan, it shouldn’t be cheap with Poland.”Poland is becoming as important for the U.S. in this region as Pakistan in Central Asia or Egypt in the Middle East. We expect to be equally treated,” Klich. He said he envisions aid in the tens of millions of dollars. “It’s not a specially excessive amount,” he said.U.S. officials are clearly getting exasperated. The U.S. now gives Poland $27 million per year in military funding, the highest to any European ally, and Bush earlier this year offered to add on $20 million more per year. But that still hasn’t swayed the Poles.Grzegorz Holdanowicz, a prominent defense analyst in Warsaw, said he believes “the Lithuanian proposal is for sure a kind of tactical discussion … It’s a signal to Poland that if we do not reduce our expectations, we may lose everything.”