When George W. Bush proposed pulling U.S. bases out of Germany and moving them farther east to Poland and Romania, the plan got a chilly reception with the U.S. public and Congress.
The move was meant as a cost-saver, and a welcoming and less crowded Eastern Europe offered plenty of room for maneuvers. Bush also intended the bases as a shield against the problematic attack by Iranian missiles. But Bush’s credibility was at low ebb. Russia was in economic shambles and posed little immediate threat. Now large, permanent NATO bases in Eastern Europe don’t seem such a bad idea, particularly now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has annexed Crimea, seems bent on reducing Eastern Ukraine to vassal status and cowing Poland into weakening its commitment to NATO.
As Russia’s economy sinks deeper into recession, more because of falling oil prices than Western sanctions, Putin reflexively blames all of Russia’s woes on the West. Then there is the problem of Putin himself. His behavior is increasingly erratic, and although this might be a tactic to keep the West off balance, his actions have surely started to worry his acolytes in the Kremlin.
He kept, for example, West German Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting for a meeting in Milan. As a former KGB agent in East Germany, he must have been aware that this was a horrendous breach of protocol. The New York Times commented that “Mr. Putin’s showmanship appears to be wearing thin with Europe’s leaders.”
Poland’s current leadership is formally opposed to a permanent NATO base on its soil, preferring a quick reaction force based somewhere else. That will change in a hurry if Russia, as it surely will to distract from domestic problems, begins to meddle in Polish affairs.
— The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee,