Brent Scowcroft Center Resident Fellow Erik Brattberg writes for the Huffington Post on President Obama’s visit to Estonia ahead of the NATO Summit in Wales:
President Obama’s brief stopover in Tallinn en route to the NATO Summit in Wales this week couldn’t have been be any timelier. Showing up in person matters a lot to the Balts who are increasingly feeling the heat after Russia’s invasion of Crimea and subsequent aggression in Eastern Ukraine. But besides reaffirming strong U.S. support for the security of its Baltic allies, Obama should also praise Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for their strong commitment to democracy, human freedom and economic liberalism. Doing so would send an important message to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe who are now struggling to adopt a similar path.
While Putin is tightening his power grip at home in Russia and being increasingly expansionist abroad, unfortunately several Central European allies are now sliding back to a semi-authoritarian system. A very dangerous prospect. Rather than seeking to decouple themselves from Russia, Hungary — once the champion of democratic reforms and transatlantic integration — but also Slovakia and even the Czech Republic as well are instead risking becoming more vulnerable to Moscow’s economic and political influence. They should know better, given their experience of Russia crushing their hopes for freedom: in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968.