Reaction to Georgia Half of Poles Fear Russian Attack

As NATO ministers gather in Brussels to discuss how tough to get with Russia after the Georgian crisis, an opinion poll shows one in two Poles fear an attack by Russia. Eastern European countries are unhappy with the response of the West.

Many in Poland are afraid of seeing Russian tanks in their country.

Many in Poland are afraid of seeing Russian tanks in their country.

A recent opinion poll shows that one in two Poles fears that their country will be the target of a Russian attack. The poll was published in news magazine Wprost which this week featured a drawing of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on its front cover with a Hitler moustache and the headline: "Adolf Putin."

Some 40 percent of respondents said they regarded Russia as Poland's biggest enemy. Half of the Poles interviewed by the Pentor agency said they were afraid of a Russian attack. A total of 38 percent said they were not afraid and 12 per cent expressed no opinion.

Meanwhile a separate poll for Rceczpospolita daily last Saturday showed that support in Poland for a US missile defense system to be stationed in Poland had surged in the wake of Russia's attack on Georgia.

The US says the shield is aimed at intercepting missiles from countries like Iran, but Russia sees it as a direct threat to its own security and warned last week that the system would turn Poland into a target.

A total of 58 percent of Poles support hosting the defense system, the poll in Rceczpospolita showed. Previous surveys had showed a majority of Poles opposed the shield, which will also include a radar tracking system in Czech Republic.

Despite Russia's warnings about the shield, analysts in Poland say Russia's most likely form of intimidation will be economic rather than military, such as shutting off energy supplies.

Media commentators in eastern Europe hold out little hope that western Europe will stand up to Russia. "Berlin is avoiding any kind of confrontation. Because Germany has no lever to exert pressure," wrote Rceczpospolita in an editorial published on Saturday.

Lithuanian newspaper Lietuvos Rytas wrote on Monday: "With its attack on Georgia, Russia has shown the West that it doesn't intend to change. Aggression and expansion -- those are the only aims of the current leadership in the Kremlin which has already destroyed the tender shoots of Russian democracy. "Russia's own people is bombarded with propaganda just like Stalin's day, but what is the reaction of the neighbors and of western Europe? So far it seems as if Old Europe is above all scared of the aggressor and still hopes for a savior to take power in the Kremlin."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to sign an agreement on the defense shield in Warsaw on Wednesday after attending a crisis meeting of foreign ministers from the 26 NATO member states in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss NATO's response to Russia in the wake of the Georgian crisis. Rice talked tough on Russia ahead of Tuesday's meeting, warning Moscow that it was playing a dangerous game and vowing that the West will prevent Russia from winning a strategic victory from its conflict with Georgia.

But there is there is disagreement within NATO on just how tough to get with Russia, with one camp -- the US, Britain, Canada, and most Eastern European member states -- pushing for a hard line while most of Western Europe, led by France and Germany, wanting a more cautious approach.

"Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool that it has always used … when it wishes to deliver a message: that is military power," Rice told reporters on her flight to Brussels, according to the Reuters news agency. "We're determined to deny them their strategic objective."

Despite the divisions, NATO ministers are expected to agree on condemning Russia's military action in Georgia as "disproportionate" on Tuesday. Georgia is a member of NATO's "Partnership for Peace" program but was denied the status as a NATO accession candidate at a NATO summit in the spring.

Rice said the Tuesday meeting would focus on ensuring that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev keeps his promise to withdraw toops from Georgia in line with the cease-fire agreement negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She said her visit to Poland would signal US support for Eastern European countries once dominated by the Soviet Union and now members of NATO. Rice said Georgia was just the latest example of Russian military assertiveness and referred to an incident earlier this year in which Russian long-range bombers had approached Alaska.

"The hope had been that Russia was going to build its foundation and relationships with Europe and the United States on the basis of Russian economic, political, cultural and other kinds of assets," Rice said. "And reminding people that bears can fly near Norway or near Alaska and that you can use military force against a small neighbor is not a particularly appealing message or image."



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