Bush Acknowledges U.S. Played Role in Europe Division


New York Times

May 7, 2005

RIGA, Latvia (AP) -- President Bush said Saturday the Soviet domination of central and eastern Europe after World War II will be remembered as ''one of the greatest wrongs of history'' and acknowledged that the United States played a significant role in the division of the continent.

Bush said the agreement in 1945 at Yalta among Soviet leader Josef Stalin, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ''followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbontrop pact.'' The decisions at Yalta led to the Soviet annexation and occupation of the Baltic countries for nearly half a century.

''Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable,'' the president said, opening a four-nation trip to mark the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany's defeat. ''Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable.''

During a speech at a Riga cultural center, Bush commended the Baltic people for keeping ''a long vigil of suffering and hope'' during 50 years of oppressive Soviet occupation. He said the United States has a ''binding pledge of the alliance'' to help protect the freedom of the Baltic nations.

''In defense of your freedom, you will never stand alone,'' he said.

Earlier, Bush suggested that Moscow recognize the lingering pain caused by the decades-old Soviet annexation of the Baltics and said Russia has no cause to be angry at U.S. involvement in democratic progress on its doorstep.

Bush's decision to bracket his trip to Moscow with visits to this Latvian capital and the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia prompted a letter of protest from Russia. Moscow views Bush's travel itinerary -- along with U.S. support for democratic change in Ukraine and Georgia -- as a sign of inappropriate meddling in its neighborhood.

The Yalta agreement carved up post-World War II Europe, giving Stalin the whole of Eastern Europe. The agreement led to much criticism of Roosevelt, who was accused of delivering Eastern Europe to communist domination. The meeting took place in Crimea, in the Soviet Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's government recently angered Poland by saying it should be grateful for the Yalta treaty, which consigned Poland to the Soviet sphere for decades.

Bush said the victory over Nazi Germany soon gave way to decades of standoff with the Soviet Union.

''The great democracies soon found that a new mission had come to us: not merely to defeat a single dictator but to defeat the idea of dictatorship on this continent.Through the decades of that struggle, some endured the role of tyrants, and all lived in the frightening shadow of war.

''Yet because we lifted our sights and held firm to our principles, freedom prevailed.''

Bush met earlier with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and said afterward that Russia has no cause to be angry at U.S. involvement in democratic progress on its doorstep and suggested that Moscow recognize the lingering pain caused by the decades-old Soviet annexation of the Baltics.

''The idea of countries helping others become free -- I would hope that would be viewed as not revolutionary, but rational foreign policy and decent foreign policy and humane foreign policy,'' Bush said. ''I think countries ought to feel comfortable with having democracies on their borders.

''I will continue to speak as clearly as I can to President Putin that it's in his country's interests that there be democracies on his borders,'' Bush said.

Bush saluted the Baltic leaders as models for Russia and elsewhere.

''You rank very high as far as I'm concerned in the freedom movement,'' he said.

Bush acknowledged the Baltics' lingering resentment over the Soviet Union's 1940 annexation of their homeland that led to 50 years of oppressive occupation. Though Bush did not directly call for Putin to apologize, the White House hopes the president's high-profile dive into the matter will encourage the Russians to confront a dark spot in their history, in which the end of World War II saw the Baltics merely trade Nazi domination for communist rule.

Putin has dismissed such calls, saying Russia apologized after the breakup of the Soviet Union and he sees no reason to apologize again.

In his speech, Bush recalled that the United States continued to support the Baltic countries during Soviet oppression by flying the flags of free Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- illegal in those countries -- over diplomatic missions in the United States.

But he said that the defeat of Nazism was a paradox because it spread further captivity in Europe.

''The end of World War II raised unavoidable questions for my country: Had we fought and sacrificed only to achieve the permanent division of Europe into armed camps?'' Bush asked. ''Or did the cause of freedom and the rights of nations require more of us?

''Eventually, America and our strong allies made a decision: We would not be content with the liberation of half of Europe -- and we would not forget our friends behind an Iron Curtain,'' he said.

The Munich agreement resulted in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact consigned the Baltic republics to Soviet rule.