WARSAW Former leaders and officials from ex-communist eastern Europe have appealed to U.S. President Barack Obama to boost American involvement in European security and to resist what they call Russia's "creeping intimidation."
In an open letter published on websites on Thursday, a week after a U.S.-Russia summit in Moscow, they urged Obama to show greater commitment to NATO's regional role, to missile defense and to efforts to reduce Europe's reliance on Russian energy.
"Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we see central and eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy... (But) all is not well either in our region or in the transatlantic relationship," the letter said.
"Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th century agenda with 21st century tactics and methods... It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from economic blockades... to bribery and media manipulation."
East European governments, especially in Poland and the Baltic states, were alarmed by Russia's brief war with Georgia last summer over the rebel Georgian territory of South Ossetia and also by Russia's disputes with Ukraine over gas supplies.
The letter's more than 20 signatories, including Poland's Lech Walesa, the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel and ex-presidents of Romania, Latvia and Lithuania, said they welcomed Obama's decision to "reset" U.S.-Russian relations but urged him not to be naive.
"The danger is that Russia's creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralization of the region," they said.
The letter urged Obama to work closely with the European Union on security issues and to back the Nabucco gas pipeline and other projects aimed at lessening Russia's energy dominance.
It also said Obama should not be swayed by Russia's opposition to U.S. plans to deploy elements of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the United States across the whole region," the letter said.
(Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Angus MacSwan)