Russia's Neighbors Try To Protect Themselves

WARSAW -- Poland strikes a deal on a U.S. missile-defense base. Ukraine tries to limit the Russian navy's movement in its waters. The Czech Republic's leader warns his nation is in danger of being sucked back into Moscow's orbit.

Russia's attack on Georgia has sparked fears across the young democracies of Eastern and Central Europe that Moscow is once again hungry for conquest -- and they are scrambling to protect themselves by tightening security alliances with Western powers.

Around the region, memories are being revived of the darkest days of Soviet oppression.

In Prague, where Czechs on Wednesday will mark the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion that crushed a reform movement, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek expressed fears of history repeating itself.

"The Russian tanks on the streets of Georgian towns remind us ... of the invasion in 1968," Topolanek wrote in Mlada Fronta Dnes daily, the country's biggest newspaper.

"But it is not just history. It is still, even now, a relevant question whether we will or will not belong to the sphere of Russian influence."

Since fighting broke out 10 days ago between Russia and Georgia, the crisis has dominated headlines and sparked pro-Georgia rallies across the region.

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and the leaders of four ex-Soviet republics journeyed together to Tbilisi last week to show solidarity with Georgia. At a demonstration there, Kaczynski declared that the Russians had again "shown the face that we have known for centuries."

"I am scared of those things that are happening in Georgia now," said Juste Viaciulyte, a 23-year-old student at a rally Thursday in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, to protest Russia's actions in Georgia.

He noted that the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad borders his country "and is beefed up with Russian soldiers, missiles and tanks. It would take just several hours for them to ignite a similar nightmare here in Lithuania if something turned really wrong."

The most vulnerable country is probably Ukraine, wedged between Russia and NATO states.

Eugeniusz Smolar, director of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, said countries like Poland and the Czech Republic are safer because they already belong to NATO and the EU.

"But not so with Ukraine; with Ukraine there is fear," Smolar said. "It's very unstable politically, there is a strong pro-Russian political element, plus there's strong activity of Russian intelligence."

And there are signs Central and East European countries feel that their NATO membership isn't sufficient protection.

As part of the preliminary missile-defense deal that Poland struck with the United States on Thursday, it secured from Washington a commitment of swifter help than that offered by NATO.