Russia views U.S. missile defense in Poland as antagonistic, says expert

Russia’s leaders and its population tend to view current developments in Poland through the lens of a basic Russian national narrative that focuses on Russia as a target of invasion by foreign enemies, claims James V. Wertsch, an expert on post-Soviet democracy movements at Washington University in St. Louis.

The United States and Poland reached agreement Aug. 20 on the installation of U.S. missile defense assets in the Eastern European nation.

Wertsch, Ph.D., the Marshall S. Snow Professor in Arts & Sciences and director of the International and Area Studies Program and the McDonnell International Scholars Academy at Washington University, has traveled extensively in Russian, Estonia, and Georgia.

According to him, this national narrative is fundamentally different from that which guides American thinking, and this difference leads to diametrically opposed interpretations of many events.

“What may appear to the United States as a defensive measure against a possible attack from Iran is viewed by Russia as a clear offensive move directed specifically at them,” Wertsch says. “This perspective has surfaced again very strongly in Russian interpretations of events in Poland, and it has led to some vehement reactions that have caught the West by surprise.”

This is part of what Wertsch calls the “deep memory” of Russia. From this perspective the Russian reaction may be directed more at NATO and the U.S., but Poland has been caught in the middle.

Wertsch was interviewed on this subject and on the Georgia/Russian conflict recently on KMOX radio. The interview is available here. Wertsch also commented on the Gergia/Russia conflict in the St. Louis Beacon.