Geopolitics

Nabucco signed

Today’s signing of the Nabucco gas transit agreement by Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey is a first step along the way to the construction of a pipeline that will ship gas from the Caspian to central Europe via Turkey, bypassing Russia. But there are some imponderables: if suppliers of gas for the pipeline include not only Central Asian states include Iran, Iraq and Russia, there are likely to be political problems – and the Central Asian states which originally agreed to be suppliers are coming under pressure from Moscow, which is prepared to go to almost any lengths to prevent the pipeline being completed. Another factor is Georgia – President Saakashvili’s presence at the signing ceremony in Ankara underlines the EU’ leadership’s view of Georgia as a natural transit country.

Putin’s CFE threat and the North Caucasus

Writing in RFE/RL’s North Caucasus/Chechnya section, analyst Liz Fuller suggests that President Putin’s threat to suspend compliance with the amended 1999 CFE Treaty – an ominous move which is causing consternation in Europe – may be aimed at the North Caucasus region: given the increased deployment of Russian armour and artillery in Chechnya and neighbouring republics since 1999, a further military buildup there could pose a threat to Georgia .

The Same Rules for All

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Yulia Tymoshenko considers ways in which the countries of Europe can deal with a Russia that is increasingly relying on energy politics to achieve its geopolitical and strategic aims. An excerpt:

What can the West do to dissuade the Kremlin from pursuing its expansionist designs?

Today, Russia needs Western markets, not Western aid. Yet it exhibits the worst of monopolistic behavior.

One path of engagement is for the European Union to work with Russia on energy in much the same way the EU engages other perceived monopolistic entities, Microsoft being a landmark example. European competition policy, which has successfully engaged companies both inside and outside the EU, could also help turn Gazprom into a reasonable competitor. One must ask how it is that Apple’s iPod and iTunes are challenged by EU regulators yet Gazprom is not?

In such a policy approach, the EU should consider breaking Gazprom’s monopoly on pipeline infrastructure as well as licensing independent gas producers. Independent producers already account for 20 percent of domestic gas sales in Russia and are boosting their output. Further gains would require market incentives. Europe can help by explicitly linking its acceptance of Russia’s WTO membership to Russia’s ratification of the Energy Charter and its attendant Transit Protocol, which would guarantee access to Russian pipelines for Gazprom’s competitors.

In this way, Europeans would shore the risks of any possible energy blockade equally among themselves, rather than allowing separate deals that leave others vulnerable to energy blackmail. Such a policy would need to incorporate a consensus that no country could reach a deal with Gazprom that undercuts EU plans to help construct pipelines from Central Asia that bypass Russia.

The EU’s collective engagement would be a model for the developing democracies on its borders, including Ukraine, and provide constructive model for Russian commercial behavior.

Russia should be welcomed in institutions and agreements that foster cooperation. But Russia’s reform will be impeded, not helped, if the West turns a blind eye to its expansionist pretensions – be they economic or political. The independence of the republics that broke away from the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, must not be tacitly downgraded by the West’s acquiescence to Russia’s desire for hegemony.

(via MAK)

Maritime Concerns

Via Stratfor:

The Limitations and Necessity of Naval Power

By George Friedman

It has now been four years since the fall of Baghdad concluded the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We have said much about the Iraq war, and for the moment there is little left to say. The question is whether the United States will withdraw forces from Iraq or whether it will be able to craft some sort of political resolution to the war, both within Iraq and in the region. Military victory, in the sense of the unfettered imposition of U.S. will in Iraq, does not appear to us a possibility. Therefore, over the next few months, against the background of the U.S. offensive in Baghdad, the political equation will play out. The action continues. The analysis must pause and await results.

During this pause, we have been thinking about some of the broader questions involved in Iraq — and about the nature and limits of American military power in particular. We recently considered the purpose of U.S. wars since World War II in our discussion of U.S. warfare as strategic spoiling attack. Now we turn to another dimension of U.S. military power — the U.S. Navy — and consider what role, if any, it plays in national security at this point.

Recent events have directed our attention to the role and limits of naval power. During the detention of the 15 British sailors and marines, an idea floated by many people was that the United States should impose a blockade against Iran. The argument was driven partly by a lack of other options: Neither an invasion nor an extended air campaign seemed a viable alternative. Moreover, the United States’ experience in erecting blockades is rich with decisive examples: the Cuban missile crisis, barring Germany’s ability to trade during World War II or that of the American South during the Civil War. The one unquestionable military asset the United States has is its Navy, which can impose sea-lane control anywhere in the world. Finally, Iran — which is rich in oil (all of which is exported by sea) but lacks sufficient refinery capacity of its own — relies on imported gasoline. Therefore, the argument went, imposing a naval blockade would cripple Iran’s economy and bring the leadership to the negotiating table.

Washington never seriously considered the option. This was partly because of diplomatic discussions that indicated that the British detainees would be released under any circumstances. And it was partly because of the difficulties involved in blockading Iran at this time:

1. Iran could mount strategic counters to a blockade, either by increasing anti-U.S. operations by its Shiite allies in Iraq or by inciting Shiite communities in the Arabian Peninsula to unrest. The United States didn’t have appetite for the risk.

2. Blockades always involve the interdiction of vessels operated by third countries — countries that might not appreciate being interdicted. The potential repercussions of interdicting merchant vessels belonging to powers that did not accept the blockade was a price the United States would not pay at this time.

A blockade was not selected because it was not needed, because Iran could retaliate in other ways and because a blockade might damage countries other than Iran that the United States didn’t want to damage. It was, therefore, not in the cards. Not imposing a blockade made sense.

The Value of Naval Power

This raises a more fundamental question: What is the value of naval power in a world in which naval battles are not fought? To frame the question more clearly, let us begin by noting that the United States has maintained global maritime hegemony since the end of World War II. Except for the failed Soviet attempt to partially challenge the United States, the most important geopolitical fact since World War II was that the world’s oceans were effectively under the control of the U.S. Navy. Prior to World War II, there were multiple contenders for maritime power, such as Britain, Japan and most major powers. No one power, not even Britain, had global maritime hegemony. The United States now does. The question is whether this hegemony has any real value at this time — a question made relevant by the issue of whether to blockade Iran.

The United States controls the blue water. To be a little more precise, the U.S. Navy can assert direct and overwhelming control over any portion of the blue water it wishes, and it can do so in multiple places. It cannot directly control all of the oceans at the same time. However, the total available naval force that can be deployed by non-U.S. powers (friendly and other) is so limited that they lack the ability, even taken together, to assert control anywhere should the United States challenge their presence. This is an unprecedented situation historically.

The current situation is, of course, invaluable to the United States. It means that a seaborne invasion of the United States by any power is completely impractical. Given the geopolitical condition of the United States, the homeland is secure from conventional military attack but vulnerable to terrorist strikes and nuclear attacks. At the same time, the United States is in a position to project forces at will to any part of the globe. Such power projection might not be wise at times, but even failure does not lead to reciprocation. For instance, no matter how badly U.S. forces fare in Iraq, the Iraqis will not invade the United States if the Americans are defeated there.

This is not a trivial fact. Control of the seas means that military or political failure in Eurasia will not result in a direct conventional threat to the United States. Nor does such failure necessarily preclude future U.S. intervention in that region. It also means that no other state can choose to invade the United States. Control of the seas allows the United States to intervene where it wants, survive the consequences of failure and be immune to occupation itself. It was the most important geopolitical consequence of World War II, and one that still defines the world.

The issue for the United States is not whether it should abandon control of the seas — that would be irrational in the extreme. Rather, the question is whether it has to exert itself at all in order to retain that control. Other powers either have abandoned attempts to challenge the United States, have fallen short of challenging the United States or have confined their efforts to building navies for extremely limited uses, or for uses aligned with the United States. No one has a shipbuilding program under way that could challenge the United States for several generations.

One argument, then, is that the United States should cut its naval forces radically — since they have, in effect, done their job. Mothballing a good portion of the fleet would free up resources for other military requirements without threatening U.S. ability to control the sea-lanes. Should other powers attempt to build fleets to challenge the United States, the lead time involved in naval construction is such that the United States would have plenty of opportunities for re-commissioning ships or building new generations of vessels to thwart the potential challenge.

The counterargument normally given is that the U.S. Navy provides a critical service in what is called littoral warfare. In other words, while the Navy might not be needed immediately to control sea-lanes, it carries out critical functions in securing access to those lanes and projecting rapid power into countries where the United States might want to intervene. Thus, U.S. aircraft carriers can bring tactical airpower to bear relatively quickly in any intervention. Moreover, the Navy’s amphibious capabilities — particularly those of deploying and supplying the U.S. Marines — make for a rapid deployment force that, when coupled with Naval airpower, can secure hostile areas of interest for the United States.

That argument is persuasive, but it poses this problem: The Navy provides a powerful option for war initiation by the United States, but it cannot by itself sustain the war. In any sustained conflict, the Army must be brought in to occupy territory — or, as in Iraq, the Marines must be diverted from the amphibious specialty to serve essentially as Army units. Naval air by itself is a powerful opening move, but greater infusions of airpower are needed for a longer conflict. Naval transport might well be critically important in the opening stages, but commercial transport sustains the operation.

If one accepts this argument, the case for a Navy of the current size and shape is not proven. How many carrier battle groups are needed and, given the threat to the carriers, is an entire battle group needed to protect them?

If we consider the Iraq war in isolation, for example, it is apparent that the Navy served a function in the defeat of Iraq’s conventional forces. It is not clear, however, that the Navy has served an important role in the attempt to occupy and pacify Iraq. And, as we have seen in the case of Iran, a blockade is such a complex politico-military matter that the option not to blockade tends to emerge as the obvious choice.

The Risk Not Taken

The argument for slashing the Navy can be tempting. But consider the counterargument. First, and most important, we must consider the crises the United States has not experienced. The presence of the U.S. Navy has shaped the ambitions of primary and secondary powers. The threshold for challenging the Navy has been so high that few have even initiated serious challenges. Those that might be trying to do so, like the Chinese, understand that it requires a substantial diversion of resources. Therefore, the mere existence of U.S. naval power has been effective in averting crises that likely would have occurred otherwise. Reducing the power of the U.S. Navy, or fine-tuning it, would not only open the door to challenges but also eliminate a useful, if not essential, element in U.S. strategy — the ability to bring relatively rapid force to bear.

There are times when the Navy’s use is tactical, and times when it is strategic. At this moment in U.S. history, the role of naval power is highly strategic. The domination of the world’s oceans represents the foundation stone of U.S. grand strategy. It allows the United States to take risks while minimizing consequences. It facilitates risk-taking. Above all, it eliminates the threat of sustained conventional attack against the homeland. U.S. grand strategy has worked so well that this risk appears to be a phantom. The dispersal of U.S. forces around the world attests to what naval power can achieve. It is illusory to believe that this situation cannot be reversed, but it is ultimately a generational threat. Just as U.S. maritime hegemony is measured in generations, the threat to that hegemony will emerge over generations. The apparent lack of utility of naval forces in secondary campaigns, like Iraq, masks the fundamentally indispensable role the Navy plays in U.S. national security.

That does not mean that the Navy as currently structured is sacrosanct — far from it. Peer powers will be able to challenge the U.S. fleet, but not by building their own fleets. Rather, the construction of effective anti-ship missile systems — which can destroy merchant ships as well as overwhelm U.S. naval anti-missile systems — represents a low-cost challenge to U.S. naval power. This is particularly true when these anti-ship missiles are tied to space-based, real-time reconnaissance systems. A major power such as China need not be able to mirror the U.S. Navy in order to challenge it.

Whatever happens in Iraq — or Iran — the centrality of naval power is unchanging. But the threat to naval power evolves. The fact that there is no threat to U.S. control of the sea-lanes at this moment does not mean one will not emerge. Whether with simple threats like mines or the most sophisticated anti-ship system, the ability to keep the U.S. Navy from an area or to close off strategic chokepoints for shipping remains the major threat to the United States — which is, first and foremost, a maritime power.

One of the dangers of wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they soak up resources and intellectual bandwidth. It is said that generals always fight the last war. Another way of stating that is to say they believe the war they are fighting now will go on forever in some form. That belief leads to neglect of capabilities that appear superfluous for the current conflict. That is the true hollowing-out that extended warfare creates. It is an intellectual hollowing-out.

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Misunderstandings from Afar

A recent article by Daniel Pipes called Europe’s Stark Options contains paragraphs which clearly show that there is a deep divide between perceptions of reality in some circles on either side of the Atlantic. As one of the “options”, Pipes suggests the following:

A nativist movement throughout Europe is forming largely unnoticed beneath our eyes. However meager its record so far, it has huge potential. Parties opposed to immigration and Islam generally have neo-fascist backgrounds but are growing more respectable over time, shedding their antisemitic origins and their dubious economic theories, focusing instead on the questions of faith, demography, and identity, and learning about Islam and Muslims. The British National Party and Belgium’s Vlaamse Belang offer two examples of such a move toward respectability, which may one day be followed by electability. The presidential race in France in 2002 came down to a contest between Jacques Chirac and the neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Not only does this strange article contain no reference to the real problems that beset Europe at the present time, most of which are associated with the resurgence of a powerful Russia and the vicissitudes of energy politics – it fails to acknowledge that Europe is currently undergoing one of the most dramatic and profound changes in its history, changes that are bound up with the reassociation of countries such as Poland, Czechia, Hungary and the Baltic States, the reorganization of NATO, and the future accession of Georgia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states to the European fold.

Instead, the reader is presented with the notion that neo-fascist parties may somehow become “respectable” in Europe, and that this may help to resolve the social problems of the region…

To be fair, however, at the end of the piece, Professor Pipes does acknowledge that from an American perspective

The novelty and magnitude of Europe’s predicament make it difficult to understand, tempting to overlook, and nearly impossible to predict. Europe marches us all into terra incognita.

Roles in the Region

Via Stratfor :

Two Busted Flushes: The U.S. and Iranian Negotiations

By George Friedman

U.S., Iranian and Syrian diplomats met in Baghdad on March 10 to discuss the future of Iraq. Shortly afterward, everyone went out of their way to emphasize that the meetings either did not mean anything or that they were not formally one-on-one, which meant that other parties were present. Such protestations are inevitable: All of the governments involved have substantial domestic constituencies that do not want to see these talks take place, and they must be placated by emphasizing the triviality. Plus, all bargainers want to make it appear that such talks mean little to them. No one buys a used car by emphasizing how important the purchase is. He who needs it least wins.

These protestations are, however, total nonsense. That U.S., Iranian and Syrian diplomats would meet at this time and in that place is of enormous importance. It is certainly not routine: It means the shadowy conversations that have been going on between the United States and Iran in particular are now moving into the public sphere. It means not only that negotiations concerning Iraq are under way, but also that all parties find it important to make these negotiations official. That means progress is being made. The question now goes not to whether negotiations are happening, but to what is being discussed, what an agreement might look like and how likely it is to occur.

Let’s begin by considering the framework in which each side is operating.

The United States: Geopolitical Compulsion

Washington needs a settlement in Iraq. Geopolitically, Iraq has soaked up a huge proportion of U.S. fighting power. Though casualties remain low (when compared to those in the Vietnam War), the war-fighting bandwidth committed to Iraq is enormous relative to forces. Should another crisis occur in the world, the U.S. Army would not be in a position to respond. As a result, events elsewhere could suddenly spin out of control.

For example, we have seen substantial changes in Russian behavior of late. Actions that would have been deemed too risky for the Russians two years ago appear to be risk-free now. Moscow is pressuring Europe, using energy supplies for leverage and issuing threatening statements concerning U.S. ballistic missile defense plans in Central Europe — in apparent hopes that the governments in this region and the former Soviet Union, where governments have been inclined to be friendly to the United States, will reappraise their positions.

But the greatest challenge from the Russians comes in the Middle East. The traditional role of Russia (in its Soviet guise) was to create alliances in the region — using arms transfers as a mechanism for securing the power of Arab regimes internally and for resisting U.S. power in the region. The Soviets armed Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya and so on, creating powerful networks of client states during much of the Cold War.

The Russians are doing this again. There is a clear pattern of intensifying arms sales to Syria and Iran — a pattern designed to increase the difficulty of U.S. and Israeli airstrikes against either state and to increase the internal security of both regimes. The United States has few levers with which to deter Russian behavior, and Washington’s ongoing threats against Iran and Syria increase the desire of these states to have Russian supplies and patronage.

The fact is that the United States has few viable military options here. Except for the use of airstrikes — which, when applied without other military measures, historically have failed either to bring about regime change or to deter powers from pursuing their national interests — the United States has few military options in the region. Air power might work when an army is standing by to take advantage of the weaknesses created by those strikes, but absent a credible ground threat, airstrikes are merely painful, not decisive.

And, to be frank, the United States simply lacks capability in the Army. In many ways, the U.S. Army is in revolt against the Bush administration. Army officers at all levels (less so the Marines) are using the term “broken” to refer to the condition of the force and are in revolt against the administration — not because of its goals, but because of its failure to provide needed resources nearly six years after 9/11. This revolt is breaking very much into the public domain, and that will further cripple the credibility of the Bush administration.

The “surge” strategy announced late last year was Bush’s last gamble. It demonstrated that the administration has the power and will to defy public opinion — or international perceptions of it — and increase, rather than decrease, forces in Iraq. The Democrats have also provided Bush with a window of opportunity: Their inability to formulate a coherent policy on Iraq has dissipated the sense that they will force imminent changes in U.S. strategy. Bush’s gamble has created a psychological window of opportunity, but if this window is not used, it will close — and, as administration officials have publicly conceded, there is no Plan B. The situation on the ground is as good as it is going to get.

Leaving the question of his own legacy completely aside, Bush knows three things. First, he is not going to impose a military solution on Iraq that suppresses both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite militias. Second, he has successfully created a fleeting sense of unpredictability, as far as U.S. behavior is concerned. And third, if he does not use this psychological window of opportunity to achieve a political settlement within the context of limited military progress, the moment not only will be lost, but Russia might also emerge as a major factor in the Middle East — eroding a generation of progress toward making the United States the sole major power in that region. Thus, the United States is under geopolitical compulsion to reach a settlement.

Iran: Psychological and Regional Compulsions

The Iranians are also under pressure. They have miscalculated on what Bush would do: They expected military drawdown, and instead they got the surge. This has conjured up memories of the miscalculation on what the 1979 hostage crisis would bring: The revolutionaries had bet on a U.S. capitulation, but in the long run they got an Iraqi invasion and Ronald Reagan.

Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani already has warned the Iranians not to underestimate the United States, saying it is a “wounded tiger” and therefore much more dangerous than otherwise. In addition, the Iranians know some important things.

The first is that, while the Americans conceivably might forget about Iraq, Iran never can. Uncontrolled chaos next door could spill over into Iran in numerous ways — separatist sentiments among the Kurds, the potential return of a Sunni government if the Shia are too fractured to govern, and so forth. A certain level of security in Iraq is fundamental to Iran’s national interests.

Related to this, there are concerns that Iraq’s Shia are so fractious that they might not be serviceable as a coherent vehicle for Iranian power. A civil war among the Shia of Iraq is not inconceivable, and if that were to happen, Iran’s ability to project power in Iraq would crumble.

Finally, Iran’s ability to threaten terror strikes against U.S. interests depends to a great extent on Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it knows that Hezbollah is far more interested in the power and wealth to be found in Lebanon than in some global — and potentially catastrophic — war against the United States. The Iranian leadership has seen al Qaeda’s leaders being hunted and hiding in Pakistan, and they have little stomach for that. In short, Iranian leaders might not have all the options they would like to pretend they have, and their own weakness could become quite public very quickly.

Still, like the Americans, the Iranians have done well in generating perceptions of their own resolute strength. First, they have used their influence in Iraq to block U.S. ambitions there. Second, they have supported Hezbollah in its war against Israel, creating the impression that Hezbollah is both powerful and pliant to Tehran. In other words, they have signaled a powerful covert capability. Third, they have used their nuclear program to imply capabilities substantially beyond what has actually been achieved, which gives them a powerful bargaining chip. Finally, they have entered into relations with the Russians — implying a strategic evolution that would be disastrous for the United States.

The truth, however, is somewhat different. Iran has sufficient power to block a settlement on Iraq, but it lacks the ability to impose one of its own making. Second, Hezbollah is far from willing to play the role of global suicide bomber to support Iranian ambitions. Third, an Iranian nuclear bomb is far from being a reality. Finally, Iran has, in the long run, much to fear from the Russians: Moscow is far more likely than Washington to reduce Iran to a vassal state, should Tehran grow too incautious in the flirtation. Iran is holding a very good hand. But in the end, its flush is as busted as the Americans’.

Moreover, the Iranians still remember the mistake of 1979. Rather than negotiating a settlement to the hostage crisis with a weak and indecisive President Jimmy Carter, who had been backed into a corner, they opted to sink his chances for re-election and release the hostages after the next president, Reagan, took office. They expected gratitude. But in a breathtaking display of ingratitude, Reagan followed a policy designed to devastate Iran in its war with Iraq. In retrospect, the Iranians should have negotiated with the weak president rather than destroy him and wait for the strong one.

Rafsanjani essentially has reminded the Iranian leadership of this painful fact. Based on that, it is clear that he wants negotiations with Bush, whose strength is crippled, rather than with his successor. Not only has Bush already signaled a willingness to talk, but U.S. intelligence also has publicly downgraded the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons — saying that, in fact, Iran’s program has not progressed as far as it might have. The Iranians have demanded a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, but they have been careful not to specify what that timetable should look like. Each side is signaling a re-evaluation of the other and a degree of flexibility in outcomes.

As for Syria, which also shares a border with Iraq and was represented at Saturday’s meetings in Baghdad, it is important but not decisive. The Syrians have little interest in Iraq but great interest in Lebanon. The regime in Damascus wants to be freed from the threat of investigation in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and it wants to have its interests in Lebanon guaranteed. The Israelis, for their part, have no interest in bringing down the al Assad regime: They are far more fearful of what the follow-on Sunni regime might bring than they are of a minority Alawite regime that is more interested in money than in Allah. The latter they can deal with; the former is the threat.

In other words, Syria does not affect fundamental U.S. interests, and the Israelis do not want to see the current regime replaced. The Syrians, therefore, are not the decisive factor when it comes to Iraq. This is about the United States and Iran.

Essential Points

If the current crisis continues, each side might show itself much weaker than it wants to appear. The United States could find itself in a geopolitical spasm, coupled with a domestic political crisis. Iran could find itself something of a toothless tiger — making threats that are known to have little substance behind them. The issue is what sort of settlement there could be.

We see the following points as essential to the two main players:

1. The creation of an Iraqi government that is dominated by Shia, neutral to Iran, hostile to jihadists but accommodating to some Sunni groups.
2. Guarantees for Iran’s commercial interests in southern Iraqi oil fields, with some transfers to the Sunnis (who have no oil in their own territory) from fields in both the northern (Kurdish) and southern (Shiite) regions.
3. Guarantees for U.S. commercial interests in the Kurdish regions.
4. An Iraqi military without offensive capabilities, but substantial domestic power. This means limited armor and air power, but substantial light infantry.
5. An Iraqi army operated on a “confessional” basis — each militia and insurgent group retained as units and controlling its own regions.
6. Guarantee of a multiyear U.S. presence, without security responsibility for Iraq, at about 40,000 troops.
7. A U.S.-Iranian “commission” to manage political conflict in Iraq.
8. U.S. commercial relations with Iran.
9. The definition of the Russian role, without its exclusion.
10. A meaningless but symbolic commitment to a new Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Such an agreement would not be expected to last very long. It might last, but the primary purpose would be to allow each side to quietly fold its busted flushes in the game for Iraq.

 

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Realignment in Europe

One or two links to consider:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/02/19/news/shield.php

Poland and Czech Republic risk being targets of Russian missiles,
Moscow says

They could be targets, Moscow says
The Associated Press
Published: February 19, 2007

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/19/AR2007021900473.html

Missiles could reach Europe if Kremlin wanted: general

http://www.rg.ru/2007/02/19/poljsha.html

Spisok Kachinskikh (Lech Kaczynski’s report)