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Eastern Europe anxious over Russian attacks

/ Source: The Associated Press

Poland and other former Soviet satellites have expressed deep anxiety that the escalation of fighting between Russia and Georgia signals a resurgent Russia's willingness to use force to dominate the newly democratic region.

After fighting broke out last week in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia, the presidents of Poland and the three Baltic states issued a joint statement calling Russia's policy "imperialist and revisionist." They also called on NATO and the European Union to stand up to Moscow.

"We, the leaders of once-captive nations of Eastern Europe, and now EU and NATO members — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — express a deep concern over the Russian Federation's actions toward Georgia," the statement said.

In Warsaw on Monday evening, up to 100 people gathered for a pro-Georgia rally in front of the Russian Embassy. They chanted "Russia, Go Home" and "Free Georgia," while one banner read "Hands Off Georgia."

Poland, the Czech Republic and their neighbors have lingering memories of communist-era domination and despite their membership in NATO and EU are deeply suspicious of Russia. They fear that Russia, strengthened by Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule as president — and now prime minister — as well as its vast oil and gas wealth, have translated into a dangerous new boldness.

In Prague on Sunday, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg compared Russia's incursion into Georgia to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

In a statement, Schwarzenberg said the Czech Republic supports Georgia and added that "it is a sad coincidence" that the fighting in Georgia takes place at the moment when the country is marking the 40th anniversary of the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968.

The Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact nations crushed the "Prague Spring" challenge to Soviet domination — bold pro-democracy reforms led by Alexander Dubcek. The last of the troops did not leave until 1991.