President Dmitri Medvedev's announcement that Russia intends to deploy missiles "near Poland" sent shivers through Eastern Europe and drew condemnation throughout the West.
The term "near Poland" is misleading, for it doesn't even begin to convey the historic significance of exactly where Russia plans to place the missiles. It's a misstep in history that continues to exact a price to this day.
Russia wants to move these missiles to the Kalinigrad Oblast, an exclave that's physically separated from Russia proper after the disintegration of the Soviet Union that led to the independence of Lithuania. It's a sliver of land that used to be part of German East Prussia. "Kalinigrad" is better known as Konigsberg.
At the Potsdam Conference after World War II ended in Europe, the Soviet Union demanded, and received, considerable concessions from its western allies. Half of what used to be Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union, East Prussia was partitioned, and Poland was given most of German Pomerania and Silesia as compensation.
Not quite three months on the job, an eager yet naive President Truman proclaimed that Stalin was someone he could "do business with." He thought "(Stalin's) very honest, but he's also smart as hell."
With an ace in the hole (the A-Bomb), or so he thought, Truman was bent to play his hand to impress his Soviet counterpart. But Stalin was a much better poker player, for his spies in Los Alamos allowed him not to fold. Instead, he got what he wanted out of Truman: A Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe that today's Russia aches to reclaim.
Misreading Russian leaders, and their intentions, apparently is an American pastime. President Bush famous noted that when he looked Vladimir Putin in the eye, he found Putin to be "very straightforward and trustworthy. I was able to get a sense of his soul."
What will an earnest President Obama see in the eyes of Medvedev?