US colonel leads the charge east: Estonia's new army chief suffers divided loyalties

Click to follow
AMERICA already has one commander-in-chief - the President - and it is not ready to tolerate a second, even if the forces he will lead are those of a different country thousands of miles to the east. Either the pretender must give up his newly acquired rank or lose his US citizenship.

The offending individual is Aleksander Einseln, a retired colonel of the United States Army and former adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A natural ised American, his original homeland is Estonia. That is where he is now, preparing to take command of the 2,000- strong Estonian armed forces.

Washington is not amused and has hinted that Mr Einseln will be stripped of his American citizenship unless he declines the post. 'There are a number of grounds for losing one's citizenship,' a State Department spokesman said this week. 'One of them is taking a position with a foreign government.'

Mr Einseln might be forgiven for feeling disappointed. He may be the first American to be offered custody of an entire army but he is hardly the first East European exile in America to have returned home to help with the transition to democracy.

The most publicised case has been that of the Serbian emigre, Milan Panic, who abandoned his California home after the break- up of Yugoslavia and served a doomed, seven-month term as prime minister of the rump state that remained. After he was ousted last December, he returned to the US and is back at his business desk in California.

Before that, there was the surprisingly strong run made for the Polish presidency against Lech Walesa in 1990 by Stan islaw Tyminski, also a business entrepreneur of mixed Canadian-Peruvian nationality.

But enquire of almost any east European government, and even those of the former Soviet republics, and you will find that the numbers of Western exiles, especially Americans, in important offices run high. 'Oh yes, we have several in ministerial positions', responds a spokeswoman at the Armenian embassy in Washington. She cites Steve Tashjian, a Californian who is a state minister, one rank below that of the prime minister.

Confirming a similar trend in his country, the Latvian ambassador to the US, Ojars Kalnins, acknowledges half-way through a conversation that, until he renounced it two years ago, he too held US citizenship. 'I just felt that if I was to serve my country, I had better have its citizenship too'.

Mr Kalnins notes that there is even a retired US Marine Sergeant and Vietnam veteran, Valdis Pavlovskis, serving as Latvia's Deputy Defence Minister. Meanwhile, in elections next month, about 10 of 100 seats in parliament are expected to be won by westernised Latvians.

In Lithuania, where the former communists recently took power, the numbers of westerners in high office may be

declining. Notable among those remaining, however, is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in parliament, Dr Kazys Bobelis, a Florida Urologist.

Washington's disquiet about Mr Einseln is thought to have been spurred by mutterings from Moscow. Even a personal letter from Estonia's President, Lennart Meri, to Mr Clinton has apparently failed to soften the State Department's stance. As to which Mr Einseln will sacrifice - his new post or his US citizenship - he said this week that he remains, as yet, undecided.