Advocacy

EANC Meets with Clinton Foreign Policy Staff

Estonian American National Council representatives joined Central and East European colleagues for a meeting with advisors to the Clinton campaign, including Secretary Madeleine Albright, on Thursday, September 8th.  This was the third in a series of meetings the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) has been pursuing with the campaigns of presidential candidates from all parties and our second meeting with Hillary Clinton’s staff.  We met with Secretary Albright and other advisors in June, Independent candidate Evan McMullin earlier in September, and have made contact with officials from Donald Trump’s staff with no meeting time set at this writing.

This meeting with Clinton’s advisors was a two-way exchange of ideas and priorities for the remainder of the campaign season.  CEEC representatives affirmed the importance of continued U.S. leadership in NATO and maintaining sanctions in support of Ukraine.  There was also discussion about the need to address Russia’s information war and other forms of aggression.

Secretary Albright stressed the importance of this election and emphasized that keeping America and its needs first in mind over partisanship is the best approach to moving forward.  Most importantly, it was stressed that the most effective way to make a difference is to participate in the process and vote.

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Advocacy

EANC Meets with Presidential Candidate Evan McMullin

Estonian American National Council representatives joined Central and East European colleagues for a meeting with Independent candidate Evan McMullin on Wednesday, September 7th.  This was the second in a series of meetings the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) has been pursuing with the campaigns of presidential candidates from all parties.  We met with Clinton campaign advisor Madeleine Albright in June and have made contact with officials from Donald Trump’s staff.

McMullin announced his candidacy in early August.  He is now on the ballot in ten states and is a registered write-in in ten more.  He plans to be in one category or the other in nearly every state by election day.  His background includes work with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the Central Intelligence Agency and Goldman Sachs.  Most recently, he spent two years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser on national security issues for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference.  He resigned from this position shortly before entering the presidential race.

Much of our conversation centered around Russian aggression and U.S. leadership.  McMullin expressed strong support for maintaining relationships with European allies and robust U.S. leadership in the region and globally.  He shared his concern for Russia’s destabilizing behavior in Ukraine and beyond, stating that U.S. weakness has invited Russian aggression into Europe and the U.S.  He is in favor of stronger sanctions on Russia and setting Georgia and Ukraine on the path to NATO membership.  Calling Russia the most serious adversary to global security, McMullin sees a need for better communication to the public of the threat that Russia poses and considers

mcmullin-meeting-at-table

CEEC members discussing policy.  Clockwise from left:  Ukraine representative Michael Sawkiw; JBANC intern Alex Blums; Karin Shuey, EANC; Latvian rep Ausma Tomsevics; JBANC Director Karl Altau; candidate Evan McMullin; McMullin advisor David Adesnik.  Photo courtesy of CEEC.

Central and Eastern European-American communities as valuable voices for sharing this message.

McMullin criticized the U.S. for pulling back from its leadership role.  Our willingness to cooperate with leaders who violate our values has compromised our standing.  He called for a renewed demonstration of U.S. strengths by propagating abroad our commitment to freedom, human rights and free press.

McMullin also expressed support for positive immigration reform, strengthening trade agreements, and helping Europe diversify its energy supplies.  He believes partnerships develop and strengthen through large trading networks, efficiently generating wealth for all parties.

At the end of the meeting, McMullin informed us he was working on a foreign policy speech that he would deliver soon.  Topics would include his priorities for the Central and East European region and emphasizing as imperative the value of U.S. leadership.

 

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Advocacy

Black Ribbon Day Commemoration at Victims of Communism Memorial

EANC joined JBANC on August 23rd for their 10th commemoration of Black Ribbon Day at the Victims of Communism (VoC) Memorial.  Over 40 people attended, including representatives from five embassies – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Hungary – along with VoC staff and others who gathered to remember the consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.  The three Baltic embassies laid wreaths at the memorial and their representatives made remarks.  It was the first official event for the newly appointed Latvian ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Andris Teikmanis.

The event was a solemn reminder of how the so-called Treaty of Non-aggression secretly negated the borders of sovereign nations, leading

Three at BRD

EANC was represented by (from right):  President Marju Rink-Abel; Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey; and board member Maia Linask.  Photo courtesy of JBANC.

to World War II and the death, deportation, or displacement of hundreds of thousands.  Parallels were drawn between this period in history and current events in Georgia and Ukraine.  Speakers and audience members speculated that if more people remembered Soviet Russia’s 1939 invasions of the Baltics and their aftermath, there might be broader support for Ukraine, more substantial penalties against Russia for its incursions, and more concern over rhetoric from both sides of the Atlantic regarding the status of NATO and Baltic security.

The continuing tradition of commemorating Black Ribbon Day remains a top JBANC priority.  They have been working over the last few years to have it designated a day of public observance by Congress and presidential proclamation.  In the new administration, EANC will join JBANC’s efforts to establish official recognition of this most significant day in European history.

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Advocacy

EANC Meets with State Department

Estonian American National Council representatives joined Baltic colleagues for a briefing from the State Department’s Baltic team on Thursday, July 28th.  The Director of Nordic and Baltic Affairs, Nathaniel Dean, and Baltic desk officers Anna Martz (Estonia), James Lovell (Latvia) and Carol Werner (Lithuania), shared their insights on policy and current and upcoming events focused on U.S.-Baltic cooperation.

JBANC State meeting July 2016

EANC, JBANC and State Department representatives from left:  Karl Altau, Krista Viksnins, Tomas Sadauskas, Karin Shuey, Stan Backaitis, Marju Rink-Abel, Henry Gaidis, Nathaniel Dean, Ausma Tomsevics, Peter Blumberg, Karoline Kelder, Elizabeth Jackson, Raits Eglitis.  Photo courtesy of JBANC.

The main topics discussed were the NATO Summit last month in Warsaw, Vice President Biden’s upcoming visit to Riga, where he will meet with all three Baltic leaders, and Secretary Kerry’s recent reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to NATO.  The Secretary’s remarks are available on the State Department website (scroll down to the first question).  Mentioned also were the U.S. Brigade Combat Team that will increase U.S. presence in Europe as part of the European Reassurance Initiative.  More information is available at the Defense Department website.  U.S. troops will participate in continuous extensive training with allied forces in the region to develop seamless interoperability and cooperation in multinational operations.  Other topics included the status of the Minsk Agreement sanctions, Baltic cooperation with their non-NATO Nordic neighbors and State’s efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation.

The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) provided copies of its recent policy statement on the importance of the Baltics in NATO and the American Latvian Association (ALA) presented their statement on election campaign rhetoric.  These statements are available on the JBANC  and ALA websites.  JBANC also issued an invitation to the policy event being planned with Central and East European Coalition colleagues next month.

The meeting ended with positive reassurance that the current administration will maintain its commitment to NATO, and that consensus is strong throughout NATO on its Article V guarantees.  State is addressing the issues of Russia’s multi-layered aggression through various means.  They welcome JBANC’s and its parent organizations’ input on topics of mutual interest and look forward to another meeting later in the year.

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Advocacy

Two films on Russia’s Disinformation Campaign

I’ve recently had the chance to view two documentaries on a growing concern in U.S.-Russia relations.  Many experts agree that we’re behind the curve in addressing it and that it’s more pervasive than we want to admit.  The threat I’m referring to is the Kremlin’s sophisticated campaign to spread false information and create confusion and doubt in public opinion through the manipulation of media in the West.  The apparent goal is to divide Western alliances and bring diplomacy and economic activities back to a bilateral level, which Putin presumably prefers over conducting business with NATO and the EU.

The Master Plan is a joint Baltic production by Re:Baltica – The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism, Mistrus Media (Latvia), Monoklis (Lithuania) and Allfilm (Estonia) film studios.  The screening I attended was held by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank on Capitol Hill.  It was followed by a panel discussion with the three Baltic ambassadors to the U.S. and two of the filmmakers.  Introductory remarks by the filmmakers and the panel discussion are available for viewing at The Heritage Foundation’s website.

The approximately 50-minute film documents the Kremlin’s evolving use of revisionism Master Plan imageand propaganda starting from the end of its war in Georgia in 2008.  It shows the use of disinformation as a tool to prime Ukraine’s Russian population for the 2014 invasion and to validate Putin’s actions in the continuing occupation.  The parallel campaign in the Baltics is different since the Russian speakers there are less sympathetic to Mother Russia’s influence, but stirring doubt in the veracity of all media outlets there, both Western and Russian-funded, supports the Kremlin’s cause.  This applies also to the 100 other countries where Russia reportedly spends $100 million annually on NGOs that spread pro-Moscow messages, whether backed by truth, or more often, not.  The film features interviews with several high-profile experts on NATO, U.S. policy and Russian soft power.

The filmmakers warned us before the screening that while it wouldn’t be pleasant to watch, there was also no reason to despair; it’s a problem we know about and just need to deal with.  I have to say, I did leave the auditorium with a sense of gloom that has since been compounded by U.S. expert assessments on our lack of preparedness for such a threat.  While I don’t think Estonia is in immediate danger of a Ukraine-like invasion, I often wonder how much of the current rhetoric and unstable political climate we witness on the news is fueled by Putin’s trolls.

If the first film left me gloomy, War 2020:  Russia’s Information Aggression, by Lithuanian War 2020 imagefilmmakers Martynas Starkus and Jonas Banys , was more of an assault on my peace-loving senses.  It took a flashier, more aggressive approach to drive home a point similar to The Master Plan:  the Kremlin has far-reaching fingers that are actively promoting instability and unrest throughout the West through media manipulation.  Its interviews focus on former trolls who were in the system, realized what was going on, and then left and were brave enough to speak openly about the manipulation they witnessed.

Both films are compelling and worth the 50 minutes to an hour each to get through them.  War 2020 is available on YouTubeThe Master Plan unfortunately requires finding a place that’s screening it.  My Google searches for a schedule have been unsuccessful, but Re:Baltica’s website seems like the most likely place to check for updates.  I’ve e-mailed them for more information and will keep you posted once I hear back.

If these films motivate you to take action, related legislation currently in Congress would benefit from your support.  In the Senate, the Countering Information Warfare Act (S.2692) targets deliberate disinformation campaigns by several countries, including Russia and China, to undermine U.S. interests and Western values here and overseas.  The House has a companion bill, the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 (H.R. 5181), that centers on a comprehensive strategy to fight disinformation through an interagency approach.  A call or e-mail to your Members of Congress would raise their awareness of the issue and could prompt them to put their support behind the bills.

In any case, I recommend the films and am interested in your impressions – hope to hear from you soon!

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Advocacy

Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Roll Call of Nations

Note:  The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the positions of the EANC.

EANC joined 20 embassies and 26 other ethnic and human rights groups for the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation’s (VoC) Ninth Annual Roll Call of Nations and wreath-laying ceremony.  The event was a sobering reminder of how many countries worldwide have suffered, and are still suffering, at the hands of communist regimes.  Paul Goble, a long-time advocate for the Baltics, was honored with the foundation’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.  The Foundation holds its Roll Call annually on June 10th – the anniversary of the dedication of their memorial.

VoC Paul Goble photo

Paul Goble speaking at the Roll Call.  Photo by EANC.

Goble’s remarks at the Foundation’s reception the evening prior to the Roll Call shared ten reasons why he believes it’s still important to be anti-communist.  His full speech can be found on the VoC website (http://blog.victimsofcommunism.org/ten-reasons-why-we-must-remain-anti-communists/).

While all of Goble’s reasons to continue to carry the torch against communism were very insightful and valid today, two stood out to me as particularly relevant in the current global climate.  His fourth point stressed maintaining a clear understanding in democratic societies of what communism represents and what it doesn’t.  He brands communism as a “unique form of evil” that many people have forgotten, seeing it as just another political system among many.  They give credit to Stalin for helping to defeat Hitler while losing the significance of the number of people he killed in the process and in support of his own agenda.  At the same time, they misunderstand valid and effective forms of government, like those in the Nordic countries, as gateways to communism.  This belief contradicts the fact that most Nordic and European nations with systems more liberal than ours are NATO members, and those that aren’t are closer than ever to joining the alliance and its efforts to deter the authoritarian threat that is resurfacing from Russia.  They are in no danger of falling to communism.

Goble’s fifth point illustrates the ties between communism and the rise of Islamist extremism.  While the history is too long and complicated for me to explain, I can recognize from this speech the parallels between the existential threat of communism from the past and how its momentum has fed the Islamist movement against democracy and freedom.  Goble states that the current Islamist challenge “could not have emerged without the active help of the communists and ‘former communists’ who operate today” based on the principle that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Goble speculates that understanding this relationship may be critical “before the upsurge in Islamism leads to a resurgence of communism.”

VoC group photo

Group photo of Roll Call participants.  Photo courtesy of VoC Facebook page.

According to Goble, both of these misinterpretations of communism are fed by revisionist versions of history.  Even in the U.S., schools have portrayed communism as a system that has raised standards of living and improved lives and happiness while ignoring the infringements on freedom and human rights that go along with it.  Correcting this unbalanced view is another of his reasons to be anti-communist.

Goble ended his remarks, both at the evening event and at the Roll Call, with a story about escorting a group of visiting Estonian officials to the Lincoln Memorial in 1991.  While translating the Gettysburg Address for them into Russian, a park ranger asked if the group was from Russia.  When Goble responded that they were from Estonia, the ranger said that he had heard of the then-aspiring nation as “… just a little country that wants to be free.”  Goble and VoC continue the fight for such countries and to maintain the hard-won freedoms of those that have prevailed over communism.

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Advocacy

View from Washington Legislative Highlights

As this remarkable election cycle continues, some may find it difficult to keep track of policy issues that aren’t making the news. Gleaning the substance from a sea of distraction can be a challenge.  Whoever wins the presidential election, many members of Congress will retain their positions and be in a position to help ensure consistent support for issues that affect European security.  It’s important to keep our message on their radar and let them know there is legislation in process that matters to us.

Your action is important!

To that end, JBANC and EANC are looking for Estonian-Americans throughout the U.S. who are interested in letting our legislators know that we value security and stability in Europe.  If you feel drawn to engage in the legislative process in support of Estonia, please let us know!  Here is a link to a very short survey where you can indicate what actions you would be willing to take:  https://s.zoomerang.com/r/EANCpoliticalaction.

Shimkus visit photo

JBANC and colleagues meet with HBC co-chair Shimkus

We’ve learned during our meetings with staffers that phone calls and visits to local district offices are the most effective and noticed means of communication.  E-mails tend to get lost in overstuffed inboxes, and letters must go through thorough screening and often take weeks to reach their destinations.  That said, we appreciate your efforts in whatever form they take.   If you let us know you’re on board to act, we’ll send you the background info and talking points to help you take the next steps.  The next section will get you better acquainted with the issues that need support.

Relevant legislation currently in process

Several legislative efforts currently under consideration in Congress are relevant to European security and address Russia’s recent aggressive behavior.  Passage of the bills prior to the November elections would solidify their status.  Below are some quick highlights of the main ones, in priority order based on need for support:

Countering Information Warfare Act (S.2692) – Introduced by Senators Portman (R-OH) and Murphy (D-CT) in March. This bill targets deliberate disinformation campaigns by several countries, including Russia and China, to undermine U.S. interests and Western values here and overseas.  It seems to be getting some internal resistance in the Senate and may particularly benefit from constituent attention, especially among members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s European subcommittee.  The list of current cosponsors is posted on the www.congress.gov website.  If your Senators aren’t listed, please consider contacting them.  The Atlantic Council hosted an event where the sponsoring Senators introduced the new legislation and posted a write-up with details of the bill on the Atlantic Council’s website.

Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 (H.R. 5181) – Representatives Kinzinger (R-IL) and Lieu (D-CA) introduced this companion bill to S.2692 in early May, along with 10 additional cosponsors.  This legislation centers on a comprehensive strategy to fight disinformation through an interagency approach.  Congressman Kinzinger issued a press release with more information on his website at kinzinger.house.gov.

Stability and Democracy (STAND) for Ukraine Act (H.R. 5094) – Introduced in April by Representatives Engel (D-NY) and Kinzinger (R-IL), and supported by a bipartisan group of 28 additional members, this bill clarifies the U.S. position of non-recognition of Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, tightens sanctions on Russia, and promotes new support for Ukraine. European, Baltic and Estonian security are closely tied to events and progress in Ukraine.  The press release with more information is available at the foreignaffairs.house.gov website.

Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (S.284/H.R.624) – This bill was introduced in the Senate by Senators Cardin (D-MD) and McCain (R-AZ) and was passed in December 2015.  The original Magnitsky Act, which became law in 2012, was aimed specifically at the Russian officials responsible for the death of Kremlin critic Sergei Magnitsky.  The global bill broadens its scope to target human rights violators from any country by restricting their financial assets and freedom of movement to the U.S.  The press release issued upon its passage is on the SFRC website at www.foreign.senate.gov/press/.

The House introduced a companion bill that is still in process.  This is the one that could benefit from constituent support and that JBANC and EANC routinely follow on the Hill.  The official summary and status can be followed at www.congress.gov.

House Baltic Caucus (HBC) – While this isn’t legislation, joining the HBC is an important step your Representative can take to show support for Baltic and European security.  It was formed in 1997 as a registered caucus of the House of Representatives and has been instrumental in the passage of key legislation, from supporting membership for the Baltic States in NATO to commemorating Black Ribbon Day to remember victims of Soviet and Nazi terror.  You can learn more and check the list for your Representative’s name at the HBC website.  If yours isn’t listed, a call or e-mail from you asking him or her to join could be all it takes to strengthen the HBC’s numbers.

European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) – This funding is part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4909), which is currently in process.  It requests $3.4 for increasing U.S. military presence in Europe, largely to deter aggression from Russia.  It passed in the House on 5/18/2016 and should complete Senate consideration in the next couple of weeks.  While NDAA generally receives broad bipartisan support and is expected to pass over the summer, JBANC and EANC continue to reinforce its importance when we meet with staffers.

What to do

The bills that need attention the most are the two on information warfare, the STAND for Ukraine Act and the House Magnitsky bill.  If you want to focus your action on just one or two of the bills above, the Senate bill on countering information warfare is the best place to start.  We’ll provide a sample letter and talking points that you can use when contacting your Senator’s office.  If you contact your Representative on one of the House bills, it’s also always a good idea to ask them to join the HBC, or express thanks if they’re already a member.  Remember, it’s their job to listen to you; they want to know what you think is important.  It’s that simple!

You will likely see more about these issues and more survey questions in various contexts as we cast a wide net to learn more about our nationwide EANC community.  We want to hear your voice and facilitate your participation in the political process as much as we can if you’re willing to take action.  Please reach out to us via our website (www.estosite.org) and/or participate in our upcoming questionnaire that will appear on our website and in our newsletter.  We look forward to hearing from you!

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