Estonian Ministers Visit Washington

Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser and Minister of Defense Jüri Luik were in Washington last week for meetings with their U.S. counterparts.

Rex Tillerson,Edgars Rinkevics,Linas Antanas Linkevicius,Sven Mikser

From left, Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevicius at the State Department. (AP Photo)

Minister Mikser made a joint visit to the State Department with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts on March 5th.  They held a productive meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, where all agreed on the need to address with deeper cooperation the Kremlin’s malicious disinformation and cyber campaigns against the West.  Strategies to combat Russia’s threat to broader European security and Putin’s lack of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring nations were other important topics on their agenda.  They also discussed preparations for the Baltic summit President Trump will host in April and the July NATO summit in Brussels.  According to ERR News on March 6th, Minister Mikser highlighted the importance of  the U.S. as an ally in the Baltics, the need to strengthen the allied deterrent in the region, and hopes for progress on trade and stronger regional security as goals for the Baltic summit on April 3rd.

Minister Luik met with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on March 7th, where NATO, Russia, and cybersecurity were again main points of discussion.  Mattis’ appreciation for Estonia’s decision to support a larger NATO contingent in Afghanistan and Luik’s gratitude for continued European Deterrence Initiative funding were also emphasized.  More complete coverage of the meeting is available at ERR News for March 8th.

Luik and Mattis

Minister Luik (IRL) and Secretary Mattis in Washington. (Source: Estonian Ministry of Defence)

Minister Luik held a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a DC think tank, the following day, where he shared several insights.  He noted that there has been a mental change among NATO member nations since the 2014 and 2016 NATO summits that has led to increased defense spending among allies who had traditionally avoided it.  Estonia enjoys political consensus on its defense budget, which largely goes toward developing its self-defense capabilities and host nation support infrastructure to accommodate allied troops deployed to Estonian bases.  He observed that training in Estonia has added value to visiting British, Danish and French forces’ readiness.  Estonia offers unique forested military training grounds not found in other western European nations and that French troops have affectionately dubbed “the cold jungle.”   Minister Luik’s recommendations for improving NATO’s effectiveness in the event of conflict included better facilitating the movement of allied troops across borders, streamlining NATO’s command structure and decision-making process, strengthening nations’ political will to act if necessary, and better communication to the European public on the allies’ commitment to act as one.

EANC expects more developments on these topics as the U.S.-Baltic and NATO summits approach in the coming months.  Please follow this space for updates as U.S.-Estonian cooperation evolves.


EANC on the Road

Estonian American National Council’s Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey had the honor of addressing the Los Angeles Estonian community for their Eesti Vabariik 100 celebration on February 24th.  Their festive program at the Los Angeles Estonian House included greetings from the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and consul generals and honorary consuls resident in Los Angeles, along with songs and poems performed by the local mixed chorus and Sunday school students.  It also featured the unveiling of a plaque from the Estonian government that recognized the community for its successful execution of the XXXIII West Coast Estonian Days last summer as one of the first official EV100 events in the U.S.

After congratulating the community and reviewing some history of Estonians in Southern California, Ms. Shuey’s remarks focused on EANC’s mission, the issues tracked in Washington, and how the local community could help with Baltic advocacy.  She made an important pitch for supporting Vaba Eesti Sõna, the most enduring source of news for Estonian Americans that is facing financial difficulty. She encouraged all our readers to subscribe to either the online or print version.

LA photo w book

 EANC’s Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey addressing the Los Angeles community and sharing Estonians in America history book.

Another important priority covered by Ms. Shuey’s remarks was elections to the EANC council.  Estonian Americans throughout the U.S. are invited to run for one of fifty seats in the council membership.  EANC’s mission includes supporting Estonian American organizations that preserve and promote Estonian heritage, language and culture; and working to raise awareness of, and support for, Estonia among all Americans, and in Congress and the Administration.  Newer goals include bringing all the communities and demographics that we represent together through a new website and social media, and appealing to a broader audience with more information on topics Estonian Americans are interested in.  For anyone eager to participate in EANC’s evolving mission, the deadline to submit applications is March 31st.  More information is available at

The issues emphasized on EANC’s Washington radar include ending Russia’s occupation of Ukraine and Crimea; continued U.S. support for NATO’s presence in the Baltics and Poland; upholding democratic values and institutions in Europe; implementing the sanctions that the Administration has signed into law that punish Russia for attacking democracy in Europe and the U.S.; and enacting programs that combat Russia’s disinformation campaigns here and in Europe.  All of these issues have active legislation in the works and are items that EANC brings up when visiting members of Congress and their staff, often in conjunction with our Joint Baltic American National Committee and Central and East European Coalition colleagues.


Plaque from the Estonian government to the LA Estonian Society for successfully hosting the XXXIII West Coast Estonian Days as an EV 100 event.

Ms. Shuey also highlighted several local Representatives who are members of the House Baltic Caucus and others whose membership would be welcomed.  Just based on Members of Congress who have announced their retirements so far, the House Baltic Caucus stands to lose 10% of its membership at the end of this session.  That number could go up depending on the results of the midterm elections in November.  The HBC membership list is at  Ms. Shuey encouraged the audience to check for their Representative’s name, and if not listed, to make a call to ask that they join.

Ms. Shuey’s trip to California was the latest evidence of EANC’s efforts to give more communities first-hand information about EANC’s activities.  Over the last two years, EANC has held its annual meeting and public seminars and dinners in San Francisco and St. Petersburg, Florida.  Ms. Shuey traveled to Seattle for that community’s Independence Day program last year, and her next trip will be to Cleveland in June for their Victory Day and Midsummer commemoration.  She will be joined by EANC President Marju Rink-Abel in early June at Stanford University for a panel discussion at the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies Conference on the 100th Anniversary of Baltic Independence.

EANC values its relationships with Estonian communities throughout the U.S. and welcomes opportunities to bring its message to them.  If anyone would like a representative to come to an event in  their city to share more information and engage with community members on a more personal level, please see the EANC website at for contact information.


Senate Committee Issues Major Report on Russia’s Assault on Democracy

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) in January released a comprehensive report on Russian President Putin’s asymmetric assault on Western democracy.  The report was commissioned by then-ranking member Senator Ben Cardin.  The press release for the report, including links to the full 206-page study, is available at the SFRC website under Ranking Member’s Press for January 10, 2018.  According to the press release, the document “comes one year after Senator Cardin introduced the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, which served as the basis for the sanctions package signed into law last August, and makes a series of recommendations to adequately bolster U.S. and European defenses and counter the growing Kremlin threat to democratic institutions.”

The report includes a section dedicated to the Baltic states (starting on page 100) that outlines several aspects of the problem in the region, such as the history of Russian government influence operations, vulnerabilities, organizations carrying out the operations, and efforts to counter the Kremlin’s actions.  The study identifies five Russian objectives that focus on:  ethnic division of the populations to control and manipulate their Russian minorities; creating mistrust toward the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; undermining Western democratic values and instead promoting populism and radicalism; weakening Western alliances like NATO and the EU; and marginalizing the nations’ cultures and historical achievements so that the population will be less inclined to come to their governments’ defense.SFRC report cover

All three nations have taken action against state-sponsored Russian propaganda outlets by creating media literacy through education programs and establishing a center for professional Russian-language journalism, among other measures.  In Estonia, the government has instituted three Russian-language television stations that are watched by about 20 percent of the Russian minority population.  Even private citizens are organizing to expose disinformation in social media.

The study also credits the three nations’ intelligence services for their efforts to expose propaganda and influence networks.  Estonia’s Internal Security Service (Kaitsepolitsei or Kapo), along with its counterparts in Latvia and Lithuania, publishes annual reports of Russian intelligence activities and corresponding government responses.  The Eston Kohver case is cited as perhaps the most egregious incident in recent years.  The Estonian government holds a “zero-tolerance” policy toward illegal Russian intelligence activities and prosecutes caught operatives to the maximum extent of the law.  Their annual reporting also publicizes names of people and organizations who are suspected of working with Russian intelligence services.  Corruption, criminal circles, and areas such as the energy sector, where businesses are trying to influence state policy, are other major fields of Kapo’s concern.

The committee concluded their report with three main lessons learned.  They found that publicly reporting details of Russian intelligence activities is effective, strong cyber defenses are essential, and exposure to Western culture through exchanges and programs like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America (VOA) increases resilience.  To that end, RFE/RL-led program Current Time, in cooperation with VOA, was launched last year and is making great strides in providing balanced, spin-free Russian language news coverage over multiple platforms in Russia and nearly 30 other countries, including the Baltics.  Please see the RFE/RL press release from February 7th for details.

The report clearly highlights that Putin’s campaign against the West is relentless and will continue to evolve, and that it can be deterred.  Supporting U.S. programs to counter its effects and build resilience, at home and in unison with our European allies, is a major focus of EANC’s advocacy this year.  We will continue to follow the issue and welcome our community’s support in reaching out to Members of Congress to call for policy and action in neutralizing the Kremlin’s efforts to undermine democracy in our homeland.


EANC Meets with State Department

Estonian American National Council (EANC) representatives recently joined Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) colleagues for a briefing from the Department of State (DoS) Baltic team.  The Director of Nordic and Baltic Affairs and desk officers for Latvia and Lithuania shared their insights on policy and current and upcoming events relevant to U.S.-Baltic relationships.  Representatives from the Global Engagement Center (GEC) and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (BECA) were also present to brief us on their programs.

The meeting started by recognizing the centennial celebrations the nations are holding throughout 2018.  Each embassy has a long slate of events across the U.S. that State is facilitating to ensure their success.  The Department is also creating a pictorial display for one of their main lobbies showing the evolution of U.S.-Baltic relations over the years, highlighting significant events such as the 1940 Welles Declaration that established U.S. refusal to recognize Soviet annexation of the nations, and the U.S.-Baltic Charter of 1998 supporting the nations’ full integration into European and transatlantic structures and cooperation.

U.S. Diplomacy Center

U.S. Diplomacy Center, the planned location for the display depicting the history of U.S.-Baltic relations.  (Source:

The display will coincide with a possible Baltic summit in the works for this spring in Washington with the three Baltic presidents.  The event will likely include two half-day programs.  The White House portion will not be open to the public while the second program, featuring U.S.-Baltic business opportunities, will encourage public interaction.  The embassies are coordinating with the Department of Commerce, private entities, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to highlight the success of Baltic business in the U.S.

The GEC representative described GEC’s work to counter disinformation by engaging at local levels with governments, NGOs, schools, social and civic leaders and others.  Having learned that issuing active rebuttals to false messages is ineffective, they have shifted their focus to helping their partners establish credibility through positive messaging and building resiliency.   In the Baltic countries, they are working with local organizations and agencies to identify the key goals of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns, create media literacy among audiences, and facilitate information sharing among the countries to improve their effectiveness against the information threat.

The discussion with the BECA representatives centered around proposals to reduce the number of J-1 visas, which allow foreign citizens to come to the U.S. as students, au pairs, participants in exchange programs, short-term workers and in other temporary capacities.   Participants emphasized the importance, both to the Baltics and to the U.S. Baltic communities, of educational opportunities, internships, exchanges, and the like, that require the J-1 visa. They recommended increasing, rather than decreasing, the number of visas available.

The meeting closed out with a review of upcoming events and agreement to mutually support each other wherever possible.  All in attendance clearly shared appreciation for the milestone this year marks for Baltic independence will continue work to strengthen U.S.-Baltic relations.


U.S. Approves Sale of Arms to Ukraine

In case you missed it, shortly before Christmas, the Administration announced approval to sell lethal arms to Ukraine.  According to the Washington Post on December 23rd, the approval includes “light weapons and small arms…from commercial U.S. manufacturers” that are defensive in nature. Response to the decision so far has been mixed, with some lauding the move while others warn of increased complications in U.S.- Russia relations.  Below are summaries of some of what has been published so far to help readers assess the move for themselves.

Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Roger Wicker issued a press release at shortly after the decision.  He called it, “a good first step to give the Ukrainian people the means to defend themselves.”  Senator Wicker is also a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and is hopeful the approval will eventually extend to anti-tank weapons and other heavy arms.

A Voice of America article on December 22nd stated that a U.S. company had already been selling weapons to Ukraine since last year, having obtained an export license and working closely with the State Department and Department of Defense.  Licenses have been granted for small-scale purchases in the past on a case-by-case basis.  The article also reported that Congress has approved “$350 million in security aid for Ukraine in its most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including $47 million for defensive lethal weapons.”  Final approval is contingent on the successful completion of the 2018 budget process.

OSCE SMM monitoring weaponry Ukraine

OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) monitoring the movement of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine.  Source:  OSCE SMM to Ukraine

The Washington Post article cited above also reported that Russian officials rebuked the decision.  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated that “U.S. weapons are capable of leading to new casualties in our neighboring country, and we cannot remain indifferent to that.”

The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported on December 20th that while the approval didn’t include everything the Ukrainians had asked for, it was a significant shift in the administration’s policy.  A senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation observed that, ““The way it was not rolled out tells you something, that they are concerned about the perception of this. They are not trumpeting this as a major policy shift or signature policy priority,” presumably at least in part due to concern over how it will be received by the Kremlin.

A Ukrainian colleague of the Estonian American National Council (EANC) offered his assessment of the approval.  He indicated he was happy with the decision, but noted that the approval was for arms sales, not necessarily grants.  Without corresponding military financial aid, the Ukrainian budget would likely not allow for the purchase of the weapons.  He also observed that fighting had subsided in recent weeks and that President Putin might intend to lead the Ukrainians to believe that the weapons aren’t even necessary.

This story is clearly still developing, and many opinions have already been and will likely continue to be expressed.  EANC will continue to track it and keep its readership informed.  In the meantime, we will support our Ukrainian partners in advocating for financial aid to support the purchase of weapons and hope for a lasting resolution to the Russian occupation of their territory.


Central and East European Coalition Questions Controversial Concert

Last month, an event titled “A Concert for Unity” was held at the Washington National Cathedral.  It was billed as an invitation-only affair presented in cooperation with the Embassy of the Russian Federation.  The concert announcement listed sponsors including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, among other, less prominent non-profit organizations whose mission statements assert support for the arts, Russian culture, democracy and/or religious freedom.  The full announcement is available at wilsoncenter.orgNational Cathedral

The concert caught the attention of the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) due to the controversial background of the artists listed.  Two of the featured performers are known agents of Putin’s campaign of economic and cultural influence to promote Putin’s Russia and normalize relations with the Kremlin.  Conductor Valeri Gergiev and pianist Denis Matsuev are both on record endorsing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea, and performed in Syria while Russian warplanes were bombing Aleppo. Gergiev also performed in Georgia days after the 2008 Russian invasion, effectively endorsing ethnic cleansing of Georgians.

The CEEC considered the event an affront to the values of its member organizations and was surprised that the Kennan Institute and Kennedy Center would lend their names in support.  Washington Post reporting indicated that the event was funded by a DC socialite who has a history of promoting cultural understanding between the U.S. and Russia, and that the Kennedy Center supported the event in name only.  Even so, the CEEC has pursued the matter further by writing to three institutions – the Kennan Institute, the Kennedy Center and the National Cathedral – expressing dismay and requesting more information from the leader of each regarding their rationale for backing the event.

While the CEEC understands that the aim of the event may have been to keep politics and cultural pursuits separate, this message would have been more effective if the event’s benefactor and featured artists didn’t have clear political ties. These artists and the source of the event’s funding certainly did according to the Washington Post article linked above.

The CEEC hopes that the institutions in question will respond to its letters and will publish any pertinent updates as they are received.  The organization was established in 1994 to coordinate the efforts of ethnic organizations whose members continue to maintain strong cultural, economic, and political ties to the countries of central and eastern Europe.  It represents Americans of Armenian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian descent.  Its member organizations, including the Estonian American National Council, cooperate in calling attention to issues of mutual concern, especially regarding United States policy toward Central and East Europe.  Please see for more information.


House Baltic Caucus Celebrates 20 Years

The House Baltic Caucus (HBC) turned 20 this year and was recognized with an elegant reception on Capitol Hill attended by members of Congress, Baltic parliamentarians, embassy officials and other friends of the Baltics.  The event was organized by the embassies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), to thank caucus members for their support over the years and to welcome new members.  Distinguished participants included caucus co-chair, Representative John Shimkus (R-IL), and caucus members Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), along with Marko Mihkelson, Chairman of the Estonian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee; Solvita Āboltiņa, Chairwoman of the Latvian parliament’s National Security Committee; and Emanuelis Zingeris, Chairman, United States Caucus, Lithuanian Parliament.

HBC20 parl group - by photog

Distinguished guests from left:  Emanuelis Zingeris, John Shimkus, Solvita Āboltiņa, Marko Mihkelson, Andy Barr, Karl Altau.  Photo by Peteris Alunan.

After welcome remarks by JBANC managing director Karl Altau, Mr. Mihkelson thanked the HBC especially for its work during the process of NATO enlargement.  He noted that Estonia is not just a consumer of security but has also become a provider.  Estonian troops have been active members of many NATO deployments and are currently increasing their presence in Afghanistan.  As Russia is testing the West wherever it can, we can’t take the world order for granted and the HBC’s role will remain as important as ever.

Rep. Barr thanked the three Baltic governments for their commitment to allocating 2% of their budgets to defense and outlined areas where continued cooperation will be important.  Working together on deterrence, sanctions oversight, and pressing the Administration on the importance of energy security are key areas of focus.  He stressed that Article 5 is alive and well, and the U.S. will continue to be side by side with its allies, standing united in bipartisan, bicameral support.

Mihkelson at HBC20

Estonian Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson addressing the gathering.

Rep. Shimkus thanked the audience for remembering their ancestry and pushing their members of Congress to remain engaged in the region.  He also applauded the Baltic nations for helping their neighbors as they struggle with evolving democracies.  Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have set commendable examples for other countries that yearn to be free.

The HBC’s membership now stands at 74, with 22 of those joining in 2017, thanks at least in part to outreach by JBANC, its parent organizations, and their constituents.  EANC is proud to actively support these efforts and will continue to do so.  We also invite Estonian Americans to check the list of HBC members at and make a call to thank caucus members or ask Representatives not listed to join.  The last 20 years have shown that Congress supports the Baltic region and welcomes engagement from their Baltic-American constituents.  We look forward to the next two decades of security, stability and progress bolstered by continued strong U.S.-Baltic cooperation.