Advocacy

2020 Legislative Recap

Legislation signed into law at the end of 2020 included several items relevant to the Baltic countries and the broader region.  The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (FY21 Omnibus) had provisions for funding and policy that support Baltic and European security and democracy.

Most significant was the Baltic Security Initiative (BSI) in the NDAA, which consists of just under $169 million in International Security Cooperation Programs for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  It also directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, “to submit a multi-year strategy and spend plan…describing the goals, objectives, and milestones for programs such as air defense, maritime situational awareness, ammunition, special forces, and [command and control], and the benefits of such programs for deterrence.” This strategy will also include information on the capabilities of each country, along with their financial contributions towards their own security, NATO, and programs supported by the BSI.  It establishes a formal vehicle for long-term policy planning and defense cooperation funding support that has so far been done on a year-to-year basis.  ERR News published an article on December 23, 2020 with more information on the initiative.  The NDAA also included $10 million for each Baltic nation in Foreign Military Financing, which is the largest allocation in 10 years.

On the policy front, the NDAA imposes expanded sanctions on Russia intended to prevent the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which threatens Europe’s energy independence.  It also includes sanctions on Turkey for its decision to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia.  The FY21 Omnibus bill included the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020, which recognizes the elections held in Belarus as fraudulent, sanctions Belarusian government officials who blocked the nation’s democratic transition, and provides support to local media in Belarus and its technology sector.

The Estonian American National Council has been advocating for these bills and initiatives all year, and is grateful for the support they have received in Congress and the Administration.  Please know that it is through the support and contributions of the Estonian American community that our advocacy on important security issues such as these is made possible. Your contributions help bring results, and we look forward to another successful year of advocacy and engaging our community on important issues from Washington, DC.

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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty at 70

The Embassy of the Czech Republic recently hosted an online panel discussion Radio Free Europe at 70: Its Importance Then and Now to look at the relevance of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL or the Radios) through more than 70 years of service.  The panelists were former directors of RFE/RL Tom Dine (1997-2005) and Jamie Fly (2019-2020). 

Radio Free Europe was founded in 1949 to broadcast to Soviet satellite countries, while Radio Liberty started in 1953 to target audiences in the Soviet Union. The two entities were merged in 1976.  According to Wikipedia, their purpose was – and still is – to serve as “a free pro-democratic press in countries where the ‘free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed.’”  (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Free_Europe/Radio_Liberty)

Former RFE/RL directors Tom Dine (top) and Jamie Fly.

The speakers highlighted the importance of a free press that functions independently without government influence in nations struggling to establish democracy.  RFE/RL has preserved its editorial independence through ensuring its funding source and organizational structure support it.  The speakers cited cases of foreign government complaints to the State Department over the Radios’ content and the Department has made a point of not accepting the complaints as it has no control over the stations.

After decades of operating in eastern and central Europe, RFE/RL now broadcasts in 23 nations and 27 languages across the globe.  While the post-Soviet space is still a focus, its service also includes audiences in central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  In countries where independent media is fighting to survive government control, RFE/RL content includes truly objective news and information to help citizens know their legal rights when governments exercise oppressive policies.  The Radios have found their audiences to be loyal because their listeners trust the information and know it’s objective.

Since closing operations in many post-Soviet markets, including the Baltic countries in 2004 after 29 years of service, democratic backsliding has caused RFE/RL to reestablish at least an online presence in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania.  The agency is watching other nations for similar trends and is prepared to expand again as necessary.

The panelists noted that as long as the Kremlin is misbehaving and China remains a growing irritant to Western values, there will be interest in RFE/RL continuing its mission.  As witnessed in the backsliding nations mentioned above, post-Soviet democracy is not fully established, and the Radios’ work will likely be relevant for decades to come.

The full video of the 60-minute event is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQR-o-T_2zw&feature=youtu.be.

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EANC Meeting with United States Embassy in Tallinn

Estonian American National Council (EANC) leadership recently took part in a video conference with the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Tallinn, Brian Roraff.  EANC President Marju Rink-Abel and Vice President Mai-Liis Bartling represented EANC, with Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey and Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) Managing Director Karl Altau also participating in the call.  Chargé Roraff has been in his post as the acting chief of mission since July 2019.

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Tallinn, Brian Roraff (Official U.S. Department of State photo. Used with permission.)

Topics of discussion included the Three Seas Summit that was held in Tallinn in October 2020; Estonia’s work as a member of the United Nations Security Council; growing cooperation between Estonia and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support democratic governance, human rights, and  digital development in Eastern Europe and Africa; defense cooperation, both bilaterally and through NATO; recent visits by U.S. officials; and how the embassy’s work and programs have had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.  More information on many of these topics is available in the News and Events section of the embassy’s website at ee.usembassy.gov.  

EANC briefed the embassy on the Estonian government’s program under the Minister of Population to increase cooperation with the more than 200,000 Estonians living abroad.  Goals of the program include developing language and cultural resources for the Estonian diaspora, improving consular services for Estonian citizens abroad, and better supporting Estonians seeking to return to Estonia.  The program is due to be presented to Parliament by the end of this year.  Please see siseministeerium.ee for more information.

The Chargé identified people-to-people contacts, sister city partnerships, and programs through the Estonian government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the foundation for the solid relationship the two countries share.  He also confirmed that military exercises and training continue and have not been substantively impacted by COVID.  Chargé Roraff emphasized that the United States and Estonia have developed an important partnership on many levels for over two decades that will only continue and deepen in the future. 

EANC will continue its contacts with the Department of State and Embassy Tallinn on these topics and will keep the Estonian community in the U.S. informed of updates.

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Biden Campaign Responds to CEEC Questionnaire

Earlier in October, the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) sent policy questions relating to the interests of its member organizations’ constituents to both the Trump and Biden campaign staffs.  Topics included the current situation in Belarus, the role of the United States in NATO, U.S. relations with Russia, the Kremlin’s disinformation and hybrid warfare operations, and more. 

To date, the Biden campaign has submitted its response, which is printed below and available on the CEEC website at ceecoalition.us.  Publication of the response here in no way constitutes an endorsement of Vice President Biden’s candidacy.  The information is provided strictly as a tool for readers to assess Biden’s policy views on the topics addressed.  The Trump campaign’s response will be published promptly upon receipt. 

For more background on the questionnaire, please see last week’s post or the EANC website at www.estosite.org/ceec-sends-questionnaire-to-presidential-candidates.  More information on the CEEC is available at ceecoalition.us.

Central and East European Coalition Questions for the 2020 Presidential Candidates

Biden Campaign Response

The Central and East European Coalition is comprised of 18 national membership organizations that represent more than 22 million Americans of Central and Eastern European (CEE) descent. As we represent communities in the United States with heritage from countries that neighbor Russia, our constituents have a vested interest not only in U.S. relations with central and eastern Europe, but also the U.S.-Russia relationship, and U.S. policy toward the region. Since 1996, we have sent questionnaires to candidates on a fully nonpartisan and inclusive basis.

To inform our voters on the candidates’ positions on our issues of interest, we respectfully request that the campaigns submit responses to the following questions:

1.      What is your position on the implementation of U.S. sanctions in response to the elections in Belarus and their aftermath?

As President, I will defend our values and stand with all those who share them. I stand with the people of Belarus, who are courageously demanding their democratic rights and freedoms, and I reiterate my call for Alexander Lukashenka to cease his regime’s violent repression of peaceful protesters, organize new elections open to international observers and free media, and release all political prisoners.

My administration will never shy away from standing up for democracy and human rights, and we will work with our allies and partners to speak with one voice in demanding these rights be respected. I support the expansion of U.S. sanctions on Belarusian officials and entities, in coordination with the EU and other like-minded countries, to pressure Lukashenka and his cronies to respect and honor the will of the Belarusian people. My administration will also engage with Belarusian democracy activists and expand existing support to independent media and civil society organizations working to create a more open and just Belarusian society.

2.      What are your plans for the future of U.S. commitment to NATO? Please include comments on your views of the ideal level of U.S. troop presence and capabilities in the European theater, and any withdrawals from Germany.

The American people are unquestionably safer when the United States actively leads our democratic alliances and engages in international organizations. For 70 years, NATO has been the essential foundation for transatlantic security and a force multiplier for advancing U.S. interests around the world. Today it remains vital to deterring our enemies, defending our allies and our democratic way of life, and promoting a rules-based international order. As President, I will recommit the United States to our alliances and to NATO’s bedrock principle of collective defense under Article 5.

The U.S. force posture in Europe, together with that of our allies, must be strong enough to ensure that NATO can credibly deter any adversary. It must also be able to manage crises, cooperate with partners, and deploy elsewhere if needed to defend American interests. President Trump surprised the Pentagon and our closest allies when — with no notice — he ordered U.S. forces to be drawn down from Germany. He treats many of our allies with disdain, and has erroneously said that Germany and other NATO member states “owe us a tremendous amount of money.”

As President, my decisions will be based on our national interest, not on personal vendettas. I will freeze the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Germany and the proposed Combatant Command relocations in Europe, pending a strategic review of our global force posture requirements. I will work with our allies to ensure the Alliance, and especially NATO’s eastern flank, has the capabilities needed to deter aggression and provide for the collective defense.

3.      What are your policy goals for U.S. relations with Russia? Please include any concerns you have regarding adherence, or lack thereof, to the numerous standing agreements that both nations have signed on to. Examples include: Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Helsinki Final Act of 1975, NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, and Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994.

My administration will reverse the Trump administration’s disastrous policy towards Russia and stand up to Vladimir Putin’s egregious violations of other countries’ sovereignty, territorial integrity, and borders. First, we will re-invigorate and strengthen our alliances, particularly NATO, and recommit to upholding the bedrock principle of Article 5, which holds that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” In contrast to President Trump, who has dangerously and irresponsibly questioned whether the United States would come to the defense of its allies, we will work from day one to strengthen NATO’s collective deterrence and defense capabilities.

Second, we will not hesitate to impose costs on Russia whenever it violates another country’s sovereignty, as it is currently doing in Ukraine, and the United States will rally our democratic allies and partners to present Moscow with a unified stance that imposes severe consequences for such behavior.

Third, we will marshal the democratic community of nations to work together to reduce our vulnerabilities to Russia’s malign influence — such as its disinformation, cyber, and dark money operations — so that neither Russia nor any other authoritarian power can take advantage of our open, democratic institutions to undermine us from within.

Fourth, my administration will engage Russia from a position of strength. We will work to extend the New START Treaty and negotiate a comprehensive follow-on arms control agreement that includes other types of nuclear arms, such as non-strategic nuclear weapons. My administration will also seek to work with Russia on issues where U.S. and Russian interests potentially coincide, such as non-proliferation, countering climate change in the Arctic, and fighting infectious diseases.

My administration will seek to cooperate when it is clearly in our national interest, not just to “get along,” as President Trump likes to say. Finally, my administration will reach out and promote greater interaction and people-to-people contact between Americans and Russians, and especially Russian youth, many of whom embrace democratic values and chafe at Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy.

4.      What is your position on sanctions against Russia with respect to both Ukraine and Crimea?

As Vice President, I played a leading role in building an international sanctions regime to push back against the Kremlin for its occupation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas. As President, I will make clear that those sanctions must remain in place unless and until Moscow reverses those actions, and I will reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to implement the Minsk agreements to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. If Russian intransigence continues, the United States will work with our democratic allies and partners around the globe to increase the costs of Russia’s continuing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Just as important, my administration will strengthen U.S. assistance to Ukraine, including the provision of lethal weapons, to ensure the country has the means to defend itself against Russian aggression and to support its efforts to fight corruption and build a peaceful, prosperous, Western-oriented, democratic society. And just as the United States never recognized the Baltic states as part of the Soviet Union, my administration will recognize the Crimean Peninsula as sovereign Ukrainian territory.

5.      How do you see the role of the U.S. in countering Russian hybrid warfare in the Caucasus region, including the creeping occupation of Georgia’s sovereign territory?

In Georgia, Russia has transformed its invasion forces into occupation forces, as thousands of Russian military personnel occupy approximately 20 percent of Georgian territory in the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A gradual Russian “borderization” and “creeping annexation” process has sought to expand this footprint. Russia’s hybrid warfare in places like Georgia and Ukraine is part of a larger Russian effort to undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of countries in Europe and Eurasia, stealing from them the opportunity to achieve their Euro-Atlantic integration goals.

The United States must work to counter this Russian aggression. My administration would revitalize U.S. diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict and work to address Russia’s creeping occupation. I would also work with Congress to ensure continued funding for the European Deterrence Initiative to bolster the security and defense capacity of U.S. partners such as Georgia and push back against Russia’s activities and hybrid warfare. Enhanced defense training, to include training focused on conventional territorial defense and tools to counter Russia’s use of hybrid warfare, would be a priority focus of U.S. bilateral defense assistance to Georgia.

6.      What is your stance on disinformation coming into the U.S. and the CEE nations from sources within Russia and elsewhere, and the misinformation being fed to the Russian people about the U.S. and its allies?

Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of undermining public faith in U.S. democratic processes and to boost Donald Trump’s chance of being elected. According to the U.S. Intelligence Community, Russia continues this interference to this day in the United States, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, and beyond. Make no mistake: disinformation is a threat to democracies everywhere, and my administration will make countering it a priority.

We will pursue a comprehensive response that not only involves our national security community, but works with all levels of government to build societal resilience and reduce our vulnerabilities to foreign interference. We will work with rights groups and tech companies to ensure that social media platforms are bolstering, not undermining, democracy. My administration will also coordinate with Congress to reform our campaign finance laws and create more transparency in financial markets to shine light on the illicit funding of online influence campaigns. And we will work with our allies in Europe, who are intimately familiar with the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns and their effects, to impose costs on those who seek to undermine our citizens’ democratic choice.

Finally, my campaign and my administration will never accept political dirt from a foreign government or deliberately amplify disinformation, hacked materials, or deep fakes. We will lead by example, working to restore trust in our officials and our government.

7.      How would you characterize the effect of the Putin regime’s policies toward central and eastern Europe on U.S. national interests? Are there Kremlin policies that you consider to be contrary to strengthening democracy, human rights, and stability in the region?

The United States has long pursued the goal of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace,” because we know that our security and prosperity are tied to that of our European allies and partners. Unfortunately, Russia under Vladimir Putin has sought to weaken and divide Europe, whether via outright aggression in Ukraine and Georgia, or through hybrid tactics such as disinformation and election interference, cyber attacks, weaponized corruption, and assassinations. Through these efforts, Russia seeks to undermine European unity, democratic institutions, and multilateral organizations like the EU and NATO. Russia also seeks to destabilize its neighbors politically, economically, and militarily to keep them dependent on Russia and prevent them from pursuing the economic and security arrangements of their choosing, particularly if that choice is to join the EU and NATO.

A Biden-Harris administration will stand with our European allies and partners against Russian aggression and malign behavior. Just as it has since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States will support the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of our European allies and partners and work to bolster democracy and respect for human rights. And for those that aspire to join the EU and/or NATO, the United States will support those aspirations and the reforms necessary to achieve those goals. Just as important, we will work with our European allies and partners to strengthen and build the resilience of our democratic institutions, while remaining ready to impose costs on Russia for future malign behaviors.

8.      Considering the Kremlin’s long history of using gas and oil as a means of political and economic pressure, what is your position on U.S. assistance to ensure energy security and independence in the CEE region, to include working to end the Nord Stream 2 project, and supporting the Three Seas Initiative?

The United States has a tremendous stake in Europe’s energy security. It is important that U.S. allies, including in Central and Eastern Europe, are not dependent on any single actor, especially malign actors, for their energy. I believe that Nord Stream 2 is detrimental to European energy security, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

I strongly support efforts to ensure a competitive and transparent energy market in Central and Eastern Europe to force Gazprom to act competitively. These efforts should include working with European partners, including Germany, to diversify energy supplies to Central and Eastern Europe. My administration will also work with the

Three Seas Initiative to support North-South infrastructure development. In addition, we will urge cooperation to promote clean energy options to reduce dependence on gas, helping the environment while at the same reducing dependence on Russian energy.

I fully support Ukraine’s efforts to rid itself of corruption and to reform its energy sector. A transparent and competitive energy sector is important to ensure that Ukraine remains free. It is imperative that Gazprom comply with its new gas agreement with Ukraine.

CEEC member organizations:

American Hungarian Federation • American Latvian Association in the U.S. • Armenian Assembly of America • Belarusan American Association • Bulgarian Institute for Research and Analysis • Congress of Romanian Americans • Washington Chapter Czechoslovak National Council of America • Estonian American National Council • Georgian Association in the USA • Hungarian American Coalition • Joint Baltic American National Committee • Lithuanian American Council • Lithuanian American Community • National Federation of American Hungarians • Polish American Congress • Slovak League of America • Ukrainian Congress Committee of America • Ukrainian National Association

ceecoalition.us | 1612 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20006 | ceecoalition@gmail.com

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CEEC Sends Questionnaire to Presidential Candidates

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) recently prepared and sent its questionnaire for the 2020 Presidential candidates to both the Trump and Biden campaigns.  The CEEC has been sending questionnaires on our issues of interest to candidates on a nonpartisan and fully inclusive basis since the 1996 Presidential election.  The coalition was founded in 1994 and represents over 22 million American voters, and the Estonian American National Council is an original member.  The questionnaire, and the campaigns’ responses, serve as a useful tool for our constituents to assess the candidates’ positions on policy matters that impact U.S. relations with the CEE region, NATO, Europe, and the transatlantic partnership.

The questionnaire included a request for forwarding to the campaigns’ foreign policy staffs with a one week response time.   Once responses are received, they will be published to CEEC member communities for consideration as constituents determine their candidate of choice.  In the meantime, readers are encouraged to use these questions as a tool in contacting and evaluating local races between candidates running for House and Senate seats.  Please stay tuned here for any responses received from the Presidential campaigns in the coming weeks.

Central and East European Coalition Questions for the 2020 Presidential Candidates

The Central and East European Coalition is comprised of 18 national membership organizations that represent more than 22 million Americans of Central and Eastern European (CEE) descent. As we represent communities in the United States with heritage from countries that neighbor Russia, our constituents have a vested interest not only in U.S. relations with central and eastern Europe, but also the U.S.-Russia relationship, and U.S. policy toward the region. Since 1996, we have sent questionnaires to candidates on a fully nonpartisan and inclusive basis.

To inform our voters on the candidates’ positions on our issues of interest, we respectfully request that the campaigns submit responses to the following questions:

  1. What is your position on the implementation of U.S. sanctions in response to the elections in Belarus and their aftermath?
  2. What are your plans for the future of U.S. commitment to NATO?  Please include comments on your views of the ideal level of U.S. troop presence and capabilities in the European theater, and any withdrawals from Germany.
  3. What are your policy goals for U.S. relations with Russia?  Please include any concerns you have regarding adherence, or lack thereof, to the numerous standing agreements that both nations have signed on to.  Examples include:  Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Helsinki Final Act of 1975, NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, and Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994.
  4. What is your position on sanctions against Russia with respect to both Ukraine and Crimea? 
  5. How do you see the role of the U.S. in countering Russian hybrid warfare in the Caucasus region, including the creeping occupation of Georgia’s sovereign territory?
  6. What is your stance on disinformation coming into the U.S. and the CEE nations from sources within Russia and elsewhere, and the misinformation being fed to the Russian people about the U.S. and its allies?
  7. How would you characterize the effect of the Putin regime’s policies toward central and eastern Europe on U.S. national interests?  Are there Kremlin policies that you consider to be contrary to strengthening democracy, human rights, and stability in the region?
  8. Considering the Kremlin’s long history of using gas and oil as a means of political and economic pressure, what is your position on U.S. assistance to ensure energy security and independence in the CEE region, to include working to end the Nord Stream 2 project, and supporting the Three Seas Initiative?
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JBANC – Baltic Embassies Meeting

On October 7th, the embassies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) held their first meeting since the start of the pandemic.  Under normal circumstances, the embassies and JBANC meet three to four times annually to discuss upcoming events, policy and legislative priorities, and other items of mutual interest.  This meeting was virtual for the first time and set a good precedent for future virtual meetings.  The meeting was hosted by Ambassador of Latvia Māris Selga, and participants included Ambassador Jonatan Vseviov of Estonia, Estonian American National Council (EANC) president Marju Rink-Abel, EANC’s Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey, and a total of over 20 representatives from the three Baltic embassies, JBANC, and JBANC’s parent organizations.

The upcoming elections in the United States and legislative priorities for the remainder of the 116th Congress were a main topic of discussion.  The embassies and JBANC agreed that we need to remain engaged with Congress to advocate for security cooperation funding for the Baltic nations in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act and Appropriations bills.  All parties will also be keeping a close eye on House and Senate races for any turnover in membership of the House Baltic Caucus (HBC) and Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus.  Representative Don Bacon (R-NE) is slated to take over the role of HBC co-chair from Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) when Representative Shimkus retires at the end of this term.  Representative Bacon is facing a tight race, so if he is not reelected, a different Republican co-chair will have to be identified.  Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) will likely remain the caucus’s Democratic co-chair.

The Three Seas Initiative (3SI) summit, taking place in Tallinn on October 19th, was also discussed.  3SI is a forum designed to promote cooperation among its twelve member nations and their partners.  Its goals include facilitating cooperative development of energy, transportation, and digital infrastructure; fostering economic growth in the region; ensuring energy security; and bolstering transatlantic cooperation.  Summits have been held annually since 2016.  Though no in-person U.S. representation is confirmed at this time, Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Energy Brouillette are possibilities to address the forum virtually.  More information is available at 3seas.eu.

Meeting participants also began planning for a Baltic advocacy event next year.  Baltic Advocacy Days 2021 will be organized for the March-April timeframe and will focus on facilitating constituent engagement with their Senators and Representatives on active legislation that impacts Baltic, European, and transatlantic security and policy.  The meetings will be in-person and/or virtual depending on what circumstances at the time allow.  EANC will provide details as planning progresses.  In the meantime, please mark your calendars with a reminder to speak up for Estonia next spring.

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EANC Legislation of Interest

While Congress enters its pre-election recess, the Estonian American National Council (EANC) will stay in touch with Congressional staffers to ensure issues important to Estonian Americans aren’t forgotten as the elections become the focus of attention.  EANC actively advocates with Congressional offices to express support for legislation that impacts the security of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and the broader European and transatlantic region.  We work closely with our sister organizations representing diaspora communities from the Baltic and central and eastern European countries through the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and Central and East European Coalition (CEEC).  The legislation listed below is taken from the CEEC’s quarterly policy update and the accompanying supported legislation list that we share with our contacts in Congress and use as a basis for our advocacy.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) S.4049/H.R.6395:  This is a huge annual bill that includes sections relevant to Estonia.  One part addresses the issue of proposed troop withdrawals from Germany – the House version includes language that would restrict the use of 2021 funds for realigning U.S. forces in Germany, while the Senate version does not at this point.  EANC, the JBANC, CEEC, and their member organizations strongly support the inclusion of that language in the Senate NDAA and its preservation in the final version.  Our main concern is the risk to Baltic, and broader transatlantic, security that the withdrawal would pose.  EANC is in direct contact with Senate and House Armed Services Committee leadership offices to ensure the troop withdrawal issue stays on their radar as the bill continues through its process to becoming law.  The bill also contains $11.4 million in Foreign Military Financing for each Baltic nation and a $150 million Baltic Security Initiative to enhance U.S.-Baltic security cooperation.

Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2019 (DASKAA) S.482:  Russian military actions against Ukraine, belligerence against the U.S. and its allies, and Russian government disinformation campaigns leading to electoral tampering have been noted by U.S. government officials as the primary geo-strategic challenge facing our foreign policy.  The CEEC advocates for a tougher stance that targets the multiple aggressive approaches taken by Russia, particularly against Ukraine and Georgia, whose territories continue to be occupied by regular Russian and irregular troops.  We condemn extrajudicial and transnational assassination attempts and poisonings of Kremlin opponents, including the recent attack on Alexei Navalny.  Implementation of DASKAA would carry 2017 sanctions legislation further to include sanctioning additional individuals, banks, and institutions, and strengthening banking regulations in order to maximize the economic impact of the sanctions. 

Cyber Diplomacy Act of 2019 H.R.739:  Cyberspace continues to grow as a platform for malign influence by adversaries to the U.S., Europe, and western democracy as a whole.  This act creates a U.S. international cyber policy that advances democratic principles and rejects attempts by Russia and China to extort more control and censorship over the internet.  As stated by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX), it “elevates the State Department’s role in setting international cyber policy and strengthens our diplomatic tools.  By working with our foreign partners, this bipartisan legislation will globally promote a vibrant digital economy, multi-stakeholder Internet governance, and freedom online.”  EANC, JBANC, and the CEEC member organizations fully support a free and secure internet in the interest of protecting democracy and democratic values worldwide.

House and Senate resolutions supporting democracy in Belarus H.Res.1111/S.Res.689:  The fraudulent elections in Belarus held on August 9, 2020, and the ensuing violent crackdown against unarmed and peaceful protesters throughout the country are a threat to democracy in Europe and beyond.  The House resolution supports the people of Belarus and their democratic aspirations and condemns the election rigging and subsequent violent crackdowns on peaceful protestors by the Government of the Republic of Belarus. The Senate resolution condemns the crackdown on peaceful protestors in Belarus and calls for the imposition of sanctions on responsible officials.

House resolution Expressing support of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) H.Res.672:  3SI is a forum of twelve European Union member nations situated along a north–south axis from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea in central and eastern Europe.  It aims to create a regional dialogue on issues affecting its members, including economic, infrastructure, transportation, and communications questions.  Programs like 3SI bolster integration, increase U.S. influence, and deflect the Kremlin’s influence in the region.  Better north-south connections and economic ties would help secure independence for the nations that are currently still dependent on Russia for some resources.  Estonia is hosting this year’s Three Seas Summit on October 19th and the House has a good chance of passing this resolution before then thanks to efforts by EANC, JBANC and the CEEC over the last year.  The CEEC sent a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee leadership on September 23rd reaffirming our support for 3SI and received a thank you from Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who introduced the legislation, for our “critical support” and “great timing.”

House and Senate resolutions urging the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline H.Res.116/S.Res.27:  Nord Stream 2 (NS2) is a pipeline that would give Russia greater political leverage over countries dependent on Russian gas.  The pipeline is in direct contravention of U.S. security interests and the EU’s own policy objective to diversify energy sources, and yet it is supported by Germany and is being built by Gazprom, Russia’s state-sponsored enterprise.  We commend U.S. sanctions that have delayed NS2 completion until late 2020 or early 2021 and call for U.S. leadership in ensuring the project is ended.

EANC will track these bills and resolutions until the 116th Congress ends on January 3rd, 2021.  We welcome constituent support and invite readers to contact their Senators and Representative on any of the legislation covered here.  If you have questions about reaching out to Congressional offices, or would like more background or support for your call or email, please contact our Washington, DC Director, Karin Shuey, at karinshueyeanc@gmail.com.

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CEEC Online Event Recap

Resilience and Russian Interference: Neutralizing the Kremlin’s Campaign to Dismantle Democracy

On September 18th, the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) held a virtual policy discussion on the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns, Putin’s recent attempts at revisionism, their role in the changing political landscape, and implications for upcoming elections. Panelists explored effective counter-narratives to fight back on multiple levels, including in the political, economic, and military spheres, and how the Three Seas Initiative should be a positive factor in this challenge. As an active member in the CEEC, the Estonian American National Council’s Washington, DC Director played a large role in organizing and executing the successful and well-received event.

Panel members were:  Ambassador William Courtney, currently an adjunct senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, following a distinguished career in the foreign service, senior foreign policy positions, and the private sector; Lieutenant General (Retired) Ben Hodges, Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Analysis (CEPA), and former Commanding General, U.S. Army Europe (2014-2017); Mr. David Kramer, Senior Fellow in Florida International University’s Václav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy, with former senior positions at The McCain Institute, Freedom House, the German Marshall Fund, and  the Department of State, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus affairs); and Mr. Viktoras Daukšas, head of Debunk.EU, an independent technology think tank and non-governmental organization that researches disinformation and runs educational media literacy campaigns.  The event was moderated by Mr. Michael Sawkiw, Vice President of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and Director of the Ukrainian National Information Service.

Clockwise from top left:  Moderator Michael Sawkiw, LTG (Retired) Ben Hodges, Mr. Viktoras Daukšas, Ambassador William Courtney, Mr. David Kramer.

Ambassador Courtney provided context for the discussion by reminding us that Russia and the Soviet Union have a long history of using active measures “as a low-cost or asymmetric weapon…to suppress freedom…” and drew parallels to the Kremlin’s current use of disinformation.  General Hodges framed the problem in terms of diplomacy, information, military and economic, or DIME, as the four main types of power that nations and alliances can exercise.  He praised Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for setting examples of “political courage, but also the way that they have put their voices together…to raise attention in Washington, and also in Brussels, to the threats and why that area is important.” 

Mr. Kramer began by recognizing the Putin regime “as an existential threat…to its own people…to its neighbors…and the United States.”  He cited the recent poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the 2007 cyber attack on Estonia, the invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, and the FBI’s recent report on election interference and efforts to sow division and discord in the U.S. as examples.  He cited agents of disinformation, such as RT and Cегодня as “tools in the Kremlin’s propaganda campaign…trying to create chaos, sow dissention and feed distrust in the countries where they are broadcast” and called on our political leaders to commit to facts and science-based analysis to protect ourselves from political manipulation.  He also noted that while successful democracies along its borders would be in Russia’s best interest as a nation, they are a threat to the system that Putin has established in Russia.

Mr. Daukšas shared Debunk EU’s processes in discrediting disinformation, and analysis of disinformation vs. debunking in terms of scales of cost, showing that engaging in disinformation is much cheaper than exposing it.  He presented information campaigns against the Defender 2020 U.S.-led multinational military exercise, and Coronavirus media coverage, as examples of topics that Debunk EU has studied. He acknowledged that many organizations are working on the problem, with more competition than cooperation among them.  Better communication and coordination, along with automation of their processes, would help make their work more effective. 

Top disinformation narratives targeting Defender 2020 as found by Debunk EU.

Questions and discussion addressed topics including State Department resources for combatting disinformation, the low rate of prosecution of agents of disinformation, what constituent organizations and individuals can do to help, the political situation in Belarus, the Three Seas Initiative as an alternative for countries that still rely on Russia for resources, and a recommendation for the women of Belarus for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Full video of the event and links to the speakers’ biographies are available on the CEEC website at ceecoalition.us.  The video is also posted on YouTube.   The next CEEC online policy event will take place on September 30th on the topic of political unrest in Belarus.  This upcoming event was requested by offices in Congress to help inform their legislative efforts in support of democracy there.  More information will be posted on the CEEC website and in social media as it becomes available.

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Advocacy

Estonian Americans Support Belarus

Estonian Americans in several communities came out to show their support for the ongoing fight for democracy in Belarus.  Socially-distanced, COVID-aware rallies have been held across the U.S. in recent weeks as outrage over disputed elections and demand for change continue in Minsk and beyond.  In addition to Washington, DC, Estonian communities supported events in New York City and Lakewood, NJ.

The Estonian American National Council’s (EANC) Washington, DC Director, Karin Shuey, offered supportive remarks at two events in the nation’s capital.  On August 23rd, over 200 supporters of Belarus gathered at the Embassy of Lithuania and then created a Baltic Way-like human chain stretching toward the Embassy of Belarus, about a mile away.  The participants stood in solidarity with a chain organized in Lithuania, dubbed Freedom Way, taking place at the same time, that stretched from Vilnius to the country’s border with Belarus.  According to euronews.com, 50,000 people took part in that event.  The Baltic Way’s anniversary date was chosen intentionally as a symbol of hope that freedom will flourish in Belarus as it did in the Baltic nations.

Members of the Washington, DC Estonian community show their support.

The Freedom Way DC event was organized by the local Lithuanian and Belarusian communities, with high-level leadership by Ambassadors Kurt Volker (former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations) and John Herbst (former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine).  Other notable participants included Ambassador Daniel Fried (former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and Ambassador to Poland), Ian Brzezinski (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy), and Damon Wilson (Former Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council). 

On August 12th, a rally was organized by Belarusian community leaders on Black Lives Matter Plaza.  It was attended by over 100 Belarusian Americans and friends of Belarus.

Lining up from the Embassy of Lithuania toward the Embassy of Belarus

At both events, Karin represented EANC, the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), and the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC).  She stressed that Belarus is not alone in its fight for democracy.  EANC, JBANC, and the other member organizations of the CEEC represent over 20 million American voters with heritage from those parts of Europe and make regular contact with Congressional offices to raise awareness of issues important to our communities.  Supporting freedom in Belarus is currently at the top of the CEEC’s list.  Belarus is at a pivotal moment in its history, similar to where many European nations were in 1989, and Americans with roots in those nations want democracy in Belarus to succeed.  JBANC and the CEEC issued statements that are posted at jbanc.org and ceecoalition.us, respectively.

EANC will continue to advocate for new elections in Belarus and sanctions against those who participated in election fraud or human rights violations.  We thank all who have taken part in rallies and advocacy on Belarus’s behalf.

Жыве Беларусь!  Žyvie Bielarus’!  Elagu Valgevene!  Long live Belarus!

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Advocacy

Updates on 2021 Defense Funding for the Baltic Nations

The Estonian American National Council (EANC) is tracking several bills in process in Congress that include significant funding for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  The House and Senate passed their versions of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) in late July, while the House has also released its State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS) and Defense Appropriations bills.

Estonia’s purchase last month of 92 Javelin missiles through the US European Command Assistance Program is an example of the kind of programs these bills fund.  Source: Eesti Kaitsevägi/Estonian Defense Forces/mil.ee

The Senate report accompanying its version of the NDAA included language commending the Baltic countries on meeting the 2% of GDP benchmark for defense spending, investing in capabilities to deter and resist the Kremlin’s aggression, and improving their coordination on defense requirements and procurement.  At the same time, the report recognized that each nation’s security requirements will likely exceed the resources their defense budgets can provide and called for a joint study by the Secretaries of Defense and State to assess the three nations’ military requirements.  The study should address their needs,

“to deter and resist aggression by the Russian Federation and to report to the Congress on the results of that assessment. The committee underscores the importance of this assessment, which is intended to provide a substantive foundation for expanded defense cooperation between the United States and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania…”

The 650-page Senate Report 116-236 identifies defense cooperation with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in its Items of Special Interest section, starting on page 307.  The due date for the study is August 15th and EANC will report on its findings once they’re made public.

The House SFOPS bill includes $11.4 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds for each Baltic nation.  This is a $3.4 million increase over last year and the highest level the countries have seen since the program started in the early 1990s.

House Report 116-453 with verbiage on the Baltic Security Initiative

The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee recommends “$150,000,000 for International Security Cooperation Programs with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania through the Baltic Security Initiative (BSI), including $50,000,000 to enhance the integrated air defense of such countries.”  The recommendation also calls for the Secretary of Defense to submit a strategy for the BSI before the funds will be obligated.  The full report is available at appropriations.house.gov under Defense Subcommittee, Legislation, and FY2021 Filed Report – 116-453.  The BSI is discussed at the bottom of page 111.  EANC advocated for the initiative earlier this year and we’re happy to see it getting some attention.

It will likely still be a while before any of these bills are signed into law.  Congress currently has more immediate concerns such as this year’s elections and finding agreement on COVID-19 relief legislation, which will likely take priority in the coming weeks.  It’s not unusual for NDAA legislation to be finalized as late as November or December.  EANC will continue to follow developments and keep our readers informed.

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