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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Uncategorized

CEEC Hosts Successful Policy Forum on NATO

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC; www.ceecoalition.us) hosted a timely and substantive event on Wednesday, April 19, to discuss the topic “NATO Stance on Russia:  Vision or Reaction?”  The keynote speaker was Dr. Michael Carpenter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, who gave the Pentagon’s view of recent events and U.S. actions in response.  He was followed by a panel of three additional distinguished experts:  Ambassador Kurt Volker, former U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO; Lithuanian Deputy Chief of Mission Mindaugas Zickus; and Damian Murphy, Senior Professional Staff Member, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SFRC).  Welcoming remarks by Estonian American National Council President Marju Rink-Abel and moderation and closing by Mamuka Tsereteli of the Georgian Association in the U.S.A. rounded out the event.

Marju, Carpenter, Mamuka
Mrs. Rink-Abel, Dr. Carpenter and Mr. Tsereteli (photos courtesy of JBANC)

A major theme of the discussion characterized Russia’s increasing aggression since 2008 not as just regional conflict but as a fundamental assault on the post-World War II international order.  The Kremlin’s propaganda campaign justifies its aggression by claiming that NATO has broken its promises to not pursue enlargement and is in the process of aggressively encircling Russia.  This therefore poses a serious threat that Russia is justified in defending in the interest of its citizens.  Claiming increased repression of those citizens is also part of the misinformation campaign.  In reality, no commitments were ever made by NATO on enlargement or deploying forces to new members’ territory. The nations that have joined NATO have done so voluntarily, according to their security interests and the NATO accession process.  Given that “[for Putin], it is not borders and state territories that matter, but people’s fortunes,”1 the panelists agreed that the West needs to push back in the face of Russia’s disregard of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The seriousness with which the U.S. is responding to Russia’s actions is demonstrated by a four-fold increase over last year in President Obama’s request for 2017 European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funding.  This annual request that started with the 2015 budget has received broad and deep bipartisan support in both houses of Congress and is expected to pass again this year.  ERI funding aims to ensure effective deterrence and defense of all allies.  It was noted more than once that the initiative’s emphasis is shifting from reassurance to deterrence.  The request includes funds to reconfigure NATO’s institutions to meet current threats, increase investments in infrastructure to support rapid reinforcement in response to threats from the east, and bolster the resilience of non-NATO partners.  Details of the request are available at this White House link.  Discussions at the NATO Warsaw Summit in July will include “NATO-izing” ERI, presumably to encourage other allies to develop parallel budget requests.

Leading up to the Warsaw summit, Congress will be engaged in debates on the composition of forces and equipment that will be funded by ERI.  Hearings will be scheduled to scrutinize the final details of the package and to amend the NATO treaty to allow for the accession of Montenegro.  CEEC members will no doubt be paying attention and participating in any open sessions that are announced.

The U.S. is also looking at other ways to help our partners as Russia makes efforts to influence European policy and politics.  Hearings with allied officials and visits to Europe by congress members and staffers keep the dialog on issues and priorities open.  ERI is the biggest piece of legislation on this year’s docket and our European partners have conveyed a clear sense of urgency for its passage.  The SFRC is also digging into options for countering Russian propaganda through Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other outlets here and in Europe.  Protecting human rights through implementation of the Magnitsky Act, supporting the adoption of a global version of the act, and other anti-corruption efforts are another central focus of the committee.  Please see the Magnitsky Act Wikipedia page for more information.

Panelists

Panelists DCM Zickus, Ambassador Volker and Mr. Murphy with moderator

 

Some areas were mentioned where more could be done.  There was a recommendation for NATO to engage as an alliance in ongoing wars – specifically in Ukraine, Georgia, Libya and Syria – under the hypothesis that failure to engage weakens the effectiveness of the alliance’s deterrence efforts.  There was disagreement on whether NATO needs to publish Russia’s specific violations.  Because there is no consensus on this matter, some feel that it is important to maintain unity in the alliance rather than reopen the issue. However, not doing so may lead to a perception of NATO as passive and reactive, and call into question its commitment to Article 5.  The point was also made that the U.S. is learning some steep lessons on electronic warfare (EW).  Russia has been developing world-class technology that poses a challenge to our counter-EW capability.  Through the wars in Ukraine and Syria, we are gaining a better understanding of Russian EW tactics to disrupt our battlefield communications, which will help us improve our capabilities for the future.

The speakers agreed that NATO’s goal remains to cooperate peacefully with Russia; a return to the terms of the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 would be welcome.  It is Russia’s actions that have nullified those terms, at least for the time being, and NATO’s response has been defensive and proportionate.  The sanctions imposed by member nations are having the desired effect and are strengthened by trans-Atlantic solidarity.  Loss of solidarity would undermine their effectiveness and is a concern when the EU reviews its continued support in June, even as the U.S. is looking for ways to increase the sanctions from our side.  The audience was also reminded that Russia has never shown an interest in cooperating with NATO and that we shouldn’t be too optimistic.

Several of the speakers commended the CEEC for its work to push through legislation supporting Ukraine last year.  Similar efforts on ERI would help keep members of Congress focused on the issue during this election year with many competing interests.  Continued CEEC activism is important in calling attention to a number of issues discussed in CEEC’s policy paper, found on the CEEC website www.ceecoalition.us.

Audience

Audience during Dr. Carpenter’s remarks

 

The forum was held in a stately paneled room in the Dirksen Senate office building and attended by over 100 friends of the central and east European region, including three ambassadors and representatives from the Department of State, 12 embassies and five Congressional offices.  Estonian Public Broadcasting and other media outlets were on hand to cover the event.

In the end, the answer to the forum’s theme probably had elements of both vision and reaction.  It is clear that we’re at this low point in U.S.-Russian relations directly because of Russia’s aggressive behavior.  NATO has been forced to react appropriately to deter further escalation.  The alliance may have a vision to get to peaceful cooperation, or at least the transparency and predictability necessary to preserve a stable international order, but that vision requires all parties to share compatible goals – a climate that does not seem to be on the horizon at the moment.  The CEEC looks forward to hosting future events to explore the alliance’s progress and inspire further support from our partners and constituents.

1 This comment from President Putin’s January interview published in BILD was referenced.  Quote here taken from http://www.businessinsider.com/vladimir-putin-interview-bild-obama-russia-us-2016-1

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Advocacy

An Estonian Advocate on the Washington Scene

Have you ever wondered what exactly goes on in our nation’s capital and how it relates to you as an Estonian-American and the issues you care about?  As the Estonian American National Council’s new Washington DC director, I’ve spent my first couple months on the job learning exactly that – and have found the process quite interesting!

This is the first of a series of updates of on the Washington scene that I will be writing, and I hope that you will find it of interest.

Kerry hearing

Secretary Kerry testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department budget

It will be posted on the Estonian American National Council’s website (www.estosite.org) and on EANC’s Facebook page.  We hope to establish a mailing list of people interested in receiving these updates.  If you are, please send your email address to erku@estosite.org.

My first challenge has been figuring out who all the players are and where they fit into the development of policy and legislation.  So far, I’ve met with people in four major areas – Congressional offices on Capitol Hill; other non-profits concerned with policy in central and eastern Europe, like the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC); think tanks, like Rand, the Atlantic Council and the Heritage Foundation; and government agencies, like the State and Defense Departments.  This might kind of sound like a review of your junior high civics class, but I’ll try to keep it specific to the process as it relates to Estonia and where you can get involved, too!

The Hill and Non-profits

Congress is where the rubber meets the road.  They pass budgets and laws, and without them, there’s no movement or direction (some may argue that there’s no movement or direction in Congress, but that’s another topic beyond my scope of coverage!).  Groups like EANC, JBANC and CEEC stay informed on issues and legislation that relate to our regions of interest and visit Congressional staffers to discuss their importance.  The staffers in turn let their Senators and Representatives know that their constituents are interested in legislation regarding the region.

Karl and me at Schiffs door

Karin with Karl Altau visiting the office of HBC co-chair Schiff

This is where constituent action can really make a difference – I’ve heard staffers say that your representatives in Congress want to hear from you!  Contacting your Congressperson directly is the best way to get your voice heard.  One of my jobs is to let you know about legislation that might be of interest and how to contact your rep.

A great place to start is with the House Baltic Caucus (HBC).  JBANC recently published a call to action for continued funding for U.S. support to the Baltics here, including a link to a sample letter you can personalize and send yourself, a link to the list of current members of the HBC, and a link where you can double-check who your representative is.  They also published a Wikipedia page on the HBC at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_Baltic_Caucus.  Please check them out!

Think tanks 

Every week it seems there’s at least one new report release or panel discussion on NATO’s readiness, Russia’s behavior, or European security.  They’re usually very interesting and thorough and provide an insightful perspective on the topics at hand.  I’ll just share couple of my favorites:

One study is about the Russian-speaking population in Estonia.  It found that an invasion similar to Russia’s advances in Ukraine is unlikely to succeed in Estonia because of the cultural differences between the two diasporas.  A synopsis is here if you don’t want to read the full 19-page report.

An Atlantic Council report looks at transatlantic security and stresses the need for our European allies to increase their defense budgets and take more responsibility for preserving their stability.  The panel discussion suggested that some European nations became complacent thanks to the peace dividend of the 1990s and have taken for granted that the U.S. would provide for their security.  Now that new challenges are arising, more equal teamwork is required to meet them.

And finally, this report from the RAND Corporation has gotten the most buzz in the last few weeks.  It’s the one that predicted through extensive war gaming scenarios that a Russian invasion of Estonia or Latvia would reach their capitals in no more than 60 hours, leaving NATO with no good options for responding.

Both of the security reports provide recommendations for meeting the shortfalls they foresee.  The piece that’s missing is analysis of how likely a Russian invasion of NATO territory really is.  While they are based in rigorous academic methods, to me, they still boil down to speculation.  One thing most experts seem to agree on is that Putin is proving to be unpredictable, strategically-minded and willing to engage in behavior that has taken the world by surprise.  Whether he actually has the audacity to test NATO’s resolve remains to (and let’s hope never will) be seen.

Government agencies

The State and Defense Departments seem to be the practical ones of the bunch.  They take in information from a wide array of sources, to include the media, think tank reports and their own governmental networks, and determine their policy priorities, which turn into budget proposals to Congress.  The State Nordic-Baltic team recognizes the value of keeping interested citizens informed and has been considerate enough to meet with JBANC representatives regularly over the years.  For summary of the last meeting, see our website:  www.estosite.org/eanc-activities/.  It’s the second article on the page.

State Dept meeting 2-19-2016

EANC, JBANC and State Department representatives discuss Baltic policy.

The government policymakers have access to information the rest of us don’t and on the topic of European security, they have expressed doubt that an attack on the Baltic States is imminent.  Their current policy reflects the need to pay attention to and deter any threats by bolstering NATO’s capabilities in Europe.  Their and the Obama administration’s answer since the events in Ukraine has been the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), which so far has received wide bipartisan support in Congress and is expected to do so again for 2017.  ERI came out of the NATO summit in Wales in 2014 and will likely be adjusted based on outcomes from the upcoming summit in Warsaw in July.  In any case, U.S. support of European security shows no signs of dwindling.  Stay tuned for updates after the Warsaw summit and in the next administration!

So, that’s my world as your representative in Washington.  It’s a lot to sort through and make sense of, and getting the hang of it will be a process.  I hope that as I figure things out, you’ll find some interesting information in my posts and share your comments and questions, which I’ll answer as well as my understanding of the issues allows.

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