Advocacy

EANC Drafts Coalition Letter to President on Proposed Troop Withdrawal from Germany

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) sent a letter on July 15th to President Trump expressing concerns about his proposal to withdraw approximately 9000 U.S. servicemembers stationed in Germany.  Copies were also sent to the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.  The letter was drafted and signed by Estonian American National Council (EANC) Washington, DC Director, Karin Shuey.

The EANC is a founding member of the CEEC.  The coalition was established in 1994 and represents more than 20 million American voters whose heritage lies in this region.  Its member organizations cooperate in calling attention to issues of mutual concern, especially as regards United States policy toward Central and East Europe.  The CEEC regularly shares its concerns and ideas with the United States Congress and Administration. 

Please see below for the full letter.  It is also posted on the CEEC website at ceecoalition.us.  EANC encourages its community members who agree with the points in the letter to contact their Senators and Representatives on the issue.

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Advocacy

Draft Budget Bills Include Support for Baltic Security

As both chambers of Congress deliberate the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021, the Estonian American National Council (EANC) and Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) have been engaging with House and Senate staff to call attention to bipartisan Baltic Security Initiative amendments confirming U.S. support for Baltic security against Russian threats.

On July 2nd, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) agreed to S.Amdt.2168 to the NDAA, “To express the Sense of Congress on support for coordinated action to ensure the security of Baltic allies.”  The amendment was introduced on June 25th by Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus (SFBC) co-chairs Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (I-IA).  Following our outreach, five additional SFBC members signed on almost immediately before the amendment was included by unanimous consent.  They were Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).  EANC encourages constituents in those states to make a call or send a note of thanks to those offices for their early support.  Senator Durbin’s press release, along with the full text of the amendment, can be found at www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom under press releases for July 2nd.

SA2168

The Senate’s amendment to the NDAA confirming support for the security of the Baltic nations.  Source:  congress.gov

A similar amendment to the House NDAA bill is also in process, to “Confirm U.S. Support of Baltic Allies Against Russian Threats.”  It was introduced by Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Don Bacon (R-NE), both members of the House Baltic Caucus.  The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) unanimously advanced its bill on July 2nd, which includes several key provisions introduced by Rep. Gallego that address maintaining troop levels in Germany, Europe, and South Korea, support for the Baltic states, and other issues less relevant to transatlantic security.  Rep. Gallego’s press release is available at rubengallego.house.gov/media-center under press releases for July 2nd.

Both amendments are receiving solid bipartisan support.  EANC and JBANC held numerous phone calls with staff from key offices and committees to discuss the introduction of the amendments and related security assistance legislation.  Each organization also sent emails to over fifty Senate offices asking that they consider supporting their chamber’s version.  The House version differs slightly from the Senate version and these differences will need to be addressed in conference committee once Congress is back in session on July 21st.

Tanks

An example of U.S.-Estonia defense cooperation:  Estonian and U.S. soldiers conduct live-fire training during a combat exercise near Tapa, Estonia, April 6, 2017. The U.S. soldiers participated to boost the capabilities of the Estonian forces under the NATO-led Operation Atlantic Resolve. Army photo by Jason Johnston.  Source:  defense.gov

On a related note, the House Appropriations Committee released its draft Defense and State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bills for 2021 on July 7th.  The Defense bill includes $150 million for the Baltic Security Initiative as described in the amendments mentioned above.  The SFOPS bill allocates $11.4 million in foreign military financing to each Baltic nation, an increase from $8 million each last year. Other lines potentially relevant to Estonia include $173 million for the NATO Security Investment Program, which in part “will support responses to the challenges posed by Russian aggression,” and an additional $350 million in Overseas Contingency Operations funds “for military construction projects in countries with ongoing U.S. operations and the European Deterrence Initiative to combat Russian aggression.”  Please see the full press releases at appropriations.house.gov/news under press releases for July 5th and July 7th.

EANC encourages its constituents to get in touch with their Senators and Representatives to state the importance of these amendments and funding measures to sustain Baltic security and to ask their support in approving them for the final versions of the bills.

In the meantime, EANC is awaiting further action as both chambers return to work to consolidate and agree to the final version of the NDAA.   Discussions with staff indicate confidence that it will include some form of the amendments confirming U.S. commitment to Baltic security against Russian threats.  EANC will continue to stay in touch with Congressional staff and keep its readers informed on developments related to Baltic security.

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Advocacy

EANC Tracking Issues in the News

As much of the current news cycle revolves around COVID-19, several developments not related to the virus have been followed by the Estonian American National Council (EANC) in the last few weeks.  While time should provide more clarity on how they will play out, EANC is concerned about their effect on Estonia, NATO, and the broader transatlantic community, and will track them closely as more information becomes available. The backdrop of Victory Day on June 23rd provides an appropriate moment to reflect on the status of Estonia’s security and how to best protect it.  ERR News coverage of the day’s events and accompanying photo gallery offer meaningful reminders at news.err.ee.

Probably the best-defined issue is the Kremlin’s revisionist disinformation campaign

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Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Source:  vm.ee

kicking into high gear around Russia’s June 24th Victory Day parade and other World War II anniversaries.  The most significant event was the introduction of legislation in the Russian Duma that, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, would “revoke a December 24, 1989, resolution by the Soviet Union’s Supreme Council that condemned the nonaggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”  The full article is at www.rferl.org under the Russia tab’s June 19th headlines.  The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the move by expressing disapproval and summoning the Russian Ambassador to Estonia to account for the initiative.  The ministry issued a press release on June 18th at vm.ee/en/news.  The Latvian and Lithuanian governments took similar action.

The possible withdrawal of 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany proposed by the White House in early June is another issue of EANC concern.  Numerous Members of Congress from both parties, NATO leaders, and other foreign policy officials and experts have spoken out against the proposition.  To date there is not much detail available regarding when or how the withdrawal would take place.  With President Duda of Poland visiting Washington on June 24th, we expect the possibility of moving troops to Poland to be discussed at the White House and will look for news following that meeting.  While EANC supports the strongest possible U.S. presence in Europe and continued cooperation with our NATO allies to ensure transatlantic security, until more information is available, we hesitate to draw conclusions on this issue.  In the meantime, we are letting our concerns be known in Congress by speaking with relevant committee staffers and seeking to better understand the situation.

News of the Administration’s intention to possibly invite Russia to the September G7 summit is also on our radar.  Russia was expelled from the group in 2014 after its invasion of Crimea, an act that the forum condemned in its March 2, 2014 Statement by G7 Nations.  This statement reads in part:

We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, join together today to condemn the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine…

We note that Russia’s actions in Ukraine also contravene the principles and values on which the G7 and the G8 operate. As such, we have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G8 is able to have meaningful discussion.

Russia has not met the conditions identified for meaningful discussion or reinstatement to the forum.  G7 member nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany have spoken out against the invitation.  This is another case EANC will follow and issue updates as more information becomes available.

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Russian fighter jets similar to those committing airspace violations last week.  Source: news.err.ee

Finally, Russian military aircraft continue to violate Estonian airspace, with five incursions in the third week of June alone.  For more details, please see news.err.ee for June 22nd.  This persistent behavior remains a steady reminder that the Kremlin can demonstrate its lack of regard for national sovereignty via a spectrum of tactics, from blatant seizure of territory to these subtle violations in the air.

EANC will remain current on all of the issues above as they develop and will keep our readers informed.  Please follow our Facebook page and check www.estosite.org for the latest updates.

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Estonia’s COVID-19 Response and Attention-Getting Cyber Policies

Recent virtual events have highlighted Estonia’s approach to dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and how Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania plan to implement policy as the world shifts to its new normal.  President Kersti Kaljulaid was featured in two events that focused on Estonia’s resilience, along with its use of cyber expertise and its current United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seat to raise cyber awareness and offer unique solutions to challenges posed by the global crisis.  Two other events featured Estonian experts discussing cyber threats that are capitalizing on the ripe environment for disinformation and the pandemic’s implications for democracy and governance moving forward.

President Kaljulaid discussing Estonian Coronavirus policy at CEPA. Photo source:  cepa.org

The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) held a conversation with President Kaljulaid on May 7th that delved into how Estonia’s established system of e-governance and high level of trust between the government and public facilitated their rapid response to the virus.  She cited their e-health system as the most important digital innovation in keeping the population safe.  When the conversation turned to Estonia’s security, President Kaljulaid noted that although some military exercises had to be cancelled or postponed, she received affirmation from NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and other allies that, “we will if necessary fight, even with the virus.” Estonia’s capabilities in combating disinformation and protecting critical infrastructure and public services, and its current leadership roles in the UNSC and the Three Seas initiative, were also discussed. 

At the event’s 16-minute point, EANC asked a question about disinformation campaigns by the Kremlin and China related to COVID-19, which prompted praise for our work from CEPA moderator Edward Lucas.  The President went on to answer that until there is a place globally where victims of disinformation or cyberattacks can complain, there is no point in bothering with attribution.  She hopes “that through our adventures on the Security Council we’ll manage to change this…The only way out of this situation in fact is taking anonymity out of the internet.”  She placed responsibility on governments to give their citizens secure internet identities.  The full 30-minute video is available at cepa.org/past-events

CEPA also featured Merle Maigre, Executive Vice President for Government Relations, CybExer Technologies, Estonia in a panel discussion on The Transatlantic Response to Cyber Threats Amid COVID-19 on May 1st.  She and colleagues from Lithuania and the Atlantic Council examined whether the U.S. and Europe are at greater risk of disinformation and cyberattacks because of COVID-19 and ways to improve resilience to attacks.  This discussion is also available under CEPA’s past events. 

E-Voting

President Kaljulaid was hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) on May 26th for a conversation with New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger on Cyberspace in Times of Corona.  This event centered around Estonia’s bringing cybersecurity and cyber issues to the UNSC agenda for the first time, as well as raising awareness of the digital tools that governments can use to provide services to their people in a secure online environment. 

Baltic Bubble on post-COVID-19 governance panelists.  Photo source:  lithuanianleaders.org

The potential for the U.S. to adopt online voting was among the topics discussed.  The President made it clear that doing so is possible, but it takes a process that can’t happen overnight.  The Estonian government first introduced low-risk services, with e-voting as the eventual ultimate goal.  Building public trust is the most important part of the process and in Estonia’s case, gradual introduction of new services to ensure their security and reliability at every level was necessary before its citizens had confidence in the government to safely conduct e-voting.  She also noted that e-governance is safe only in democratic systems; voting – digital or analog –  isn’t safe under authoritarian rule.  The full 60-minute event can be viewed at carnegieendowment.org under previous events.

Finally, an event organized through a joint task force “LTiVote” between GLL Think & Do Tank and the Economic Cooperation Commission of the Lithuanian World Community addressed The Baltic Digital Bubble: Post Covid-19 Governance and Voting.  The Estonian representative was Arne Koitmäe, Deputy Head of the State Electoral Office of Estonia.  Latvia was represented by Ieva Ilves, Advisor to the President of Latvia on Information and Digital Policy, and the Lithuanian expert was Laura Matjošaitytė,Chairwoman of the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania.  The main topic of this panel was safe voting amid the pandemic.  Maintaining election security is vital to all three nations and using Estonia’s model of e-voting could be a solution if Latvia and Lithuania are able to build the public trust necessary to implement the program.

Mr. Koitmäe provided some statistics and background on Estonia’s system.  Internet voting in Estonia started in 2005, three years after the government started planning for it.  It is the most popular method of voting in Estonia, with 40% of the population using it.  E-voting hasn’t significantly increased participation in elections, but it does keep voters engaged and has increased voting rates among Estonians living overseas and disabled voters.  There is no evidence of political bias among citizens who use the system; their decisions are evidently still based on the issues that are important to them.  The system is auditable and observable but is not 100% secure, as no system can be.  Trust in the system is high, but there is always opposition, so controversy remains.  Key safety points include protecting the privacy of the votes, ensuring they are not tampered with, and ensuring they are not coerced.  Whether e-voting and other digital tools will impact the future of democracy will depend on successful development and introduction of the tools by national governments.  The full 60-minute video is available on YouTube here, or by searching the internet for Baltic Digital Bubble.

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Advocacy

Senate Hearing Held for Nominee to Ambassador Post in Estonia

On May 13th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a nomination hearing for five proposed ambassador postings, including the nomination of Mr. William Ellison Grayson of California to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Estonia.  The full committee heard testimony from each nominee and asked them questions to assess their vision and goals, and their plans to achieve them, should they be confirmed to their prospective positions.  Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) presided over the hearing.

William Ellison Grayson
(Photo source: Presidio Trust)

Mr. Grayson introduced his family to the Committee and then began his testimony.  He demonstrated solid knowledge of Estonia and the country’s main interests and concerns.  He praised the friendship that the U.S. and Estonia have shared for over 100 years and the “unwavering support [Estonia has shown] for our shared defense and security around the globe.”  He noted this year’s 80th anniversary of the Welles Declaration that defined the U.S. policy of nonrecognition of Soviet annexation of the Baltic nations. 

Mr. Grayson identified the Three Seas Initiative and its 2020 Summit, which Tallinn will host in October, as important efforts for “accelerat[ing] cross-border commerce through north-south energy, transportation, cyber and digital infrastructure projects” in central Europe, and to protect against malign foreign investments that don’t serve the interests of the region or the U.S.  On the technology front, he called Estonia a “a shining example of innovation to the world” and looks forward to continuing and expanding U.S.-Estonia cyber cooperation.  Video of the full hearing is available at foreign.senate.gov/hearings for May 13th; Mr. Grayson’s testimony begins at approximately the 42-minute point.  A link to his testimony in written form is also provided on the same webpage. 

Mr. Grayson introducing his family to the SFRC
(Photo source: foreign.senate.gov)

Senators Jean Shaheen (D-NH) and Chris Coons (D-DE) addressed Mr. Grayson on his views regarding Estonia’s role in NATO and NATO’s presence in the region.  Senator Shaheen, who is the newest member of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus as of March of this year, identified Russian aggression and its military buildup along its borders with the Baltic nations as among Estonia’s primary threats.  She asked if Mr. Grayson thought the U.S. and NATO forces in the region were enough to deter Russian military action.  Senator Coons asked how Mr. Grayson views Estonia’s contributions to NATO.  Mr. Grayson expressed confidence in the United Kingdom-led NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battalion stationed in Estonia and affirmed that the U.S. considers Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to be “ironclad.”  He stated that the U.S. and the administration will “fully support whatever needs the Estonians have” to ensure their security.  He also commended the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn and the prolific bilateral cooperation on cyber issues that he hopes to “turbocharge” should his nomination be confirmed.  The Senators’ questions can be viewed in the video link above at the 1:14 and 1:59 points, respectively.

Mr. Grayson’s background includes senior positions in financial services and management, as a lawyer, and as a public servant.  He has held appointments under Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, in the Obama administration, and under the current administration.  Details of his qualifications and relevant experience are posted in his State Department Certificate of Demonstrated Competence at state.gov/grayson-william-ellison-republic-of-estonia-october-2019.  EANC looks forward to following and keeping our readers informed on the rest of his confirmation process and to meeting him and working with him once he is confirmed.

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Protesting Joint Statement Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Meeting on the Elbe

As we approach the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe on May 8th, the Estonian American National Council (EANC) recently joined with two protests of the Joint Statement by President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Meeting on the Elbe issued by the White House in late April.  The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) both published statements objecting to the terms of the commemoration and to President Trump’s engagement with the Russian president.  EANC is a member of both JBANC and CEEC and helped craft the written protests.  The JBANC statement is posted at www.jbanc.org  and the CEEC version can be found at ceecoalition.us.  Both are also reprinted below.

EANC fully concurs with the points made in both objections.  The Trump-Putin statement portrays the meeting of the U.S. and Soviet armies on April 25, 1945 as a symbol of victory over the Nazis and cooperation between the two powers.  It fails to recognize the historical context established by the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that ushered in 50 years of Soviet-led oppression across the Baltic counties and nations of central and eastern Europe.  Perhaps more concerning is the statement’s tacit support for the Kremlin’s ongoing historical revisionism and open campaigns to destabilize western democracies.

The JBANC and CEEC objections call for the U.S. to remember the decades of American leadership in the Cold War against the Soviet-led spread of communism and support for the democracies that emerged in 1991.  They also caution against becoming complicit in Putin’s malign agenda, which initiated the joint statement by the two presidents.  U.S. policy and action should uphold democratic values, not enable efforts to undermine them.  EANC will always reinforce historical accuracy while promoting democracy, individual liberty, rule of law, and national security and sovereignty wherever we find an opportunity to do so, and particularly when Estonia and its neighbors are affected.

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ceecoalition.us

Washington, DC                                                                      May 6, 2020

On April 25, 2020, the White House released a Joint Statement by President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Meeting on the Elbe.  In honor of the May 8th anniversary of the end of World War II, the CEEC objects to this statement and calls for the United States government to recognize the anniversary’s tragic historical significance as it marked the beginning of 50 years of oppression for the nations of our heritage.

In the statement, both parties highlighted the “historic meeting between American and Soviet troops, who shook hands on the damaged bridge over the Elbe River…herald[ing] the decisive defeat of the Nazi regime.” In addition, the statement conveys “the ‘Spirit of the Elbe’ [as] an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.”

The CEEC is alarmed over the statement’s disregard of the brutal legacy of the Soviet Union, its enabling of the Kremlin’s historical revisionism, and its failure to recognize the Putin regime’s revanchism in Europe. We find the statement to be inconsistent with a committed stance against Moscow’s ongoing antagonism toward the U.S. and its allies.

We recognize that the end of Hitler and Nazism was a historic victory for the U.S., Europe, and the world. We also realize that nations across the globe today must work together to coordinate efforts against pandemics and other threats to the human race. However, this joint statement with Putin on the legacy of WWII fails on a number of fronts.

The statement does not include historical context acknowledging that the Allies’ partnership with the Soviet Union precipitated almost 50 years of Moscow’s subjugation of half of Europe. Under the totalitarian rule of the Soviet Union, Central and Eastern European nations suffered rampant human rights abuses, political and economic corruption, and loss of fundamental freedoms.

Indeed, the statement enables the Kremlin’s dangerous historical revisionism that seeks to validate the Soviet Union and its post-Soviet incarnation as a partner to build “trust” with. We must remember the hegemony that the Soviets wrought in Europe, and how Americans led the West in the Cold War against it for nearly half a century. We must not let the U.S. be complicit in the Putin regime’s false narrative of the Soviet Union’s legacy.

In the context of this legacy, the statement also fails to acknowledge the Putin regime’s calculated foreign policy to undermine U.S. interests and dominate democracies at its borders and around the globe. Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet empire “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” In noting the U.S. and Russia “put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause … to confront the most important challenges of the 21st century,” the statement in fact facilitates the military and political revanchism over Europe that Putin continues to plot.

Today, Putin’s regime continues to antagonize the U.S. and its allies in Europe through a hybrid war of disinformation, election interference, cyber-attacks, and protracted occupation of parts of Ukraine and Georgia. It threatens the peace and stability that American leadership has enabled through decades of investment and partnership after WWII. We cannot afford to “put aside differences” of principle, rule of law, and aggressive actions.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, the CEEC calls for U.S. policy and action that uphold democratic values and the long history of American leadership in protecting them. We urge President Trump to place those values ahead of engaging with a regime that fails to respect the sovereignty of other nations, promotes the corrupt legacy of a failed state, and continues to wage aggression against the U.S. and its allies.

American Hungarian Federation • American Latvian Association in the U.S. • Armenian Assembly of American • 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  |  c/o Polish American Congress, 1612 K Street NW Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20006  |  ceecoalition@gmail.com

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JBANC statement title

On April 25, 2020, the White House released a Joint Statement by President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Meeting on the Elbe.

In the statement, both parties highlight the “historic meeting between American and Soviet troops, who shook hands on the damaged bridge over the Elbe River.  This event heralded the decisive defeat of the Nazi regime.” In addition, the statement conveys that “the ‘Spirit of the Elbe’ is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.”

The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) is alarmed 1) over the origins of the statement, which purportedly was at the initiative of the Kremlin, 2) that the statement says nothing to reject the revanchism of the Putin regime, and 3) which is without proper historical context in noting the totalitarianism and terror of the Soviet regime.

While there is no doubt that the end of Hitler and Nazism in 1945 was a tremendous victory, it came at enormous cost, and was only a partial victory.

The end of the Second World War meant freedom for some parts of the world, but for Soviet Russia and Soviet-occupied countries it meant a life under a malevolent totalitarian regime, which didn’t regard freedom and liberty as anything of value. It should be remembered that without the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe the United States would perhaps not have gotten into the deadly global debacle that Hitler and Stalin created.

As rightly noted in the 2019 Resolution by the European Parliament, “on 23 August 1939, the communist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a Treaty of Non-Aggression, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and its secret protocols, dividing Europe and the territories of independent states between the two totalitarian regimes and grouping them into spheres of interest, which paved the way for the outbreak of the Second World War.” On that basis, the Soviet Union in 1940 occupied Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Only half a century later, the Baltic nations regained their freedom once more.

Today, the Putin regime continues its dangerous historical revisionism and continues to undermine and attack democracies at its borders and around the globe. We must remember what the Soviets wrought and that Americans fought back against this for nearly half a century. We must not let ourselves be played into the Putin regime’s narrative of this history.

The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.

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NATO, the Baltics, and COVID-19

While most of us are responsibly practicing our social isolation, NATO has also had to adapt its operations in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Major exercises have been cancelled and NATO forces are responding to the COVID-19 crisis in several nations, while signs of normal missions and cooperation also remain.  Even during this crisis, NATO’s main task remains sustaining its ability to conduct operations and to protect the almost one billion citizens of its member nations.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called an unprecedented video conference ofNATO FIUE snip 3 the alliance’s foreign ministers on April 2nd to discuss the crisis.  He noted, “NATO was created to deal with crises. So we can help and our Alliance is playing its part,” and expressed gratitude “for the…offers of assistance, which NATO Allies made today and for the substantial support that Allies have already provided.”  Military support to fight the coronavirus crisis includes transport of medical supplies and personnel to areas in need, logistics and planning, field hospitals, and disinfection of public areas and at border crossings.  NATO Supreme Allied Commander U.S. Air Force General Tod Wolters has established a task force specifically to coordinate and facilitate NATO efforts to combat the coronavirus.  The Secretary General announced that a similar meeting of NATO’s defense ministers would take place later in April.  Updates on NATO’s coronavirus crisis response can be found at www.nato.int and on the NATO, NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU) in Estonia, and other related Facebook pages.

One major impact of the pandemic for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was the cancellation of exercise Defender Europe 2020, led by U.S. Army Europe with multinational participation, including NATO member states.  The exercise was planned to be the third largest in Europe since the end of the Cold War.  The goal was to test the movement of forces from the U.S. to ports in Europe, and then onward to operational areas throughout the continent, including the Baltic nations, Poland, Germany, the Nordic countries, and Georgia.  The U.S. Army decided in mid-March that due to COVID-19 concerns, the exercise would be scaled back to protect the health, safety and readiness of its soldiers, civilians and their families.  More information on the exercise and the impacts of its cancellation are available at shape.nato.int/defender-europe and at defensenews.com by searching Defender Europe.  The referenced article in Defense News was published on March 18th.

The Foreign Policy Research Institute’s (FPRI) Baltic Bulletin published an analysis on what the cancellation of the exercise means for the Baltic nations.  The article notes that much institutional knowledge of conducting major deployments in Europe has been lost since the end of the Cold War and that Defender Europe-20 “would have represented a major attempt to regain [this] knowledge…as well as to test the local infrastructure.”  It FPRI snipcredits the exercise, even with the cancellation, as a convincing indication that the U.S. Army “is actively thinking about defense of the Baltic states, is actively preparing for that contingency, and intends to be actually and substantively ready to react to that contingency, if necessary.”  The article then discusses the policy dichotomy between the exercise as an act of deterrence against a foe that does not openly acknowledge its deterrent intent.  Russia instead has long characterized NATO actions near its borders as destabilizing and provocative, and has been concentrating its own military forces in the region in response.  The full article can be found at fpri.org

The NFIU in Estonia reported recently that the Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission is ongoing as the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force makes preparations to take over from Belgian and Polish fighter squadrons this summer.  The RAF jets will take the place of the Belgian fighters stationed at Šiauliai, Lithuania this summer, while a yet-to-be-identified squadron will relieve the Polish unit at Ämari Air Base in Estonia.  ERR.ee regularly covers the topic, including an article on the mission’s record number of flights in 2019, published on January 17, 2020.

A final item of good news on continued U.S.-Estonia defense cooperation came when ERR News reported that the U.S. had delivered 128 Javelin anti-tank missile systems to Estonia as part of a longer-term agreement to increase Estonia’s defensive capabilities and interoperability with NATO member and partner nations while reinforcing stability in the region.  According to the article, the U.S. “has provided Estonia with over US $100 million in joint defense cooperation in recent years, and takes part in over 150 military-to-military engagements between service members of both countries each year.”  The full article is available at news.err.ee for April 2nd.

EANC will continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on U.S.-Estonia relations and keep our community informed on noteworthy developments.  We wish everyone a safe and healthy quarantine period!

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Think Tanks Still on the Job

Social distancing has given EANC a chance to catch up on the ongoing work of Washington’s think tanks on issues that are evolving along with global response to the COVID-19 virus.  While in-person events have been cancelled, issues important to Estonia and the Baltic region are still being discussed online via livestreams, webcasts, phone seminars, and written reporting.

The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) is “the leading research institute dedicated to the study of Central-East Europe and Russia” according to its website.  Its experts have launched a new analytical series called #CommonCrisis on the implications for NATO of COVID-19.  Since March 4th, CEPA’s contributors have explored many perspectives, such as the importance of cooperation, communication, and responsible behavior as the long-term keys to overcoming the disruptions, and opportunities the pandemic offers for the Kremlin to advance its political goals.  Of particular interest is The View from Estonia by Eeva Eek-Pajuste, Director of the Lennart Meri Conference at the International

CEPA view from Estonia

CEPA’s #CommonCrisis initiative features an Estonian perspective on COVID-19

Centre for Defence and Security.  Her piece outlines the immediate issue of adequate testing and data, and the broader implications of Poland’s decision to close its borders, trapping Baltic citizens trying to get home.  She cites parallels to the long waits and searches at the land links in the region in the early 1990s.  New articles are added frequently and can be reviewed at cepa.org/common-crisis.  CEPA is also holding virtual events on Russian and Chinese disinformation on the pandemic, and new challenges for military mobility amid a crisis.  More information on both webinars is available at cepa.org/events.

The Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank founded in 1961, has hosted President Kaljulaid during her visits to the U.S., including her most recent visit in early March.  The video of that event can be viewed at atlanticcouncil.org/events by selecting PAST events and scrolling down to March 4th.  It began holding its events virtually on

AC Kaljulaid

The Atlantic Council hosted President Kaljulaid on March 4th

March 16th and has so far covered topics including legislative options for deterring Russian aggression in an election year; the coronavirus’ economic impact in Europe; the recent political changes in Kyiv; and a look at Ukraine’s economy in the time of the coronavirus.  Upcoming online discussion topics include the return of great power competition between the U.S., Russia, and China on March 31st.  Webcasts of past events and registration to watch upcoming events live are also available at atlanticcouncil.org/events.

The Wilson Center is “a United States Presidential Memorial that was established as part of the Smithsonian Institution by an act of Congress in 1968. It is also a highly recognized think tank, ranked among the top ten in the world” according to Wikipedia.  It is offering phone briefings while its facility is closed to the public.  Topics of interest include Putin’s Extended Presidency, and Russia’s Military Posture in the European Arctic.   Transcripts and recordings of the calls are available at wilsoncenter.org/events.

During this unprecedented time of isolation, EANC will strive to stay on top of the issues that matter to Estonian Americans.  Our Washington, DC Director will continue to monitor relevant activity in Congress and DC’s foreign policy circles and will share news and opportunities for our community members nationwide to remain informed and engaged in matters that impact U.S.-Estonian relations and Estonia’s security.  Our best wishes for continuing good health to all of you!

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Advocacy

EANC on the Road for Eesti Vabariik 102

Estonian American National Council President Marju Rink-Abel and Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey were both invited to speak away from their home bases near DC at community events that celebrated 102 years of Estonian independence.  Marju visited the Atlanta community and Karin went to the south Florida community’s program in West Palm Beach.

The Atlanta Estonian Cultural Society’s gathering was hosted by Kristi Allpere, president, and Aadu Allpere, Estonian honorary consul, at their home near center city Atlanta.  The 75 attendees were a mixture of both newly arrived and long-time Estonian Americans, their spouses and children, and Estophiles of various backgrounds and interests.  Some

Marju in Altanta

Kristi Allpere (far left), Marju Rink-Abel (second from left) and others at the Atlanta celebration.

had driven 3-4 hours for the event.  Interest was high and discussion lively after the presentation, which started with a brief historical summary of the origin of current Estonian American organizations and their roles.  The focus of Marju Rink-Abel’s talk was the interest of the Estonian government in fostering better cooperation and understanding between Estonia and the large numbers (about 200,000) of Estonians living abroad.  The government intends to adopt a program to accomplish this that is currently being put together by a global Estonian commission headed by the Minister of Population, Riina Solman.  Among the over 30 representatives on the commission are two EANC representatives, Sirje Kiin and Marju Rink-Abel.  In response to questions, she directed people to EANC’s website and Vaba Eesti Sõna (links below) to keep up with events and opportunities to learn and visit Estonia.

Karin introduced EANC’s work to an audience of about 80 people at a festive event hosted by the Estonian National Association of South Florida.  She provided a history of EANC’s roots, starting with its establishment in 1952 in New York by refugees who

FL-me (1)

Karin addressing the South Florida community audience (Photo:  Haidor Truu)

wanted to restore Estonian independence and to preserve their Estonian culture while making a new life in the U.S.  Since then, the organization has expanded as the Estonian population migrated throughout the country.  EANC has council members in 17 states currently and welcomes and facilitates community involvement by all Estonian Americans wherever they live.

Karin covered EANC’s work promoting cultural, language and awareness of Estonia, including support for Vaba Eesti Sõna (Free Estonian Word, the newspaper of the Estonian American community); films and TV series such as The Singing Revolution documentary, To Breathe As One, In the Crosswind, and a recent 4-part feature on Estonia by the PBS series, This is America and the World (that can be watched and shared straight from our website, estosite.org).  EANC supports Estonian American girl guides and boy scouts, Estonian schools and summer camps, and festivals throughout the U.S., including ESTO, the West Coast and East Coast Estonian Days, and KLENK, the Mid-West Estonian festival.  EANC also recently published the book, Estonians in America 1945-1995, which thoroughly covers the Estonian communities and organizations that developed throughout the U.S. as members of the  first major wave of immigrants sought to preserve their Estonian-ness and support Estonia’s fight for freedom.

SFES bannerKarin mainly focused on the advocacy work she is doing in Washington and how Estonian Americans can get involved.  EANC works closely with the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC – www.jbanc.org) and the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC – www.ceecoalition.us)  to keep Congress informed on issues and legislation relevant to Estonia, the Baltic nations, and the broader region.  Topics of concern include ending Russia’s occupation of Ukraine and Crimea; continued U.S. support for NATO’s presence in the Baltic nations and Poland; upholding democratic values and institutions in Europe; enacting programs that combat Russia’s hybrid warfare and disinformation campaigns here and in Europe; opposing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany; and supporting the Three Seas Initiative to create strong north to south connections among the nations on Russia’s borders with Europe.

Estonian Americans can help with the advocacy part of EANC’s mission by contacting their Senators and Representative to let them know these issues are important.  Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents, whose votes matter to them and whose voices have much more power than Karin and her JBANC and CEEC colleagues, who usually aren’t constituents of the offices they’re visiting.  It’s also worthwhile to check the membership lists of the House Baltic Caucus and Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus at www.jbanc.org/house-baltic-caucus and thank lawmakers if they are already members or ask them to join if they’re not.  For more information on how to reach out to lawmakers, or having made contact with an office, please write to Karin at karinshueyeanc@gmail.com.  She has all the information needed to make a successful call or visit and will follow up with them in DC.  Working together from both the local and DC levels can raise the impact of contacts and have a better chance of getting results that ultimately reinforce Estonia’s security.

There’s a great opportunity coming up May 8th to 12th  to take part in a major advocacy initiative by the Baltic embassies and JBANC.  A full long-weekend program is in the works with a day of training and seminars on the issues, a reception, two days of meetings on Capitol Hill, and for those staying over the weekend, the annual European Union embassy open house day will on Saturday, May 9th.  Baltic Americans and friends everywhere are invited to come for the whole 5-day event or just part of it.  More details and information on how to register are available on Facebook; the event is called Baltic Advocacy Days 2020.

More details on this event, and advocacy in general, can also be found on EANC’s website: www.estosite.org, in the Washington Update section.  There’s reporting on what we’re doing in DC, and past articles with advocacy-specific information.  EANC’s Facebook followers will also get notifications when new articles are published.

Karin assigned homework throughout her remarks and EANC encourages all Estonian Americans and friends to engage with EANC’s work by taking these simple steps:

  1. Subscribe or donate to Vaba Eesti Sõna at vabaeestisona.com to help keep their presses running.
  2. Look at ordering a copy of Estonians in America, 1945-1995 at amazon.com.
  3. Call your Senators and Representative about joining their Baltic caucus.
  4. Mark your calendars and consider coming to Washington for Baltic Advocacy Days 2020 May 8th – 12th.
  5. Check out EANC’s website at estosite.org and follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EstonianAmerican.

 

EANC thanks all Estonian American communities for upholding Estonian culture and language, and celebrating Estonia’s independence, in whatever unique formats work best in your area.  We invite all communities to send us news and photos of their events so we can share them on our website.  Please contact us at info@estosite.org to let us know about your activities.

 

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Advocacy

Estonian Chief of Defence Forces Visits Washington, DC

Major General Martin Herem recently made his first official visit as the Chief of Estonian Defence Forces to our nation’s capital and was hosted by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) think tank for a conversation about his perspectives on defense issues going into the next decade.  Topics included security challenges facing Estonia and the region, Estonia’s defense priorities, deterring Russian military action along NATO’s eastern border, and how to strengthen Baltic defense cooperation.  Estonian American National Council (EANC) Washington, DC Director, Karin Shuey attended the event and extended EANC greetings to welcome him to Washington. More information and photos of the event are available at www.cepa.org/defending-the-frontline-military-re.

MG Herem, Reka, me

From left:  CEPA Executive Vice President Réka Szemerkényi, Major General Herem, and EANC’s Karin Shuey

CEPA described Estonia as playing “a critical role in resisting [Kremlin] influence and maintaining the stability of NATO’s frontline.” Estonian forces participate in many NATO operations and exercises, both in the Baltic region and globally, giving them first-hand experience in assessing the threats facing the alliance in the area and on the effectiveness of cooperative missions there.  The missions include Operation Atlantic Resolve, which comprises 6,000 soldiers from 17 nations that since 2014 have focused on enhancing deterrence along NATO’s eastern flank; and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence, which was established in 2016 and consists of multinational battlegroups based in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, also to increase deterrence and reassure member states in eastern Europe of their security.  U.S. funding for both missions comes, at least in part, from the European Deterrence Initiative, which was initiated in 2014, and is a program that EANC consistently advocates for in Congress.

While the CEPA discussion was off-the-record, an essay by General Herem was published in December in Defense News as part of the magazine’s 2020 Outlook project.  In it, he identifies the Baltic region as “the spot where Russia might be tempted to test the strength of NATO in a global power competition,” adding, “We cannot let that happen.”  He outlines reforms underway in NATO, the conditions necessary to maintain a credible deterrent posture, budgetary and procurement concerns, and his thoughts on defense cooperation regionally and beyond.  The full article is available at www.defensenews.com/outlook, by scrolling down to the December 2, 2019 article Estonian chief of Defence Forces: Regional cooperation as the main enabler.

Major General Herem became Commander of the Estonian Defence forces in December 2018, taking over from General Riho Terras.  His previous assignments include Commander of the North-Eastern Defence District, Commandant of the Estonian National Defence College, and Chief of Staff of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces.  EANC looks forward to future visits by General Herem to keep current on U.S.-Estonia military cooperation and the evolving defense challenges Estonia faces.

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