The Estonian embassy hosted the Baltic ambassadors and Baltic American community representatives for the fourth quarterly JBANC-Baltic embassies meeting in December 2016. The ambassadors updated us on their countries’ priorities and upcoming events and a productive exchange occurred on many relevant topics.
In addition to the three embassies and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), the meeting included representatives from the Estonian American National Council (EANC), the American Latvian Association (ALA), the Lithuanian American Council (LAC) and the World Federation of Free Latvians (WFFL).
Two important December meetings were discussed. The State Department-led Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe (e-PINE) met recently with its eight Nordic and Baltic member nations and representatives from Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. E-PINE is a forum for interagency cooperation on security, economic and social issues. The meeting addressed important topics relevant to ensuring continued cooperation through the transition to the next administration and beyond. NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) meetings with Baltic government representatives and several Congressional leaders are also taking place in early December. Participants noted that there is strong bipartisan commitment on the Hill to Baltic security and expect to be well-represented by the Republican Congress and administration. There has been reassurance from leaders in Congress that there will be no major changes in U.S. policy on NATO or Russia after the inauguration. The NATO PA meetings are expected to send strong messages of full Hill support back to the European member nations’ parliaments and populations.
Discussion of regional security issues was another major focus. European Reassurance Initiative funding from the U.S. and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) remain top priorities in all three nations. Russia has continued its aggressive behavior with regular airspace violations and missile deployments in Kaliningrad and along its border with Finland. While the nations are looking forward to multinational EFP deployments in the Spring of 2017, they will continue to pursue a permanent presence of U.S. troops embedded with the NATO forces.
There was support for increased Congressional staffer visits to the Baltics in the coming years in addition to the Congressional delegation schedule. The embassies will focus on visits from the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees from both Houses of Congress to increase awareness in the new governments on both sides regarding issues of mutual interest. The goal is for two staff delegation visits per year during the upcoming administration.
The Estonian ambassador offered information on recent changes in domestic government. No big changes to security policy are foreseen. While party dynamics have shifted, the Foreign Minister and Defense Minister appointments indicate a clear continuation of previous policies, with NATO and U.S. cooperation at the forefront.
The meeting’s overall tone was of unity and inclusion. It’s important for the three nations to continue to work together with both parties on the Hill to draw more attention and attract a bigger audience than they could individually. Their unified message for Moscow is that they can’t be considered the same as Ukraine and Georgia and that NATO will stand behind them. These issues will be revisited at the next meeting, scheduled for February.