The last several weeks have certainly been interesting. Articles have been published almost daily that seem to contradict what was written the day or week before. It’s difficult to know what information has substance and what is based in speculation. While I have avoided giving too much credence to many analysis and opinion pieces because I just don’t think the authors have an omniscient crystal ball, a few events have stood out to me as reliable and worthy of note.
First, the 115th Congress has already shown support for the Baltics and European security. Senators McCain (R-AZ), Graham (R-SC) and Klobachar (D-MN) made a post-Christmas European visit that included Estonia, where they pledged bipartisan commitment to NATO and Baltic defense (see this New York Times article).
A new bipartisan bill was announced on January 10th to impose comprehensive sanctions on Russia for a range of hostile behavior. The Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 is cosponsored by a group of ten senators and calls out Russian cyber intrusions, continued aggression in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria, and efforts to influence democracy and fuel corruption throughout Europe and Eurasia. A detailed press release is available on several cosponsors’ websites.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves and other European leaders have sent a clear message to the President-elect in the form of a letter outlining their concerns about the prospect of a grand bargain with Russia, the need to continue sanctions, and Putin’s record of untrustworthiness. The letter highlights the signatories’ support for the U.S. as staunch allies with common goals and interests. Please see the Washington Post article and full letter for more information.
The Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson provided some insight regarding his views. He made two important statements regarding the Baltics: He affirmed his support for NATO deployments in the region as a show of force effective for deterring the Kremlin; and he called NATO’s Article 5 inviolable, pledging U.S. participation in a consensus-backed response to an attack on a member state. He also recognized the Russian invasion of Crimea as a forceful takeover with no legal claim and agreed that respecting the sovereignty of nations and their borders is a fundamental part of maintaining international order and security. He seemed clear in his differentiation between his interests and priorities as CEO of Exxon – from which he stated he has divested himself and has left in the past – versus his responsibilities in serving U.S. national interests and security as the country’s top diplomat. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) vote will be the next step in Tillerson’s confirmation process.
EANC has been engaged in the transition, mainly as part of the Central and East European Coalition, by drafting and submitting questions for SFRC members to ask Tillerson in order to clarify his positions on issues relevant to the region. Those questions have been posted on the CEEC website. EANC will support the bill to counter Russian hostilities, and any other legislation that addresses pertinent European security policy, and facilitate efforts by our members and constituents to do the same. Our activities in Washington will continue to ensure that the administration and lawmakers are aware of issues important to our Estonian American constituents, keep our constituents informed on news from the White House and the Hill, and support efforts with our regional partners to remain engaged in the policy process.