Notable Estonians Testify in Congress

Ambassador Eerik Marmei and former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves both recently testified at separate Congressional hearings on Russia.  Marmei spoke before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs on March 7th.  Ilves addressed the House Foreign Affairs Full Committee (HFAC) on March 9th and was scheduled to appear again on March 15th before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism.

The Senate Appropriations Committee hearing examined Russian policies and intentions toward specific European countries and was chaired by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).  Witnesses included the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Ukraine and ambassadors from the three Baltic nations, Poland, and Georgia.  Its purpose was to broaden the committee’s understanding of Russia’s actions and their impact in the countries represented.  Ambassador Marmei stressed the importance of continued U.S. support and presence in the Baltic region and of implementing the decisions made at the NATO summits in Wales and Warsaw.  He encouraged members to avoid regionalizing the threat and instead to recognize Russia’s influence campaign as a threat throughout Europe and even reaching to the U.S. and beyond.  He expressed support for maintaining sanctions on Russia as long as the conditions of the Minsk agreement are not met.  He also described Russia’s current cyber and propaganda activities in Estonia and some measures the Estonian government has taken to counteract them.  A replay and written testimony for the hearing are available at

Ilves Marmei at HFAC

Estonian Ambassador Eerik Marmei and former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at Congressional hearing on Russia

The HFAC hearing, chaired by Representative Edward Royce (R-CA), focused on Russian disinformation efforts to undermine democratic institutions and splinter NATO.  In addition to President Ilves, witnesses included former State Department Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs Lincoln Bloomfield; former U.S. Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Daniel Baer; and Mr. Peter Doran, Executive Vice President of the Center for European Policy Analysis.  Ilves’ testimony included identifying Europe as Russia’s “main battlefield” for influence using policies directed at splitting up the EU and NATO.  He also described the 2007 cyber attack on Estonia as the first time a digital attack had been used as punishment for a nation’s policy.  Full details are available at

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on March 15th will assess Russia’s and other autocracies’ modus operandi and tool box for undermining democracies throughout the world.  More information is available at


Estonian Embassy Bestows Awards at Independence Day Commemoration

The Estonian Embassy in Washington hosted a reception on February 22nd in honor of the 99th anniversary of Estonian independence.  Among those attending were officials, diplomats, and representatives from the State Department, Congress, the Pentagon and the National Security Council. Ambassador Marmei opened the ceremony with greetings from President Kaljulaid.

The Ambassador bestowed presidential awards on three members of the audience.  Mr. James J. Townsend, Jr. received the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, 3rd Class for his contribution to security cooperation.  Mr. Townsend recently retired from his position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European NATO Policy.  His work in European and NATO policy began around 1990 and was instrumental in the ascension of the Baltic nations into NATO membership.  He expressed deep appreciation for his recognition as an ardent supporter and good friend of Estonia.


Ambassador Marmei presents award to Mr. Townsend (photo courtesy of Estonian Embassy)

Mr. Alexander Russell Vershbow was awarded the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, 2nd Class to recognize his work to enhance security cooperation.  Mr. Vershbow was the U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 1998 to 2001, then served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2001 to 2005.  In 2009, he was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, where he was responsible, among other things, for U.S. policy toward NATO, including supporting the continuing evolution of Estonia from new member to solid ally.  His career in European policy began in 1994 when he directed European Affairs at the National Security Council.

The citizen diplomacy award went to an Estonian-American in the Northern Virginia community, Mr. Tanel Beeren.  He was recognized for his contribution to promotion of Estonian culture in the Washington region.

The ceremony underlined the significance of players behind the scenes who don’t always get recognized for getting the important work done.  It also looked ahead to Estonia’s 100th anniversary of independence next year with gratitude and optimism for continued success and cooperation.