While there has been no shortage of tributes to the late Senator John McCain from many Estonian sources in the last week, EANC would like to highlight a few notable memories of his work in support of Estonia and the Baltic region. He made five visits to Estonia during his career in the Senate and many legislative actions that demonstrated his support for Baltic security. We remember him as a staunch ally in Estonia’s struggle for independence, its bid to join NATO, and more recently in defending its sovereignty in the face of renewed threats from the Kremlin. He will be sorely missed as a champion for freedom and democracy in a time of uncertainty.
Senator McCain first visited Estonia in August of 2001. According to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), he gave a lecture honoring the first U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, Robert Frazure, who was killed in 1995 near Sarajevo while on a mission to negotiate an end to the conflict in Bosnia. McCain also met with President Lennart Meri and Prime Minister Mart Laar. The MFA’s article called McCain a “Member of the U.S. Senate and one of the leading and most respectable politicians in the U.S.A.”
Headlines about McCain’s 2004 visit are dominated by references to a certain contest with another Senator and presidential hopeful. Though the contest may have helped with Estonia’s popularity, more substantive results were evident from the trip, as well. At the time, according to an Associated Press report from July 2006, “the trip was notable because McCain, while in Latvia, called Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a dictator and said the elections Belarus planned for later in the year were ‘bogus.’” McCain’s disdain for corrupt leadership and feigned democracy in the former Soviet space was clear even then.
News on McCain’s 2014 and 2015 trips is harder to find, but his December 2016 visit is also well-remembered. He led that delegation to reassure Estonia and its neighbors that the U.S. would remain in NATO under the incoming administration despite doubts regarding the role the new President would take as a leader of Western democracy. His remarks at the press conference with Prime Mister Jüri Ratas at the end of the visit included the following, quoted from Postimees:
“My message – both republican and democrat – is, that we will maintain our NATO commitments, we will maintain an American presence and cooperation and training. And we will appreciate, for example the brave young Estonians who are with us in Afghanistan as we speak…
“Estonia was not attacked on 9/11, the United States of America was attacked on 9/11. It was Estonia and other countries, our NATO allies that joined us to go all the way to Afghanistan to respond to an attack on the United States of America…
“My message is – at this time when we see things like cyber attacks being conducted by Russia, China and other countries; when we see the continued aggression in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine; when we see continued threats to Georgia – our relationship is perhaps more important than it has been in a long, long time.”
McCain’s legislative support of Estonia goes back to 1991. Results from a search of congress.gov on legislation referencing Estonia that he cosponsored include bills to support democracy and self-determination in the Baltic States; to authorize the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Baltic peoples to alleviate suffering; the NATO Freedom Consolidation Acts of 2006 and 2007; and numerous National Defense Authorization Acts that included funding for growing U.S-Estonia defense cooperation. There were also resolutions designating June 14, 1991 as “Baltic Freedom Day;” calling for a review of economic benefits provided to the Soviet Union in light of the crisis in the Baltic states; calling for a prompt withdrawal of Soviet armed forces from the Baltic states; commending and expressing the gratitude of the United States to the nations participating with the United States in the Coalition to Disarm Iraq; and congratulating the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence this year.
EANC is grateful to Senator McCain for service to the strong relationship between the U.S. and Estonia. We will continue to honor his legacy and uphold in our advocacy work the values he championed during his long and admirable career.