Maryland National Guard Unity Day Celebrates State Partnerships and Diversity with Folkdancers from Paide

On April 12th, Maryland National Guard personnel met at Baltimore’s 5th Regiment Armory to show their ethnic pride, share their varied customs and cuisines, and recognize those of their State Partnership Program (SPP) nations of Estonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.  The entertainment program included members of the folkdance group Kabujalake from Paide, which is a sister city of Westminster, Maryland.

MDNG group

Maryland National Guard Adjutant General Major General Singh (center in blue), EANC Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey (left) and Kabujalake folkdancers

The annual Unity Day event was established in 2005 as a forum for the Maryland National Guard “to enhance cross-cultural awareness and promote harmony amongst all our members,” according to their State Equal Employment Manager Stephen Kiiru.  This was the first year that SPP nation representatives were invited to participate.  The event was opened and led by the Adjutant General of Maryland, Major General Linda Singh.

MDNG table

Estonian display table

The Embassy of Estonia provided samples of Estonian baked goods and informational materials about various aspects of the country and culture.  Other food booths offered samplings from African, Asian Pacific, South America, Caribbean, German, Bosnian, Polish, Greek, Israeli, and other cuisines.  Key performers included rock and R& B bands, African dancers, and Irish Pipers.

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Kabujalake folkdancers performing

The Estonian highlight was the Kabujalake folk dancers, who spent a week in Maryland performing at several university and community venues.  Their performances at this event were well-received and even engaged the audience in enthusiastic participation.

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Major General Singh at the Estonian display table with embassy representative, folkdance group representative and dancers 

The next Maryland-Estonia cultural exchange will take place in June, when the Wana Wõromaa Wunkorkestri will perform in several cities across Maryland, possibly as part of a broader tour of the U.S.  Please monitor EANC’s Facebook page for dates as more information becomes available.


New Vector Attacks on Democracy: Former Estonian President Speaks on Digital War as Major Cyber Exercise Takes Place in Tallinn

By EANC Vice President Matti Prima and Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey

On April 13, 2019, former Estonian President Toomas Ilves addressed the vulnerabilities of democracy in the digital age before a standing room only crowd at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.  Mr. Ilves described in great detail how nearly all of the western democratic countries have been, in varying degrees, digitally attacked by totalitarian governments such as Russia, China, Iran, and even Venezuela.

Ilves stated that totalitarian governments like Russia no longer need to physically attack or commit resources to start a war. Merely influencing elections and causing turbulence in a democratic system results in sufficient political fallout to further their aims.  Also in their favor – the very system of laws that western democracies strive to uphold actually protect Russian oligarchs who have transferred their illicit funds for safe keeping in western banks. Totalitarian governments only need to influence unsuspecting voters to elect ineffective or disruptive leaders, which has already happened – and will continue to happen – throughout the west.

Another contributing factor is the immediate spread of misleading information facilitated by online media sources.  A reasonable person or news agency no longer has time to determine the validity and accuracy of reported information.  Egregious comments by a Russia-friendly candidate such as Marine Le Pen get far more clicks than a considered policy discussion on taxes by Prime Minister Merkel.  Other new digital attack vectors include doxing (creation of false documents), bots (digital robots that immediately forward millions of bits of false information), and increasingly sophisticated methods of creating deep fake videos.

Western nations are currently behind in developing deterrence methods as their non-governmental organizations (NGOs) only monitor the activities. Financial resources must be committed to develop a proper deterrence in order to combat such intrusion into our political system. The U.S. is re-investing in its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), while Canada is undergoing similar efforts. Estonia has been leading the way as one of the foremost experienced countries in internet operations and protection.

According to Ilves, the good news is that methods of deterrence can be put in place. Individuals must connect with their Members of Congress to share concerns and call for significant investment in cyber security. Cybersecurity is a national security concern for citizens of the U.S. as well as for NATO and its allies.

Locked Shields logo

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The University of Toronto event took place as the NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE) annual cyber defense exercise Locked Shields was drawing to a close.  According to the Centre’s website, it is “the largest and most complex international live-fire cyber defence exercise in the world… [and] provides the participants the best training environment to get better in defending their nations’ networks.”  The CCDCOE has hosted the exercise in Tallinn since 2010.

This year’s exercise brought together over 1000 participants from 30 nations and simulated more than 2500 attacks on 4000 virtualized systems.  Defense force and national security entities from Estonia, the U.S., Finland and the Republic of Korea, along with industry partners including Siemens AG, Cisco, Cybernetica, Elisa, and many others, cooperated in organizing the event.

The exercise highlights the need for nations to pay more attention to their vulnerabilities and invest in deterrence, education and countermeasure capabilities.  Educating the public and raising awareness in western governments are critical to getting ahead of the threat.  The national security of the U.S., Estonia, and beyond depends on coherent policies and cooperation.  Full funding and implementation of CISA and supporting agencies is key to overcoming the cybersecurity challenge.  EANC advocates in Congress on these issues regularly and echoes to the Estonian American community the call by President Ilves to contact their Senators and Representatives and share their concerns on this issue.


Baltic Security Reports Introduced on Capitol Hill

The Baltic Security Strategy Project (BSSP) recently released two reports on security topics in the Baltic region.  The project consists of a team of experts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, led by Latvians Olevs Nikers and Otto Tabuns, and is supported by the Baltic American Freedom Foundation (BAFF), The Jamestown Foundation, and the Latvian Political Science Foundation.  The primary Estonian contributor to the team’s research is Anne-Ly Reimaa, Head of International Relations on Integration Issues in the Estonian Ministry of Culture’s Cultural Diversity Department.

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Report and event program covers

The reports were introduced at an event on Capitol Hill on March 27th organized jointly by the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and the House Baltic Caucus (HBC).  The event was attended by an audience of approximately 50 Congressional staffers, embassy personnel, academics, and others interested in the Baltic region.  HBC co-chair Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Estonian Defense Minister Jüri Luik made remarks praising the project and the Baltic nations’ contributions to NATO.

BSSP Schiff

Representative Adam Schiff

There were also two panel discussions.  The first consisted of an overview by Mr. Nikers and Mr. Tabuns of the Baltic Security Strategy Report:  What the Baltics Can Offer for a Stronger Alliance, which takes a strategic look at Baltic security cooperation and addresses defense and deterrence, societal security and resilience, economic security, and cyber security in the region.  A closer look at the financial aspects of security was offered by Mr. Roger Robinson, formerly Vice President in the International Department of Chase Manhattan Bank and Senior Director of International Economic Affairs at the National Security Council.  This panel was moderated by JBANC’s Karl Altau and highlighted air defense, maritime capabilities, and permissive banking regulations as areas in particular need of reinforcement.

The second panel, moderated by EANC Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey, offered perspectives from two members of the Baltic diaspora.  Dainis Butners, a U.S. Army veteran of Latvian descent and recent graduate of Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, shared his key takeaways and recommendations from the Baltic Security Strategy Report based on his experience working with the Baltic defense forces while deployed with NATO in Afghanistan.  Estonian Canadian media expert Marcus Kolga delved into the very serious problem of disinformation as a threat to security in the Baltic region, throughout Europe, and in North America.

BSSP panel 2 Luik

From left:  Minister Luik and panel members Dainis Butners, Marcus Kolga and Karin Shuey

The second publication, Baltic Interoperability Report, focuses on several aspects of Baltic defense collaboration.  While Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have successfully integrated into NATO, regional cooperation among them has room for improvement.  The report reviews the history of Baltic interoperability issues from 1918 to 1940, then addresses challenges that remain in developing common approaches to  ground and hybrid warfare, air defense, and cyber defense.

Minister Luik concluded the program by reminding the audience that, “We can’t influence what happens in Russia.  What we can do is to be ready ourselves, to be prepared, to be united, and then the threat level goes down.”  He reinforced the message that continuous U.S. presence and support in the region is critical to maintaining a credible deterrent against aggression from Russia.  Finally, he highlighted that every dollar the U.S. has provided to the Baltic nations has been matched with those governments’ own investments in developing their defense forces in a deliberate and coordinated way.

Both reports will be available on The Jamestown Foundation’s website.  EANC will share those links at its website, and on its Facebook page, once they’re available.

All photos are by EANC and JBANC.