Advocacy

EANC Tracking Issues in the News

As much of the current news cycle revolves around COVID-19, several developments not related to the virus have been followed by the Estonian American National Council (EANC) in the last few weeks.  While time should provide more clarity on how they will play out, EANC is concerned about their effect on Estonia, NATO, and the broader transatlantic community, and will track them closely as more information becomes available. The backdrop of Victory Day on June 23rd provides an appropriate moment to reflect on the status of Estonia’s security and how to best protect it.  ERR News coverage of the day’s events and accompanying photo gallery offer meaningful reminders at news.err.ee.

Probably the best-defined issue is the Kremlin’s revisionist disinformation campaign

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Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Source:  vm.ee

kicking into high gear around Russia’s June 24th Victory Day parade and other World War II anniversaries.  The most significant event was the introduction of legislation in the Russian Duma that, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, would “revoke a December 24, 1989, resolution by the Soviet Union’s Supreme Council that condemned the nonaggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”  The full article is at www.rferl.org under the Russia tab’s June 19th headlines.  The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the move by expressing disapproval and summoning the Russian Ambassador to Estonia to account for the initiative.  The ministry issued a press release on June 18th at vm.ee/en/news.  The Latvian and Lithuanian governments took similar action.

The possible withdrawal of 9,500 U.S. troops from Germany proposed by the White House in early June is another issue of EANC concern.  Numerous Members of Congress from both parties, NATO leaders, and other foreign policy officials and experts have spoken out against the proposition.  To date there is not much detail available regarding when or how the withdrawal would take place.  With President Duda of Poland visiting Washington on June 24th, we expect the possibility of moving troops to Poland to be discussed at the White House and will look for news following that meeting.  While EANC supports the strongest possible U.S. presence in Europe and continued cooperation with our NATO allies to ensure transatlantic security, until more information is available, we hesitate to draw conclusions on this issue.  In the meantime, we are letting our concerns be known in Congress by speaking with relevant committee staffers and seeking to better understand the situation.

News of the Administration’s intention to possibly invite Russia to the September G7 summit is also on our radar.  Russia was expelled from the group in 2014 after its invasion of Crimea, an act that the forum condemned in its March 2, 2014 Statement by G7 Nations.  This statement reads in part:

We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, join together today to condemn the Russian Federation’s clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia’s obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine…

We note that Russia’s actions in Ukraine also contravene the principles and values on which the G7 and the G8 operate. As such, we have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G8 Summit in Sochi in June, until the environment comes back where the G8 is able to have meaningful discussion.

Russia has not met the conditions identified for meaningful discussion or reinstatement to the forum.  G7 member nations, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany have spoken out against the invitation.  This is another case EANC will follow and issue updates as more information becomes available.

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Russian fighter jets similar to those committing airspace violations last week.  Source: news.err.ee

Finally, Russian military aircraft continue to violate Estonian airspace, with five incursions in the third week of June alone.  For more details, please see news.err.ee for June 22nd.  This persistent behavior remains a steady reminder that the Kremlin can demonstrate its lack of regard for national sovereignty via a spectrum of tactics, from blatant seizure of territory to these subtle violations in the air.

EANC will remain current on all of the issues above as they develop and will keep our readers informed.  Please follow our Facebook page and check www.estosite.org for the latest updates.

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Advocacy

Estonia’s COVID-19 Response and Attention-Getting Cyber Policies

Recent virtual events have highlighted Estonia’s approach to dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and how Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania plan to implement policy as the world shifts to its new normal.  President Kersti Kaljulaid was featured in two events that focused on Estonia’s resilience, along with its use of cyber expertise and its current United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seat to raise cyber awareness and offer unique solutions to challenges posed by the global crisis.  Two other events featured Estonian experts discussing cyber threats that are capitalizing on the ripe environment for disinformation and the pandemic’s implications for democracy and governance moving forward.

President Kaljulaid discussing Estonian Coronavirus policy at CEPA. Photo source:  cepa.org

The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) held a conversation with President Kaljulaid on May 7th that delved into how Estonia’s established system of e-governance and high level of trust between the government and public facilitated their rapid response to the virus.  She cited their e-health system as the most important digital innovation in keeping the population safe.  When the conversation turned to Estonia’s security, President Kaljulaid noted that although some military exercises had to be cancelled or postponed, she received affirmation from NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and other allies that, “we will if necessary fight, even with the virus.” Estonia’s capabilities in combating disinformation and protecting critical infrastructure and public services, and its current leadership roles in the UNSC and the Three Seas initiative, were also discussed. 

At the event’s 16-minute point, EANC asked a question about disinformation campaigns by the Kremlin and China related to COVID-19, which prompted praise for our work from CEPA moderator Edward Lucas.  The President went on to answer that until there is a place globally where victims of disinformation or cyberattacks can complain, there is no point in bothering with attribution.  She hopes “that through our adventures on the Security Council we’ll manage to change this…The only way out of this situation in fact is taking anonymity out of the internet.”  She placed responsibility on governments to give their citizens secure internet identities.  The full 30-minute video is available at cepa.org/past-events

CEPA also featured Merle Maigre, Executive Vice President for Government Relations, CybExer Technologies, Estonia in a panel discussion on The Transatlantic Response to Cyber Threats Amid COVID-19 on May 1st.  She and colleagues from Lithuania and the Atlantic Council examined whether the U.S. and Europe are at greater risk of disinformation and cyberattacks because of COVID-19 and ways to improve resilience to attacks.  This discussion is also available under CEPA’s past events. 

E-Voting

President Kaljulaid was hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) on May 26th for a conversation with New York Times national security correspondent David Sanger on Cyberspace in Times of Corona.  This event centered around Estonia’s bringing cybersecurity and cyber issues to the UNSC agenda for the first time, as well as raising awareness of the digital tools that governments can use to provide services to their people in a secure online environment. 

Baltic Bubble on post-COVID-19 governance panelists.  Photo source:  lithuanianleaders.org

The potential for the U.S. to adopt online voting was among the topics discussed.  The President made it clear that doing so is possible, but it takes a process that can’t happen overnight.  The Estonian government first introduced low-risk services, with e-voting as the eventual ultimate goal.  Building public trust is the most important part of the process and in Estonia’s case, gradual introduction of new services to ensure their security and reliability at every level was necessary before its citizens had confidence in the government to safely conduct e-voting.  She also noted that e-governance is safe only in democratic systems; voting – digital or analog –  isn’t safe under authoritarian rule.  The full 60-minute event can be viewed at carnegieendowment.org under previous events.

Finally, an event organized through a joint task force “LTiVote” between GLL Think & Do Tank and the Economic Cooperation Commission of the Lithuanian World Community addressed The Baltic Digital Bubble: Post Covid-19 Governance and Voting.  The Estonian representative was Arne Koitmäe, Deputy Head of the State Electoral Office of Estonia.  Latvia was represented by Ieva Ilves, Advisor to the President of Latvia on Information and Digital Policy, and the Lithuanian expert was Laura Matjošaitytė,Chairwoman of the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania.  The main topic of this panel was safe voting amid the pandemic.  Maintaining election security is vital to all three nations and using Estonia’s model of e-voting could be a solution if Latvia and Lithuania are able to build the public trust necessary to implement the program.

Mr. Koitmäe provided some statistics and background on Estonia’s system.  Internet voting in Estonia started in 2005, three years after the government started planning for it.  It is the most popular method of voting in Estonia, with 40% of the population using it.  E-voting hasn’t significantly increased participation in elections, but it does keep voters engaged and has increased voting rates among Estonians living overseas and disabled voters.  There is no evidence of political bias among citizens who use the system; their decisions are evidently still based on the issues that are important to them.  The system is auditable and observable but is not 100% secure, as no system can be.  Trust in the system is high, but there is always opposition, so controversy remains.  Key safety points include protecting the privacy of the votes, ensuring they are not tampered with, and ensuring they are not coerced.  Whether e-voting and other digital tools will impact the future of democracy will depend on successful development and introduction of the tools by national governments.  The full 60-minute video is available on YouTube here, or by searching the internet for Baltic Digital Bubble.

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