Advocacy

Estonian Americans Support Belarus

Estonian Americans in several communities came out to show their support for the ongoing fight for democracy in Belarus.  Socially-distanced, COVID-aware rallies have been held across the U.S. in recent weeks as outrage over disputed elections and demand for change continue in Minsk and beyond.  In addition to Washington, DC, Estonian communities supported events in New York City and Lakewood, NJ.

The Estonian American National Council’s (EANC) Washington, DC Director, Karin Shuey, offered supportive remarks at two events in the nation’s capital.  On August 23rd, over 200 supporters of Belarus gathered at the Embassy of Lithuania and then created a Baltic Way-like human chain stretching toward the Embassy of Belarus, about a mile away.  The participants stood in solidarity with a chain organized in Lithuania, dubbed Freedom Way, taking place at the same time, that stretched from Vilnius to the country’s border with Belarus.  According to euronews.com, 50,000 people took part in that event.  The Baltic Way’s anniversary date was chosen intentionally as a symbol of hope that freedom will flourish in Belarus as it did in the Baltic nations.

Members of the Washington, DC Estonian community show their support.

The Freedom Way DC event was organized by the local Lithuanian and Belarusian communities, with high-level leadership by Ambassadors Kurt Volker (former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations) and John Herbst (former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine).  Other notable participants included Ambassador Daniel Fried (former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and Ambassador to Poland), Ian Brzezinski (former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy), and Damon Wilson (Former Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council). 

On August 12th, a rally was organized by Belarusian community leaders on Black Lives Matter Plaza.  It was attended by over 100 Belarusian Americans and friends of Belarus.

Lining up from the Embassy of Lithuania toward the Embassy of Belarus

At both events, Karin represented EANC, the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), and the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC).  She stressed that Belarus is not alone in its fight for democracy.  EANC, JBANC, and the other member organizations of the CEEC represent over 20 million American voters with heritage from those parts of Europe and make regular contact with Congressional offices to raise awareness of issues important to our communities.  Supporting freedom in Belarus is currently at the top of the CEEC’s list.  Belarus is at a pivotal moment in its history, similar to where many European nations were in 1989, and Americans with roots in those nations want democracy in Belarus to succeed.  JBANC and the CEEC issued statements that are posted at jbanc.org and ceecoalition.us, respectively.

EANC will continue to advocate for new elections in Belarus and sanctions against those who participated in election fraud or human rights violations.  We thank all who have taken part in rallies and advocacy on Belarus’s behalf.

Жыве Беларусь!  Žyvie Bielarus’!  Elagu Valgevene!  Long live Belarus!

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Advocacy

Updates on 2021 Defense Funding for the Baltic Nations

The Estonian American National Council (EANC) is tracking several bills in process in Congress that include significant funding for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  The House and Senate passed their versions of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) in late July, while the House has also released its State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS) and Defense Appropriations bills.

Estonia’s purchase last month of 92 Javelin missiles through the US European Command Assistance Program is an example of the kind of programs these bills fund.  Source: Eesti Kaitsevägi/Estonian Defense Forces/mil.ee

The Senate report accompanying its version of the NDAA included language commending the Baltic countries on meeting the 2% of GDP benchmark for defense spending, investing in capabilities to deter and resist the Kremlin’s aggression, and improving their coordination on defense requirements and procurement.  At the same time, the report recognized that each nation’s security requirements will likely exceed the resources their defense budgets can provide and called for a joint study by the Secretaries of Defense and State to assess the three nations’ military requirements.  The study should address their needs,

“to deter and resist aggression by the Russian Federation and to report to the Congress on the results of that assessment. The committee underscores the importance of this assessment, which is intended to provide a substantive foundation for expanded defense cooperation between the United States and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania…”

The 650-page Senate Report 116-236 identifies defense cooperation with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in its Items of Special Interest section, starting on page 307.  The due date for the study is August 15th and EANC will report on its findings once they’re made public.

The House SFOPS bill includes $11.4 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds for each Baltic nation.  This is a $3.4 million increase over last year and the highest level the countries have seen since the program started in the early 1990s.

House Report 116-453 with verbiage on the Baltic Security Initiative

The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee recommends “$150,000,000 for International Security Cooperation Programs with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania through the Baltic Security Initiative (BSI), including $50,000,000 to enhance the integrated air defense of such countries.”  The recommendation also calls for the Secretary of Defense to submit a strategy for the BSI before the funds will be obligated.  The full report is available at appropriations.house.gov under Defense Subcommittee, Legislation, and FY2021 Filed Report – 116-453.  The BSI is discussed at the bottom of page 111.  EANC advocated for the initiative earlier this year and we’re happy to see it getting some attention.

It will likely still be a while before any of these bills are signed into law.  Congress currently has more immediate concerns such as this year’s elections and finding agreement on COVID-19 relief legislation, which will likely take priority in the coming weeks.  It’s not unusual for NDAA legislation to be finalized as late as November or December.  EANC will continue to follow developments and keep our readers informed.

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