Advocacy

Issue Spotlight: Nord Stream 2

The Estonian American National Council (EANC) is tracking and helping to raise the profile of a number of issues in the 117th Congress of interest to the Estonian American community.  This article is the first in a series intended to spotlight a different high-profile issue in each installment.  We hope to give our constituents useful background information and a better understanding of the relationship of each issue to Estonia and to broader regional security. 

This week, our focus is on the natural gas pipeline currently under construction between Russia and Germany.

Nord Stream 2 (NS2) is a pipeline owned by the Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom intended to deliver natural gas through the Baltic Sea to Germany.  It is being built by a multinational conglomerate of interests alongside the original Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011.  Its route goes from Russian ports on the Gulf of Finland across the gulf and Baltic Sea to a port on the German Baltic coast.  Estonian government officials have expressed opposition to the pipeline as detrimental to European energy security, and called out Russia’s goal to use it to divide Europe and undermine transatlantic security.

Nord Stream 2 route. Source: sv.wikipedia.org

While the German and Russian governments maintain that the pipeline is an economic and commercial venture, many critics see troubling political implications.  By bypassing existing overland routes through eastern European countries, perhaps most notably Ukraine, the Kremlin would no longer have to pay transit fees that those nations depend on as assurance against Russia’s aggressive agenda toward their democratic governments.  In Ukraine’s case, the government stands to lose up to $2.1 billion in transit fees that give it leverage against Russia’s encroachment on Ukrainian sovereignty.  The pipeline could entrench Russian dominance in the European gas market for the long term, significantly strengthening Moscow’s political influence throughout Europe.  It would provide Russia with a new funding source, and make central and eastern Europe, including our Baltic allies, more vulnerable to Russian military might.  

The U.S. has passed legislation to address its political concerns about NS2.  The Protecting European Energy Security Act of 2019 (PEESA), amended in 2020, imposes sanctions on foreign business entities involved in constructing the pipeline.  The National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 also included sanctions targeting companies enabling the  construction of NS2.  Work on the pipeline was suspended in December 2019 after PEESA was signed into law, but the project was not permanently stopped.  Diplomatic initiatives implemented by the Biden Administration have not halted the resumption of the work. The pipeline is now over 90% complete and completion is projected for sometime this summer.  Once finished, it will be a permanent tool for advancing the Kremlin’s war on European democracy.

EANC’s advocacy focus on this issue is to maintain bipartisan outreach to the Administration to enforce the sanctions laws that have been enacted in recent years.  Senators from both parties have written to the White House to raise the urgency of using these existing legislative mandates to build and implement new sanctions packages.  While the sensitivities around the U.S. relationship with Germany are clear, failure to protect the security of Europe from the leverage that NS2 would place firmly in the Kremlin’s grasp could be a much bigger problem, which no amount of diplomatic effort will repair.  EANC invites Estonian Americans to help share this message by contacting your Senators and Representatives to ask that sanctions targeting the construction of the pipeline be enforced before work is finished. 

To learn more about the project, the Congressional Research Service report on the topic provides a comprehensive overview.  The Senate letters on the subject are available at foreign.senate.gov under Chairman’s Press for March 23rd and at barrasso.senate.gov under news releases on March 3rd.

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Advocacy

Baltic Americans Converge (Virtually) on Congress

The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) held its first virtual Baltic Advocacy Week from March 8th to 12th.  JBANC has been holding annual in-person advocacy events for several years but missed last year because of the coronavirus.  Adapting the event to the circumstances of the pandemic turned out to be a successful endeavor.  The Estonian American National Council (EANC) was fully integrated into the planning team and played a key role in the event’s execution.

Over sixty Baltic Americans from sixteen states signed up to take part in constituent meetings with their Members of Congress (MoC).  At least fifteen meetings were held via video conference or conference call with staffers that handle foreign affairs or legislative issues for their MoC.  For at least three meetings, the actual Senator or Representative joined the call.  The meetings proved to be welcomed by all parties and effective in sharing the message that U.S. investment in Baltic security and support to the broader region are vital to ensuring transatlantic security.

The MoCs who tuned in were all co-chairs of their chamber’s Baltic caucus.  Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) co-chair the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, and Representative Don Bacon (R-NE) recently took over as Republican co-chair of the House Baltic Caucus after Representative John Shimkus retired at the end of the 116th Congress.  All three were very supportive of the issues and legislation that were discussed.  As a retired U.S. Air Force General, Representative Bacon has extensive experience in the European theater and a clear understanding of the threats Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania face, and will be a valuable ally in Congress.

The JBANC team meeting with new House Baltic Caucus co-chair Representative Don Bacon

The meetings focused on three main topic areas.  Continued U.S. funding to the Baltic defense forces was the top priority.  Participants asked Congress to support the Baltic Security Initiative, which was introduced in the fiscal year 2021 budget to provide funding for ongoing development of Baltic air defense and interoperability with NATO and other partners.  $169 million was allocated in FY 2021 and the same amount or higher for FY 2022 was requested in the meetings.  Foreign Military Financing is an established program that provides grants and loans to help the nations purchase defense equipment produced in the U.S.  The Baltic countries received $30 million in FY 2021 and similar funding levels were requested for FY 2022.

The next topic dealt with energy security and regional development.  Sanctions to halt construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany is the most urgent issue in this area.  The pipeline is 90% complete and is estimated to be finished sometime this summer unless measures are taken to persuade the companies involved to stop work.  If the pipeline is finished, the Kremlin will have a powerful tool of political influence over Germany and other European nations that will depend on it for fuel.  Event participants asked their MoCs to enforce the bipartisan sanctions legislation that was passed last year to stop the pipeline.  Participants also called for U.S. participation in the Three Seas Initiative collaboration among 12 European Union nations located between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic Seas to develop infrastructure projects for energy, transportation and digital interconnectivity.

The final topic area shined a light on corruption, human rights violations, and nations struggling to establish democracy.  The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to counter Kremlin corruption has led to sanctions against almost 250 individuals in 33 countries since it was passed in  2016.  Since it is due to expire in 2022, event participants advocated for the Senate bill that would reauthorize and strengthen the original bill’s sanctions and repeal its sunset clause. The Crimea Annexation Non-Recognition Act was also on the list of priority legislation, especially with its ties to the Welles Declaration of 1940 that established the U.S. policy of non-recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states.

EANC thanks all of the participants and Congressional offices that supported this Baltic Advocacy Week.  JBANC intends to continue holding the events annually, whether in-person, virtually, or in some combination of both.  We look forward to helping our constituents take part in future events, and to supporting anyone interested in contacting Congress in the meantime on these and other important issues relevant to Baltic security.  Please email our Washington, DC Director, Karin Shuey at karinshueyeanc@gmail.com if you’d like to get involved.

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Advocacy

Belarus Focus of Central and East European Coalition Policy Discussion

Belarus, its current political situation, and the United States’ response were among the topics discussed at the Central and East European Coalition’s (CEEC) panel discussion on February 24t,h titled Belarus’s Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy.  The event was organized in coordination with the office of Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who also made remarks. 

Speakers noted the continued instability of the political situation in Belarus since the fraudulent elections that took place in August 2020.  President Alexander Lukashenka remained in power despite clear evidence that the election results were falsified.  Protests continue by Belarusian citizens who are determined to bring change and the regime has run out of options to quell the demonstrations; only brute violence is left.  The most important goal of the demonstrators is to force a new, transparent, free and fair presidential election to determine rightful leadership of the country.  Meanwhile, opposition leader, and Lukashenka’s opponent in the August elections, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been living in exile in Lithuania until it is safe for her to return to Belarus.  It is good that the West didn’t recognize the August 2020 elections, but nations are also not ready to recognize Tsikhanouskaya as the elected leader, making new elections a necessity for democracy to take hold.

Panelists from the event as Representative Kaptur gives her remarks.

The United States has imposed sanctions on the government in response to election irregularities and violent crackdowns against citizens.  The panel called for action beyond sanctions, to include more effective involvement by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism was invoked in September 2020 to conduct an independent investigation of human rights violations in Belarus but has so far not been fully employed.  Concern was expressed over Russian President Putin’s support of Lukashenka and capitalizing on the Belarusian leader’s weakness while strengthening the Kremlin’s control over Belarus’s government and economy. 

Panelists stated the importance of consistent support by Western nations.  If Western support waivers, Putin will manipulate the cracks.  They deemed the U.S. to be in the best position to unite the West in solidarity with the freedom fighters in Belarus and ensure the momentum toward democracy remains strong.  Some practical ways this can be done include increasing levels of assistance to political prisoners and to facilitate the democratic transition, and debunking disinformation campaigns that paint the opposition as an exercise of influence by the U.S. or the West.  Members of the Belarusian diaspora and other concerned parties can help by ensuring their communities are informed, advocating in Congress to keep attention on the issue, and engaging in political action to encourage more resolute policies. 

Washington, DC Estonian community members supporting the Freedom Way rally for Belarus on August 23, 2020

Congresswoman Kaptur expressed her deep concern regarding the oppression that peaceful protesters are facing bravely.  She also acknowledged the important role that women are playing in Belarus’s quest for democracy.  She stated strong Congressional support for the people of Belarus to choose their own future and noted the leadership of the House of Representatives in the drive for freedom and democracy everywhere.  House Resolution 124, cosponsored by herself and Representative William Keating (D-MA), was introduced the day after the policy event.  The resolution aims to support the people of Belarus and their democratic aspirations and to condemn election rigging and violent crackdowns in Belarus.

The panelists were Valery Kavaleuski, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s Representative on International Affairs; Jonathan Katz, Senior Fellow and Director, Democracy Initiatives, The German Marshall Fund of the United States; and Vytis Jurkonis, Project Director, Freedom House – Vilnius.  The discussion was moderated by Michael Sawkiw, Director, Ukrainian National Information Service and CEEC member.

The full video of the event and biographies of the speakers are available on the CEEC website at ceecadvocacy.org.  The Estonian American National Council (EANC) fully supports the efforts of the freedom fighters in Belarus and U.S. government policies to facilitate their success.  EANC invites readers to bring the issue to the attention of Congress and to ask their Representatives to support H.Res.124.

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Advocacy

JBANC Virtual Advocacy Event Update

Only two weeks to go until the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) hosts its first virtual Baltic Advocacy Days, with support from the Estonian American National Council (EANC), the American Latvian Association, the Lithuanian American Council, and the Lithuanian American Community.  The event will take place March 8-12 and registration is still open at baltivist.com/advocacy-day-2021-sign-up.

EANC invites Estonian Americans and friends to take part in this grassroots advocacy event.  JBANC is calling all Baltic Americans to action and are making participation as easy as possible by providing a training session the week before, sharing talking points and reference materials, and helping to schedule meetings with Members of Congress.

Your participation could be as simple as:

  • Making a phone call to your Senators and/or Representative.
  • Introducing yourself.
  • Sharing information about 1-3 top priority issues for the Baltic countries and security in the region, totally based on your comfort level.
  • Thanking them for their time.

JBANC is arranging Zoom meetings for certain Congressional offices, so there may be an opportunity for you to join in if you’re from one of those states or districts.  JBANC is tracking the registrations and will reach out to you if this is a possibility.

The event will focus on raising awareness in Congress of several priority issues.  Funding for Baltic security is at the top of the list.  Military cooperation with the Baltic countries and providing funding to help them build their defense forces have received strong bipartisan support since their independence was restored  two decades ago.  The three nations have earned U.S. respect, first by working hard to become members of NATO, and then by showing their commitment to the alliance through meeting its benchmark of spending 2% of GDP on defense, and participating robustly in NATO missions around the globe.  For this event, we’re making sure that Senators and Representatives are aware of these accomplishments and know about Baltic Security Initiative (BSI).  BSI was passed for the first time last year to send $169 million in funding to the three nations, and one of our advocacy goals now is to promote a similar allocation for fiscal year 2022.  We’re also highlighting the $11.4 million in Foreign Military Financing for each country currently proposed in FY2022 budget legislation to help them purchase U.S.-made military equipment and weapons systems.

Another policy issue we plan to discuss is Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.  A bill was recently introduced to prohibit United States Government recognition of the Russian Federation’s claim of sovereignty over Crimea.  It is modeled on the Welles Declaration of 1940 that defined the U.S. policy of nonrecognition of the Soviet Union’s annexation of the Baltic states.  Ukraine’s current security situation has much in common with the challenges Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania faced in 1940, and showing Baltic American solidarity with Crimea and Ukraine could have a powerful impact in encouraging Congress to pass this bill.

More information on these and other focus issues for the event is available at  baltivist.com – JBANC’s new advocacy platform.  You’ll also find practical information on the event and a link to register.  Please don’t hesitate to contact EANC’s Washington, DC Director, Karin Shuey, at karinshueyeanc@gmail.com with any questions.  We hope to see you there!

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Advocacy

Call to Action: Joint Baltic American National Committee Virtual Advocacy Day

JBANC is calling on Baltic Americans to join us in welcoming the new Congress and letting them know about the issues that matter to us!  Baltic Advocacy Days 2021 will take place virtually March 8-12 and requires registration by February 15th.  Participants will have opportunities to speak up for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania through meetings with their Senators’ and Representatives’ offices, making calls, and sending e-mails and letters.  Training and background information will be provided.

Since 2018, JBANC, with support from its parent organizations: the American Latvian Association (ALA); the Estonian American National Council (EANC); and the Lithuanian American Council, along with the Lithuanian American Community; and sponsorship from the Baltic advocacy group, Baltivist; have organized annual Baltic Advocacy Days on Capitol Hill.  The goal of these advocacy days has been for Baltic Americans and constituents to meet with their Members of Congress (MoCs) and voice their concerns over U.S. policy issues relevant to the Baltic nations.  Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in-person meetings are not possible this year, therefore JBANC and Baltivist are working hard to make these meetings possible virtually!

There will be a limited number of meetings scheduled for the week, and there is limited space for attendance, so we urge you to register promptly by February 15th.  If we’re not able to schedule meetings with your MoCs’ offices, your calls and correspondence will still have a huge impact in sharing our message and raising awareness on our issues of concern.

We ask that you sign up through the Baltivist advocacy site here: baltivist.com/advocacy-day-2021-sign-up.

There you will also find valuable resources to aid in preparation.  We will send out informational one-pagers on the issues and other supporting documents to participants closer to the event.  In addition, Baltivist will provide training the week before the event.

If you have any questions, please contact EANC Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey at karinshueyeanc@gmail.com.

Updates will be published here and on the Facebook event page titled First [Virtual] Baltic Advocacy Week.  JBANC and EANC look forward to seeing you there!

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Advocacy

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing for Secretary of State Nomination

On January 19th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held its hearing to consider the nomination of Mr. Antony Blinken to the position of Secretary of State.  The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) drafted and submitted questions to the Committee to highlight the CEEC’s areas of concern.  The Estonian American National Council (EANC) Washington, DC Director has been heavily engaged in the CEEC’s work and in tracking the nomination process.

The CEEC’s questions covered a range of policy issues that that the Secretary of State should be expected to tackle.  Topics addressed included U.S. sanctions related to the August 2020 elections in Belarus and the Kremlin’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty; countering hybrid warfare, disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks against Europe and the U.S. from sources within Russia and elsewhere; U.S. commitment to NATO; U.S. assistance in ensuring energy security in the CEE region; and how the U.S. should address the emerging geopolitical alliance between Russia and Turkey.  The full CEEC document is posted at ceecadvocacy.org

Restoring America’s status as a trusted leader in the international community was a main focus of the hearing.  Blinken identified his top priorities, which included working with Congress to reinvigorate the Department of State, and working across government and with partners around the world to revitalize American diplomacy.  He affirmed that American leadership still matters and that “America at its best still has a greater ability than any county on Earth to mobilize others for the common good.”

While much of the discussion centered on addressing threats from Iran, China, and the Middle East, he also acknowledged that “challenges posed by Russia across a whole series of fronts are urgent” and would be high on the agenda for the incoming Administration.  He expressed support for U.S. lethal defensive aid to Ukraine and for keeping NATO’s door open to Georgia, and expressed opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.  Regarding the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny this week, he noted that “it’s extraordinary how frightened Putin seems to be of one man” and stated the importance of the political opposition in Russia that represents millions of Russian citizens.  He condemned Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and called for a review of the existing sanctions against Turkey to determine whether more should be done. 

Blinken praised the success of the Global Magnitsky sanctions regime in “bringing democracies together and giving them an effective tool to push back” on human rights abuses.  He confirmed his commitment to ensuring the sanctions continue to be effective and his support of other countries adopting similar legislation.  During questioning, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) acknowledged the role of nonprofits in advocating for Magnitsky legislation, which has been one of EANC’s top advocacy priorities, and announced his intention to introduce a bill to enhance the sanctions.

Video of the full hearing is available at www.foreign.senate.gov/hearings/nominations.

Blinken’s foreign policy experience includes positions on the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration, staff director for the SFRC from 2002 to 2008, and Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Secretary of State under the Obama Administration.  The SFRC is expected to vote on his nomination on January 25th and will then send it to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.  EANC will continue to monitor the process and keep our readers informed.

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2020 Legislative Recap

Legislation signed into law at the end of 2020 included several items relevant to the Baltic countries and the broader region.  The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (FY21 Omnibus) had provisions for funding and policy that support Baltic and European security and democracy.

Most significant was the Baltic Security Initiative (BSI) in the NDAA, which consists of just under $169 million in International Security Cooperation Programs for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  It also directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, “to submit a multi-year strategy and spend plan…describing the goals, objectives, and milestones for programs such as air defense, maritime situational awareness, ammunition, special forces, and [command and control], and the benefits of such programs for deterrence.” This strategy will also include information on the capabilities of each country, along with their financial contributions towards their own security, NATO, and programs supported by the BSI.  It establishes a formal vehicle for long-term policy planning and defense cooperation funding support that has so far been done on a year-to-year basis.  ERR News published an article on December 23, 2020 with more information on the initiative.  The NDAA also included $10 million for each Baltic nation in Foreign Military Financing, which is the largest allocation in 10 years.

On the policy front, the NDAA imposes expanded sanctions on Russia intended to prevent the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which threatens Europe’s energy independence.  It also includes sanctions on Turkey for its decision to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia.  The FY21 Omnibus bill included the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020, which recognizes the elections held in Belarus as fraudulent, sanctions Belarusian government officials who blocked the nation’s democratic transition, and provides support to local media in Belarus and its technology sector.

The Estonian American National Council has been advocating for these bills and initiatives all year, and is grateful for the support they have received in Congress and the Administration.  Please know that it is through the support and contributions of the Estonian American community that our advocacy on important security issues such as these is made possible. Your contributions help bring results, and we look forward to another successful year of advocacy and engaging our community on important issues from Washington, DC.

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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty at 70

The Embassy of the Czech Republic recently hosted an online panel discussion Radio Free Europe at 70: Its Importance Then and Now to look at the relevance of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL or the Radios) through more than 70 years of service.  The panelists were former directors of RFE/RL Tom Dine (1997-2005) and Jamie Fly (2019-2020). 

Radio Free Europe was founded in 1949 to broadcast to Soviet satellite countries, while Radio Liberty started in 1953 to target audiences in the Soviet Union. The two entities were merged in 1976.  According to Wikipedia, their purpose was – and still is – to serve as “a free pro-democratic press in countries where the ‘free flow of information is either banned by government authorities or not fully developed.’”  (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Free_Europe/Radio_Liberty)

Former RFE/RL directors Tom Dine (top) and Jamie Fly.

The speakers highlighted the importance of a free press that functions independently without government influence in nations struggling to establish democracy.  RFE/RL has preserved its editorial independence through ensuring its funding source and organizational structure support it.  The speakers cited cases of foreign government complaints to the State Department over the Radios’ content and the Department has made a point of not accepting the complaints as it has no control over the stations.

After decades of operating in eastern and central Europe, RFE/RL now broadcasts in 23 nations and 27 languages across the globe.  While the post-Soviet space is still a focus, its service also includes audiences in central Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  In countries where independent media is fighting to survive government control, RFE/RL content includes truly objective news and information to help citizens know their legal rights when governments exercise oppressive policies.  The Radios have found their audiences to be loyal because their listeners trust the information and know it’s objective.

Since closing operations in many post-Soviet markets, including the Baltic countries in 2004 after 29 years of service, democratic backsliding has caused RFE/RL to reestablish at least an online presence in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania.  The agency is watching other nations for similar trends and is prepared to expand again as necessary.

The panelists noted that as long as the Kremlin is misbehaving and China remains a growing irritant to Western values, there will be interest in RFE/RL continuing its mission.  As witnessed in the backsliding nations mentioned above, post-Soviet democracy is not fully established, and the Radios’ work will likely be relevant for decades to come.

The full video of the 60-minute event is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQR-o-T_2zw&feature=youtu.be.

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EANC Meeting with United States Embassy in Tallinn

Estonian American National Council (EANC) leadership recently took part in a video conference with the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Tallinn, Brian Roraff.  EANC President Marju Rink-Abel and Vice President Mai-Liis Bartling represented EANC, with Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey and Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) Managing Director Karl Altau also participating in the call.  Chargé Roraff has been in his post as the acting chief of mission since July 2019.

U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Tallinn, Brian Roraff (Official U.S. Department of State photo. Used with permission.)

Topics of discussion included the Three Seas Summit that was held in Tallinn in October 2020; Estonia’s work as a member of the United Nations Security Council; growing cooperation between Estonia and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support democratic governance, human rights, and  digital development in Eastern Europe and Africa; defense cooperation, both bilaterally and through NATO; recent visits by U.S. officials; and how the embassy’s work and programs have had to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.  More information on many of these topics is available in the News and Events section of the embassy’s website at ee.usembassy.gov.  

EANC briefed the embassy on the Estonian government’s program under the Minister of Population to increase cooperation with the more than 200,000 Estonians living abroad.  Goals of the program include developing language and cultural resources for the Estonian diaspora, improving consular services for Estonian citizens abroad, and better supporting Estonians seeking to return to Estonia.  The program is due to be presented to Parliament by the end of this year.  Please see siseministeerium.ee for more information.

The Chargé identified people-to-people contacts, sister city partnerships, and programs through the Estonian government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the foundation for the solid relationship the two countries share.  He also confirmed that military exercises and training continue and have not been substantively impacted by COVID.  Chargé Roraff emphasized that the United States and Estonia have developed an important partnership on many levels for over two decades that will only continue and deepen in the future. 

EANC will continue its contacts with the Department of State and Embassy Tallinn on these topics and will keep the Estonian community in the U.S. informed of updates.

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Biden Campaign Responds to CEEC Questionnaire

Earlier in October, the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) sent policy questions relating to the interests of its member organizations’ constituents to both the Trump and Biden campaign staffs.  Topics included the current situation in Belarus, the role of the United States in NATO, U.S. relations with Russia, the Kremlin’s disinformation and hybrid warfare operations, and more. 

To date, the Biden campaign has submitted its response, which is printed below and available on the CEEC website at ceecoalition.us.  Publication of the response here in no way constitutes an endorsement of Vice President Biden’s candidacy.  The information is provided strictly as a tool for readers to assess Biden’s policy views on the topics addressed.  The Trump campaign’s response will be published promptly upon receipt. 

For more background on the questionnaire, please see last week’s post or the EANC website at www.estosite.org/ceec-sends-questionnaire-to-presidential-candidates.  More information on the CEEC is available at ceecoalition.us.

Central and East European Coalition Questions for the 2020 Presidential Candidates

Biden Campaign Response

The Central and East European Coalition is comprised of 18 national membership organizations that represent more than 22 million Americans of Central and Eastern European (CEE) descent. As we represent communities in the United States with heritage from countries that neighbor Russia, our constituents have a vested interest not only in U.S. relations with central and eastern Europe, but also the U.S.-Russia relationship, and U.S. policy toward the region. Since 1996, we have sent questionnaires to candidates on a fully nonpartisan and inclusive basis.

To inform our voters on the candidates’ positions on our issues of interest, we respectfully request that the campaigns submit responses to the following questions:

1.      What is your position on the implementation of U.S. sanctions in response to the elections in Belarus and their aftermath?

As President, I will defend our values and stand with all those who share them. I stand with the people of Belarus, who are courageously demanding their democratic rights and freedoms, and I reiterate my call for Alexander Lukashenka to cease his regime’s violent repression of peaceful protesters, organize new elections open to international observers and free media, and release all political prisoners.

My administration will never shy away from standing up for democracy and human rights, and we will work with our allies and partners to speak with one voice in demanding these rights be respected. I support the expansion of U.S. sanctions on Belarusian officials and entities, in coordination with the EU and other like-minded countries, to pressure Lukashenka and his cronies to respect and honor the will of the Belarusian people. My administration will also engage with Belarusian democracy activists and expand existing support to independent media and civil society organizations working to create a more open and just Belarusian society.

2.      What are your plans for the future of U.S. commitment to NATO? Please include comments on your views of the ideal level of U.S. troop presence and capabilities in the European theater, and any withdrawals from Germany.

The American people are unquestionably safer when the United States actively leads our democratic alliances and engages in international organizations. For 70 years, NATO has been the essential foundation for transatlantic security and a force multiplier for advancing U.S. interests around the world. Today it remains vital to deterring our enemies, defending our allies and our democratic way of life, and promoting a rules-based international order. As President, I will recommit the United States to our alliances and to NATO’s bedrock principle of collective defense under Article 5.

The U.S. force posture in Europe, together with that of our allies, must be strong enough to ensure that NATO can credibly deter any adversary. It must also be able to manage crises, cooperate with partners, and deploy elsewhere if needed to defend American interests. President Trump surprised the Pentagon and our closest allies when — with no notice — he ordered U.S. forces to be drawn down from Germany. He treats many of our allies with disdain, and has erroneously said that Germany and other NATO member states “owe us a tremendous amount of money.”

As President, my decisions will be based on our national interest, not on personal vendettas. I will freeze the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Germany and the proposed Combatant Command relocations in Europe, pending a strategic review of our global force posture requirements. I will work with our allies to ensure the Alliance, and especially NATO’s eastern flank, has the capabilities needed to deter aggression and provide for the collective defense.

3.      What are your policy goals for U.S. relations with Russia? Please include any concerns you have regarding adherence, or lack thereof, to the numerous standing agreements that both nations have signed on to. Examples include: Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, Helsinki Final Act of 1975, NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, and Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994.

My administration will reverse the Trump administration’s disastrous policy towards Russia and stand up to Vladimir Putin’s egregious violations of other countries’ sovereignty, territorial integrity, and borders. First, we will re-invigorate and strengthen our alliances, particularly NATO, and recommit to upholding the bedrock principle of Article 5, which holds that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” In contrast to President Trump, who has dangerously and irresponsibly questioned whether the United States would come to the defense of its allies, we will work from day one to strengthen NATO’s collective deterrence and defense capabilities.

Second, we will not hesitate to impose costs on Russia whenever it violates another country’s sovereignty, as it is currently doing in Ukraine, and the United States will rally our democratic allies and partners to present Moscow with a unified stance that imposes severe consequences for such behavior.

Third, we will marshal the democratic community of nations to work together to reduce our vulnerabilities to Russia’s malign influence — such as its disinformation, cyber, and dark money operations — so that neither Russia nor any other authoritarian power can take advantage of our open, democratic institutions to undermine us from within.

Fourth, my administration will engage Russia from a position of strength. We will work to extend the New START Treaty and negotiate a comprehensive follow-on arms control agreement that includes other types of nuclear arms, such as non-strategic nuclear weapons. My administration will also seek to work with Russia on issues where U.S. and Russian interests potentially coincide, such as non-proliferation, countering climate change in the Arctic, and fighting infectious diseases.

My administration will seek to cooperate when it is clearly in our national interest, not just to “get along,” as President Trump likes to say. Finally, my administration will reach out and promote greater interaction and people-to-people contact between Americans and Russians, and especially Russian youth, many of whom embrace democratic values and chafe at Putin’s authoritarian kleptocracy.

4.      What is your position on sanctions against Russia with respect to both Ukraine and Crimea?

As Vice President, I played a leading role in building an international sanctions regime to push back against the Kremlin for its occupation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas. As President, I will make clear that those sanctions must remain in place unless and until Moscow reverses those actions, and I will reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to implement the Minsk agreements to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. If Russian intransigence continues, the United States will work with our democratic allies and partners around the globe to increase the costs of Russia’s continuing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Just as important, my administration will strengthen U.S. assistance to Ukraine, including the provision of lethal weapons, to ensure the country has the means to defend itself against Russian aggression and to support its efforts to fight corruption and build a peaceful, prosperous, Western-oriented, democratic society. And just as the United States never recognized the Baltic states as part of the Soviet Union, my administration will recognize the Crimean Peninsula as sovereign Ukrainian territory.

5.      How do you see the role of the U.S. in countering Russian hybrid warfare in the Caucasus region, including the creeping occupation of Georgia’s sovereign territory?

In Georgia, Russia has transformed its invasion forces into occupation forces, as thousands of Russian military personnel occupy approximately 20 percent of Georgian territory in the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A gradual Russian “borderization” and “creeping annexation” process has sought to expand this footprint. Russia’s hybrid warfare in places like Georgia and Ukraine is part of a larger Russian effort to undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence of countries in Europe and Eurasia, stealing from them the opportunity to achieve their Euro-Atlantic integration goals.

The United States must work to counter this Russian aggression. My administration would revitalize U.S. diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict and work to address Russia’s creeping occupation. I would also work with Congress to ensure continued funding for the European Deterrence Initiative to bolster the security and defense capacity of U.S. partners such as Georgia and push back against Russia’s activities and hybrid warfare. Enhanced defense training, to include training focused on conventional territorial defense and tools to counter Russia’s use of hybrid warfare, would be a priority focus of U.S. bilateral defense assistance to Georgia.

6.      What is your stance on disinformation coming into the U.S. and the CEE nations from sources within Russia and elsewhere, and the misinformation being fed to the Russian people about the U.S. and its allies?

Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the goal of undermining public faith in U.S. democratic processes and to boost Donald Trump’s chance of being elected. According to the U.S. Intelligence Community, Russia continues this interference to this day in the United States, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, and beyond. Make no mistake: disinformation is a threat to democracies everywhere, and my administration will make countering it a priority.

We will pursue a comprehensive response that not only involves our national security community, but works with all levels of government to build societal resilience and reduce our vulnerabilities to foreign interference. We will work with rights groups and tech companies to ensure that social media platforms are bolstering, not undermining, democracy. My administration will also coordinate with Congress to reform our campaign finance laws and create more transparency in financial markets to shine light on the illicit funding of online influence campaigns. And we will work with our allies in Europe, who are intimately familiar with the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns and their effects, to impose costs on those who seek to undermine our citizens’ democratic choice.

Finally, my campaign and my administration will never accept political dirt from a foreign government or deliberately amplify disinformation, hacked materials, or deep fakes. We will lead by example, working to restore trust in our officials and our government.

7.      How would you characterize the effect of the Putin regime’s policies toward central and eastern Europe on U.S. national interests? Are there Kremlin policies that you consider to be contrary to strengthening democracy, human rights, and stability in the region?

The United States has long pursued the goal of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace,” because we know that our security and prosperity are tied to that of our European allies and partners. Unfortunately, Russia under Vladimir Putin has sought to weaken and divide Europe, whether via outright aggression in Ukraine and Georgia, or through hybrid tactics such as disinformation and election interference, cyber attacks, weaponized corruption, and assassinations. Through these efforts, Russia seeks to undermine European unity, democratic institutions, and multilateral organizations like the EU and NATO. Russia also seeks to destabilize its neighbors politically, economically, and militarily to keep them dependent on Russia and prevent them from pursuing the economic and security arrangements of their choosing, particularly if that choice is to join the EU and NATO.

A Biden-Harris administration will stand with our European allies and partners against Russian aggression and malign behavior. Just as it has since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States will support the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of our European allies and partners and work to bolster democracy and respect for human rights. And for those that aspire to join the EU and/or NATO, the United States will support those aspirations and the reforms necessary to achieve those goals. Just as important, we will work with our European allies and partners to strengthen and build the resilience of our democratic institutions, while remaining ready to impose costs on Russia for future malign behaviors.

8.      Considering the Kremlin’s long history of using gas and oil as a means of political and economic pressure, what is your position on U.S. assistance to ensure energy security and independence in the CEE region, to include working to end the Nord Stream 2 project, and supporting the Three Seas Initiative?

The United States has a tremendous stake in Europe’s energy security. It is important that U.S. allies, including in Central and Eastern Europe, are not dependent on any single actor, especially malign actors, for their energy. I believe that Nord Stream 2 is detrimental to European energy security, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

I strongly support efforts to ensure a competitive and transparent energy market in Central and Eastern Europe to force Gazprom to act competitively. These efforts should include working with European partners, including Germany, to diversify energy supplies to Central and Eastern Europe. My administration will also work with the

Three Seas Initiative to support North-South infrastructure development. In addition, we will urge cooperation to promote clean energy options to reduce dependence on gas, helping the environment while at the same reducing dependence on Russian energy.

I fully support Ukraine’s efforts to rid itself of corruption and to reform its energy sector. A transparent and competitive energy sector is important to ensure that Ukraine remains free. It is imperative that Gazprom comply with its new gas agreement with Ukraine.

CEEC member organizations:

American Hungarian Federation • American Latvian Association in the U.S. • Armenian Assembly of America • Belarusan American Association • Bulgarian Institute for Research and Analysis • Congress of Romanian Americans • Washington Chapter Czechoslovak National Council of America • Estonian American National Council • Georgian Association in the USA • Hungarian American Coalition • Joint Baltic American National Committee • Lithuanian American Council • Lithuanian American Community • National Federation of American Hungarians • Polish American Congress • Slovak League of America • Ukrainian Congress Committee of America • Ukrainian National Association

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