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EANC Responds to June 18 Boston Globe Editorial

The following response (in a slightly shorter version) was sent by EANC's President and Vice President to the Boston Globe on June 23, 2015. Scroll to bottom to read the Globe's editorial:

In a June 18 editorial, the Globe cautioned against allowing US heavy weaponry to remain in the Baltic countries, “on Russia’s doorstep,” noting that such a “move has little upside and a lot of downside.”  The viewpoint of Estonian Americans, however, is quite the opposite.  There is a lot of upside and little downside to showing Russia that the US is serious about upholding its pledge to protect its NATO allies.  

It is a quite a stretch to go from storing and protecting equipment to looking like NATO is building military bases on Russia’s border, as the Globe asserts Putin would think.  To take no action out of fear of what Russia might do or think is effectively playing into Putin’s hands.  Putin uses “diplomacy” only as a tool to achieve what he wants.  Stronger American leadership and action are the most effective counters to Putin’s tactic of stoking divisions among the allies.

We agree that that the US should bolster “ the bases we already have in Italy and Germany, expand NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force, and continue to engage in military training exercises.”  That, however, is insufficient to reassure the Baltic countries, as the Globe suggests.   The 150 US military troops now stationed in each of the Baltic States and in Poland, while symbolic,  are insufficient to repel a serious attack, and must be quickly augmented by adequately armed forces in case of need.  The more clearly are drawn lines of demarcation that cannot be crossed, the less likely to try would be those in the Kremlin wishing to expand influence in the “near abroad.” Placing military assets and troops in the Baltic region is a relatively inexpensive insurance policy against the world stumbling into another Ukraine-type situation in another part of Europe. 

Finally, blaming Ukraine for not adhering to the Minsk cease fire agreement - needed in the first place because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea - is somewhat disingenuous.  Ukraine should be given the weapons it needs to defend itself, for right now it is the front line in Europe’s defense.  As Estonian Americans, we are grateful for the support shown by the United States to Estonia, Eastern Europe, and Ukraine, and support additional measures to enhance their security.

Marju Rink-Abel, President 
Eric Suuberg, Vice President
Estonian American National Council, Inc.
Increasing US presence in Baltics has little upside
By The [Boston Globe] Editorial Board   JUNE 18, 2015

A MONTH AGO, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope that the conflict in Ukraine could turn a corner. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for four hours at a resort residence on the Black Sea. Both sides agreed that they would push for full implementation of agreements struck at Minsk, which include a ceasefire and more political autonomy for the Russian-speaking, rebel-held areas in the east.
But since then, tensions with Russia have spiked to alarming levels. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced that he is preparing for a full-scale Russian invasion. Meanwhile, President Obama is considering a proposal to allow US tanks and heavy weaponry used in a training exercise to remain in the Baltic states, on Russia’s doorstep.
Unless the United States is really planning to go to war with Russia, such a move has little upside, and a lot of downside. Storing equipment there requires beefing up the infrastructure and security required to protect it, moves that would make it look like NATO is building military bases on Russia’s border. That would destroy what’s left of a landmark 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia, which stipulates that the two sides are not enemies and would not keep a permanent military presence in those states.
It’s certainly true that Russia has already violated the agreement, and that the security environment has changed dramatically since 1997, due to Putin’s aggressions. But Putin’s greatest fear has been encroachment by NATO. There’s no telling how he will react if he sees his paranoid nightmare becoming a reality. That’s the reason US allies in Europe are nervous about the plan. They view it as a step away from a diplomatic resolution with Moscow. We should heed their advice, if for no other reason than to keep the allies on the same page.
There are better ways to show resolve and reassure the Baltic states that the United States is serious about its commitment to Europe’s collective security. Bolstering the bases we already have in Italy and Germany, expanding NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force, and continuing to engage in military training exercises would be wiser moves. The US military has already stationed 150 troops in each of the Baltic States and in Poland since April of last year.
Russia’s immediate target right now isn’t the Baltics, but Ukraine. US, British, and Canadian troops are training the Ukrainian army but not providing lethal military assistance. If Russia really is preparing for a full-scale invasion, tanks in Latvia and nonlethal assistance are not going to help. In that case, it might make more sense to provide light weapons to the Ukrainian army.
But it’s worth remembering that Russia and Ukraine will always be neighbors. Although Russia has behaved in a shocking manner, Kiev is not blameless. Poroshenko has not held up his side of the Minsk agreements either, and his surprising appointment of ex-Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili — a persona non grata in Moscow — as governor of the Odessa region was an unnecessary irritant. At the end of the day, Ukraine and Russia must find a way to live together that both sides accept.

NATO Refocuses on the Kremlin, Its Original Foe

New York Times,  June 23, 2015


CAMP ADAZI, Latvia — After years of facing threats far beyond its borders,NATO is now reinvigorating plans to confront a much larger and more aggressive threat from its past: Moscow.

This seismic shift has been apparent in military training exercises in this former Soviet republic, which is now a NATO member and on the alliance’s eastern flank, bordering Russia.

On a recent day, Latvian soldiers conducted a simulated attack on dug-in enemy positions in a pine forest here as two United States A-10 attack planes roared overhead and opened fire with 30-millimeter cannons.

Two days before, a B-52 dropped nine dummy bombs radioed in by the Latvians on the ground — all just 180 miles from the Russian border.


Lithuanian and American soldiers at the start of the exercise, intended to show resolve on the new front between NATO and Russia. CreditBryan Denton for The New York Times

“If the Russians sense a window of opportunity, they will use it to their advantage,” said Estonia’s chief of defense, Lt. Gen. Riho Terras, who recently mobilized 13,000 soldiers across his tiny country in a separate exercise. “We must make sure there’s no room for miscalculation.”

The military drills that unfolded here, part of a series of exercises planned over coming months to demonstrate the alliance’s readiness to confront Russia, emphasized the depth of the challenge facing an alliance that for a quarter of a century turned its attention to threats much farther afield.

After years of reducing military spending and conducting expeditionary missions beyond NATO’s border, from the Balkans to Afghanistan to the Horn of Africa, the alliance has had to reinvigorate plans that commanders and political leaders had largely consigned to the past.

This week, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is traveling through several NATO capitals before sitting down on Wednesday and Thursday with other defense ministers in Brussels to debate how to counter a resurgent Russia.

On Tuesday in Tallinn, Estonia, Mr. Carter confirmed plans to positionheavy American tanks and other weaponry in the Baltics and Eastern Europe for the first time. The plan has prompted unease in some quarters ahead of the NATO defense ministers’ meetings, and strong protests from Moscow that coincided with an announcement by President Vladimir V. Putin that he was bolstering Russia’s arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons.

Revising Strategies

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and its role in the war in eastern Ukraine, has already resulted in what NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, recently called “the biggest reinforcement of NATO forces since the end of the Cold War.”

It has involved a marked increase in training rotations on territory of the newer NATO allies in the east, and increased patrols of the air and seas from the Baltic to the Black Sea intended to counter an increase of patrols by Russian forces around NATO’s periphery.

Most of those are temporary deployments. But in February, NATO announced that it would set up six new command units within the Eastern allies and create a 5,000-strong rapid reaction “spearhead” force.

With the leaders of NATO’s 28 members scheduled to gather in Warsaw for an important summit meeting next year, the alliance is now considering what other measures are needed to adjust its forces, to increase spending that had plummeted as part of a “peace dividend,” and to revisit NATO’s military strategy and planning.

“During the Cold War, we had everything there in the neighborhood we needed to respond,” said Julianne Smith, a former defense and White House official who is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington. “It’s all atrophied. We haven’t gone through the muscle movements of a conventional attack in Europe for decades.”

NATO’s steps, and its deliberations over future ones, have exposed internal tensions within the alliance over the extent of the threat Mr. Putin’s Russia poses. That, in turn, has colored the debate over how vigorously the allies should prepare.

Some view the threat as imminent, while others view Russia as less a threat than the instability, the flood of migrants and the rise of extremism emanating from North Africa. A recent poll suggested that residents in some member nations were far from committed to the notion of going to war to protect the other NATO allies — let alone Ukraine.

NATO’s response to the events in Ukraine has required a shift in strategic thinking as profound as the one that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the alliance’s main adversary suddenly no longer existed. For years, the Russia that emerged from the Soviet ruins seemed destined to be a partner if not an ally, something Mr. Putin himself did not rule out when he first came to office in 2000.

“I don’t think we’re in the Cold War again — yet,” said James G. Stavridis, the retired admiral and NATO military commander, now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, who served on a destroyer as a “thorough seagoing cold warrior” when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

He added, however, “I can kind of see it from here.”

While some do not rule out a conventional confrontation — something Mr. Putin himself rejected as “insane” — others point to the potential threats shrouded in subterfuge and subversion, much like Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its continuing support for ethnic Russians in the war in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives.

A confidential assessment of the risk of Russia destabilizing the Baltic States is expected to be presented at the NATO meetings this week. But the potential for such an attack has implicitly been the focus of much of the training and planning going on in places like this.

In private and in public, some officials and commanders argue that much more is needed to reverse two decades of policy, particularly to shore up an eastern flank that to many, especially here in the Baltics, feels gravely exposed to a Russian attack.

Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, said that NATO had to undertake a “strategic adaptation” that accounted for the fact that Russia’s hostility toward the alliance was “a change in climate and not a summer storm.” It is time, he said, to consider significant deployments of heavy weapons in Eastern Europe, brushing aside the worry that such a move would provoke Russia.

“I think the caution expressed by some of our European allies is excessive,” Mr. Siemoniak said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington in May.

Some believe that stoking divisions among the allies is simply another of the tactics that Mr. Putin has employed.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of United States Army forces in Europe, said in an interview, “I am sure they want to create doubts in the minds of some members of the alliance that the other 27 members won’t be there for them.”

The rising tensions between NATO and Russia coincide with a sharp decline in the United States military presence in Europe: to 64,000 troops now, including just 27,000 soldiers, from more than 400,000 at the height of the Cold War. Other nations’ militaries have shrunk, too. Britain now has a smaller army than during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.

The notion of a more robust NATO has encountered inertia that has built over the last two decades. The “peace dividend” that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union could prove hard to reverse, said David Ochmanek, a former senior Pentagon official who is a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation.

NATO’s militaries drew down so precipitously that it has become a regular challenge for members to maintain military spending at 2 percent of gross domestic product, a level considered minimal for effective defense.


Saber Strike training exercise in the Baltics and Poland that ended Friday." data-mediaviewer-credit="Bryan Denton for The New York Times" itemprop="url" itemid="http://static01.nyt.com/images/2015/06/24/world/europe/24military-inline1/24military-inline1-articleLarge.jpg" style="height: auto; max-width: 100%; display: block; width: 600px;">

Lithuanian troops dig in defensive positions during the annual Saber Strike training exercise in the Baltics and Poland that ended Friday. CreditBryan Denton for The New York Times

At the same time, few of the NATO allies are looking to increase military spending significantly. “Nobody in any military establishment is looking for more bills to pay right now,” Mr. Ochmanek said.

A Message of Solidarity

Even before the annexation of Crimea, NATO had watched Russia warily.

“NATO has reduced defense spending over a long period of time, especially European NATO allies,” Mr. Stoltenberg said in an interview in Washington in May. “Russia has increased substantially. So they have modernized their forces. They have increased their capacity. And they are exercising more. And they are also now starting to use nuclear rhetoric, nuclear exercises and nuclear operations as part of their nuclear posture. This is destabilizing.”

While American officials say that exercises like the one at this former Soviet tank base are mainly to allow NATO and Baltic States to hone their training together, they are also intended to send a strong message of solidarity.

More than 6,000 troops from 14 allied nations — three times the number of soldiers that joined the same exercise two years ago, before Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine — conducted the annual Saber Strike training exercise in the Baltics and Poland that ended Friday.

On a brilliant, sunny day this month, 150 Latvian infantry members fought across a sandy pine barren to seize locations defended by Atropians, a fictional foe played by Gurkha soldiers of the British Army. Both sides traded simulated artillery and rocket fire, before the Latvians dashed from the woods and used smoke screens as cover to seize their targets. The A-10 attack planes roared overhead. But what really snapped back the necks of Baltic and other European observers was the B-52 bomber, on call for any additional strikes.

Latvia’s defense chief, Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, looked up admiringly at the warplanes and dismissed any suggestion that a NATO exercise with B-52s might provoke the Russians, as some European officials have complained. “Our soldiers must be ready to train on an international level,” he said.

For a United States military that has spent nearly two decades fighting insurgencies in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, the tensions with Russia have young soldiers, many born after the Soviet Union collapsed, learning new skills and brushing up on an old adversary.

“It’s not lost on me or my soldiers where we’re operating,” said Lt. Col. Chad Chalfont, an Army battalion commander training at a former Soviet base in Rukla, Lithuania.

Colonel Chalfont, whose father served as an Air Force officer in an underground nuclear missile silo during the Cold War, said American and Lithuanian troops drilled together on mundane but critical tasks like talking on the same radio frequency. Lithuanian infantry troops also learn more complex skills, like operating together with American battle tanks for the first time in dense pine forests.

The threat to the Baltic nations, at least in theory, is acute. For the Pentagon, Mr. Ochmanek of RAND has run war games trying to anticipate how to defend the Baltics in particular, the most immediate concern for the alliance. “It’s not realistic to think they could defend themselves against a determined Russian attack,” he said.

There is a hope that deterrence will suffice to prevent Russia from moving, but many fear that Mr. Putin’s government could seek to undermine the allies by subterfuge, as Russia did in Crimea and is doing in Ukraine.


Lithuanian soldiers placed trip wires and flares in the woods surrounding the defensive positions they shared with American troops before the next day's attack by German soldiers in the exercise.CreditBryan Denton for The New York Times

More likely than any ground attack from Russian troops, NATO officials say, would be some kind of cyberstrike or information warfare assault, two of the critical components of a hybrid warfare style that is central to a new Russian military strategy unveiled in 2013 by Russia’s chief of the general staff, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov.

The doctrine explicitly acknowledged the use of “military means of a concealed character, including carrying out actions of informational conflict and the actions of special operations forces.”

For those on NATO’s front lines, the doctrine appears all too real. This month, unknown hackers targeted the website of the Lithuanian Army leadership, posting false information about NATO exercises in the Baltics and Poland, a Lithuanian Defense Ministry spokesman said.

Lithuanian officials said the false messages included a report that the NATO exercise was a pretext for a possible annexation of the Russian region of Kaliningrad, which lies between Lithuania and Poland.

All of this is on NATO’s mind as it takes interim measures to deal with the threat.

Asked what steps his military would take if Russian “little green men” tried to sneak across his border, General Terras, Estonia’s chief of defense, said bluntly, “We will shoot them.”

Feeling Vulnerable

Bravado aside, Baltic commanders and civilian leaders said they were scrambling to improve and enlarge their militaries and other security forces.

These countries are overcoming the years when Russia was not considered an enemy, but was still eyed warily. When Baltic nations joined NATO more than a decade ago, they were encouraged to develop niche specialties rather than territorial defense, which was no longer thought necessary. Latvia, for instance, developed capabilities like explosive demolition experts and ground spotters to call in strikes — all skills that filled needs in NATO missions outside Europe, such as Afghanistan.

Now, with standing forces of about 5,000 to 10,000 troops, the Baltics feel vulnerable despite being members of NATO. They have no tanks, no air forces to speak of, and only patrol craft and minesweepers to ply coastal waters. Each country is now rushing to correct this shortfall.

The Estonians have a “defense league” that is made up of about 30,000 civilians and includes farmers, carpenters, lawyers and other professions. They engage in basic infantry training once a month, receive arms from the government, and in the event of an invasion would be called to active duty to be commanded by professional soldiers.

Juozas Olekas, Lithuania’s defense minister, said in an interview that the government was developing a more comprehensive self-defense plan coordinating across several government agencies. The army will soon add some 3,000 new conscripts.

In Latvia, Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis said that with the Baltics’ bitter history under Soviet occupation, the public and the government were only too aware of Mr. Putin’s attempts to use propaganda and military might in Ukraine to intimidate NATO’s smallest members. “We will stay united because if we don’t, NATO will die,” said Mr. Vejonis, who will become Latvia’s president in July.

Not all of the NATO allies are as ardent. While there has been striking unanimity against Russia’s actions in Ukraine — separately, the European Union extended its sanctions against Russia this week — divisions remain.

“There’s a hope this is all a bump in the road and with a little bit of tweaking we can get back to the status quo,” the former American ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said in a telephone interview. “In my view, that’s naïve. Putin’s not going to change his position, and he’s not going away. You’ve got to be in this for the long haul.”


CEPA Report on Baltic Sea Security: “The Coming Storm”

NATO’s credibility is at stake in the Baltic region. If front-line states do not cooperate, the Atlantic Alliance is at risk of losing its credibility and effectiveness without a shot being fired.

Today the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) releases its ground-breaking report on Baltic Sea security: “The Coming Storm.” Authored by Senior Vice President Edward Lucas, the report includes inputs from CEPA’s Central Europe Strategic Assessment Group.
The central finding of the report is that the nine “front-line states” – the Nordic five (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Baltic three (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and Poland – need to end their “strategic incoherence” in the face of a multi-pronged and sustained military, propaganda and espionage offensive from Russia. Though these countries – which the report calls the NBP9 – have a combined GDP one-third greater than Russia’s, their generally weak defense spending and poor coordination makes them highly vulnerable to Russian threats.
Edward Lucas is the author of the prescient New Cold War, published in 2008, and other books. He is the director of CEPA’s new Baltic Sea Security Program, which aims to offer analytical support to decision-makers seeking to curb the security threat from Russia in the Baltic Sea region.
The report plots the growth of Russia’s revisionist regional agenda since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and explains how division between the seven NATO countries and non-NATO Sweden and Finland intensify the region’s vulnerabilities. It concludes with a ten-point road-map for increased security cooperation.
Geography makes the defense of NATO’s most vulnerable members, the Baltic states, difficult, even impossible, without the full cooperation of non-NATO Sweden and Finland, the report notes. For their part, NATO countries in the region are nervous about military cooperation with non-NATO countries. As both Sweden and Finland are strong U.S. allies, American leadership can overcome this, the report argues.
The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research institute dedicated to the study of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Founded in 2005, CEPA is the only U.S. think-tank that works exclusively on the countries and societies of this dynamic global region. The Center’s mission is to promote an economically vibrant, strategically secure and politically free Central and Eastern Europe with close and enduring ties to the United States. 
For more information, please contact Joanna Kedzierska: +48 606 136 708 (Warsaw), 202-551-9200 (Washington), or joanna.kedzierska@cepa.org 




Announcing VOC's new online voice: Dissident

Victims of Communism offers a new blog with editorial: Dissident.


EANC signs letter to President Obama from the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America

The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are a group of organizations united in the firm belief that the stakes for the United States, and the larger democratic world, could not be higher in the ongoing aggression by the Russian Federation and its proxies against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and right to chart its own destiny.

 We know you agree. Last month, for example, you laudably declared: "The 21st century cannot have us stand idle and simply allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of the gun.”

Yet the tragic reality is that, despite the determined diplomatic, economic, and other efforts of the United States and European Union to change the Kremlin’s policy, the annexation of Crimea continues, the destabilization in eastern Ukraine persists, and Ukrainian lives are being lost to the violence inspired, if not instigated, by the Russian Federation.

This is a tragedy of immense proportions. Ominously, it threatens to get still worse, both for Ukraine and other countries in the region that fear Moscow’s long shadow and willingness to interfere in their domestic affairs.

Mr. President, we must prevail in defending the rights of Ukraine and other nations in the region to live free of unwanted outside involvement, to protect their sovereignty and independence, and to be able to choose their friends. They pose no danger to anyone, yet the danger to these nations is ever so real, as we have chillingly witnessed in Ukraine.

We urge you to consider additional measures to demonstrate our nation’s unstinting support for Ukraine, including the provision of further financial assistance, lethal defensive military equipment to allow the people of Ukraine to better protect themselves, and heightened bilateral and multilateral sanctions against Russia to raise the price for its unjustifiable behavior. In doing so, you will have our full support and, we believe, the vast majority of the American people, who do not want to see such menacing behavior against a democratic nation continue.

It would be our earnest hope to have the opportunity to meet with you, Mr. President, to discuss this grave situation in greater detail, and to see how we might best be able to help our country achieve these worthy aims.


Tamara Olexy, President,  Ukrainian Congress Committee of America                                

David Harris, Executive Director,  American Jewish Committee

Frank J. Spula, President, Polish American Congress

Marju Rink-Abel, President, Estonian American National Council 

Sigina Simkus, President ,  Lithuanian American Community, Inc.                                    

Mamuka Tsereteli, President, Georgian Association in the United States 

Max Teleki, President, Hungarian American Coalition

Anna Surmacova, Belarusan-American Association

Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director Armenian Assembly of America                      

Juraj Slavik, Washington, D.C. Director,  Czechoslovak National Council of America

Karl Altau, Managing Director,  Joint Baltic American National Committee                        

Ken Bombara, Representative, Slovak League of America

Saulius Kuprys, President, Lithuanian American Council