Entries by Posted by Linda Rink (77)


EANC Call to Action – Raise Congressional Awareness of Baltic Issues!

EANC is joining forces with our Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) colleagues to rally our communities to contact their Members of Congress (MoCs) at their local district offices during the August Congressional recess.  All Estonian Americans are invited to contact their Senators and Representatives during the week of August 20th to raise awareness among MoCs and advocate for issues important to the Baltic region.  This concentrated effort will send a clear message to Congress that Estonian and U.S. national security are closely linked and that a strong NATO is the cornerstone for both nations’ defense against the Kremlin’s aggressive agenda.

EANC is coordinating talking points and background information with its colleagues in the American Latvian Association and Lithuanian American Council for dissemination to Baltic American communities nationwide prior to the event.  Topics will include recognition of support the U.S. has already sent to the region, the importance of NATO unity, full implementation of sanctions against Russia, Nord Stream 2 and the threats it poses to Baltic security, H.Res.826, which recognizes this year’s Baltic centennials, and membership in the House Baltic Caucus. 

EANC calls on all interested Estonian Americans to take part in this important advocacy event.  Participation in any capacity is welcome.  Options include calling your MoCs’ local offices during that week; making appointments to visit their offices, either individually or by organizing a group of local Estonian or Baltic Americans to go together; or writing letters or e-mails to the local offices on the topics outlined above.  Coordination among Baltic Americans in the same district to visit their Representative and/or Senators together would be especially effective. 

Please stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks and RSVP to jbanc@jbanc.org if you intend to take part.  EANC will reach out to its council members and local Estonian society leadership to help them organize their communities.  A successful event will leave MoCs with a strong awareness that Estonia is important to their constituents and help ensure Estonia’s security remains a priority for U.S. policy in the Baltic region.

Contact information for local offices can be found at whoismyrepresentative.com.


JBANC Thanks Congress for NATO Support

July 24, 2018 PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate Release

Contact: jbanc@jbanc.org

The Joint Baltic American National Committee Thanks Congress for NATO Support

The recent NATO Summit and subsequent events have emphasized the importance for the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) to reiterate its support of NATO.  JBANC understands that the strength of the Alliance is a product of more than its members’ levels of defense spending.  JBANC expresses its appreciation for the actions taken in both chambers of Congress to reaffirm the commitment of the United States to NATO and Article 5. We applaud the efforts of Senators Shaheen and Tillis to revitalize the Senate NATO Observer Group (SNOG), and the recent Senate and House resolutions affirming the importance of NATO. 

Emphasizing to lawmakers the importance of defending NATO’s frontiers and Western values in the Baltic region is central to JBANC’s mission. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are on the front lines of the Kremlin’s aggressive behavior toward the West. Their participation in the Alliance has set a strong example for meeting the 2% benchmark for defense spending and for per capita contributions to out-of-area missions.  They have also developed niche expertise in cyber, information and energy security, further enhancing NATO capabilities and readiness in hybrid warfare. 

We thank the U.S. government for its strong support of the region to date in the form of Enhanced Forward Presence, European Deterrence Initiative funding, the National Guard state partnership program, and joint exercises - and call for the continuation of these programs.   A permanent U.S. military presence in the Baltics would be a further sign of U.S. support and would bolster the alliance's deterrence effectiveness in the region.  We deeply appreciate the role Congress has played in securing U.S. support for the Baltic nations and will continue to advocate on these issues on behalf of the Baltic-American communities.  

JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.


EANC Meets with Baltic Embassies

The Estonian embassy hosted Baltic diplomats and Baltic American community representatives for the first JBANC-Baltic embassies meeting of 2018.  The ambassadors updated us on their countries’ priorities and upcoming events and a productive exchange occurred on many relevant topics.  In addition to the three embassies and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), the meeting included representatives from the Estonian American National Council (EANC), the American Latvian Association (ALA), and the Lithuanian American Council (LAC).  EANC was represented by President Marju Rink-Abel and Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey.

Topics discussed included the progress made this year on Capitol Hill, the NATO summit taking place July 11-12, Congressional visits to the Baltic nations and other upcoming events.  Participants noted that House Baltic Caucus (HBC) membership increased by 50 percent since the beginning of 2017, which is the biggest increase in HBC history.  H.Res.826 congratulating the three nations on their centennial celebrations is gaining ground, with a goal for it to pass by July 23rd.  The date is significant as the anniversary of the 1940 Welles Declaration establishing the U.S. policy of non-recognition of Soviet annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  Upcoming events include commemorations of the anniversary at Sumner Welles’ gravesite and the August 23rd Black Ribbon Day remembrance of the victims of Stalinism and Nazism.

Discussion on the NATO summit overwhelmingly affirmed the need to maintain unity in the alliance and continue transatlantic cooperation.  All will be watching the summit closely and EANC will report on the outcomes relevant to the Baltic region.

The meeting marked the last official event for the tenures of Ambassador Lauri Lepik and Deputy Chief of Mission Marki Tihhonova-Kreek, who is returning to a position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after three years of service in Washington.  EANC led the participants in thanking both for their work and wishing them well in their future endeavors.Baltic diplomats and JBANC representatives met on June 29th to catch up on events and priorities. Photo credit: Estonian Embassy


Estonian Perspectives on NATO and the Summit

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 NATO Summit, several Estonian officials have been through Washington to share their views on NATO’s priorities and outcomes for the summit.  They have included Ambassador to NATO Kyllike Sillaste-Elling, Ministry of Defense Permanent Secretary Jonatan Vseviov, Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Marko Mihkelson, head of NATO’s Cyber Defence Section Christian Lifländer, and International Centre for Defence and Security (ICDS) Director Sven Sakkov.  Their overwhelming consensus called for a clear affirmation of transatlantic unity and commitment to the democratic values on which the alliance was founded. 

The main topics of the summit will likely include burden-sharing, or meeting the 2% of gross domestic product benchmark for defense spending reaffirmed at the Wales summit in 2014; cooperation between NATO and the European Union; and streamlining NATO’s command structure to be more efficient in responding to threats.  While past summits have had some focus on the Baltic region, this one may not put Estonia and its neighbors in the spotlight.

Nonetheless, Estonia has been a NATO success story.  It has been meeting the 2% goal since 2013.  The Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) mission to deter Russian military aggression “has become part of the furniture” according to Ambassador Sillaste-Elling, indicating seamless cooperation among the British, French and Danish forces stationed in Estonia and their host nation’s troops.  Estonia continues to be a leader in cyber defense.  Mr. Lifländer stated that cyber attacks are “becoming more common but not necessarily more sophisticated” as defense against them has evolved from a “technical phenomenon to part and parcel of what we do.”  Secretary Vseviov cited the success of EFP and the speed of its implementation from planning stages in the fall of 2016 to boots on the ground in April 2017.  He also commended the first-ever cyber tabletop exercise in Tallinn, where EU defense minsters learned the strategic-level implications of responding to cyber threats.  NATO and EU cooperation are critical when such challenges arise.

Estonia has also made good use of its allocation from European Deterrence Initiative funding by enhancing its infrastructure to host allied forces and increasing its own defensive capabilities.  The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2019 allocates $6.3 billion to deter Russian aggression in Europe under the European Deterrence Initiative and Estonia will likely get a portion to continue improving its forces.

Several challenges remain in the region, as identified by these leaders during their meetings.  One important point is that deterrence is a process, not an end state.  While the EFP presence is a good start in addressing land-based threats, the deterrence mission needs to evolve and keep pace with air- and sea-based aggression, as well.  Mr. Sakkov and ICDS recently released a report concluding that air defense “is the biggest military capability gap in the [Baltic] region, and while the three states have taken steps to address this, the full range of systems required…is prohibitively expensive” for their defense budgets.  Overcoming the logistics and administrative efforts involved in moving troops and equipment across borders is another critical challenge. 

But the most critical overarching need is for the alliance to remain unified in its purpose and commitment to a Europe whole, free and at peace.  Without unity, the finer points are moot.  The summit will take place Jully 11-12 in Brussels; EANC will monitor the meetings and report on the most relevant outcomes from an Estonian American perspective.

Presentation on Capitol Hill of ICDS report on the status of Baltic air defense. From left: Estonian Embassy Political Affairs Secretary Kristjan Kuurme, ICDS Director Sven Sakkov, report co-author Sir Christopher Harper, Estonian Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Marko Mihkelson. Photo credit: Karin Shuey


State Department hosts exhibit Celebrating 100 years of U.S.-Baltic Diplomacy

The U.S. Diplomacy Center (USDC) will host an exhibit for the month of June highlighting diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from 1918 to the present.  The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and its parent organizations – the Estonian American National Council (EANC), American Latvian Association (ALA) and Lithuanian American Council (LAC) – were invited by the Department of State to prepare a display depicting the history of the U.S.-Baltic relationship.  The exhibit officially opens on May 30, 2018.

The exhibit consists of three panels, each covering one of the major periods in Baltic history and how the U.S. played a role in each era.   The first panel shows the period starting from 1918, when the nations first declared independence and enjoyed over twenty years of freedom.  The second panel starts in 1940 with the division of Europe and covers the Soviet era, ending with the first Baltic grassroots demonstrations for renewed freedom.  The final period is from 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union to the Baltic nations’ current status as members of NATO and significant players on the world stage.  The exhibit will also include a display case with artifacts from the three time periods.

Visitors to the exhibit are able to access the USDC lobby via the entrance at 330 21st St NW.  The displays are located in the back right corner of the lobby.  Hours of access are Monday to Friday, 9:00-5:00 and the exhibit will be on display through June 28th.  Groups of five or more people arriving together need to make an appointment; for more information, please contact Leslie Goodman, Nordic Baltic Public Diplomacy Desk Officer at 202-647-5624. 

The space for the USDC was dedicated in 2000 by then Secretary Madeleine Albright.  It was envisioned as a museum to “educate and inspire all visitors…showcas[ing] how diplomacy has shaped our nation’s history and how diplomacy continues to play a vital role in their lives,” according to its website at diplomacy.state.gov.  The project has been supported by every former Secretary of State since Warren Christopher.  Construction of the pavilion broke ground in September 2014 and was completed in January 2017, enabling completion of exhibition design and fabrication.

Credit for developing the U.S.-Baltic Diplomacy exhibit is shared by members of JBANC, its parent organizations, and other supporters.  The project was led by JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau, EANC Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey, ALA Museum Director Lilita Bergs, and LAC representative on the JBANC board Henry Gaidis.  All were instrumental in gathering artifacts and photos, writing copy, and contributing to its design.  A large number of artifacts in the display case came from the personal collection of Mr. Gaidis and from the Latvian Museum in Rockville, Maryland.  The Estonian Archives in the U.S. were very generous in allowing access to their photo archives.  Finally, the graphic displays would not have been possible without the talent and dedicated work of Estonian American graphic designer Kristina Jõgi of Baltimore. 

JBANC will work with the State Department and Baltic embassies to find other locations for the exhibit once this showing closes.  All involved look forward to sharing the work with as many interested parties as possible and hope to see a steady stream of visitors through the USDC to learn more about the history of U.S.-Baltic relations.