Entries by Posted by Linda Rink (76)

Monday
Jul102017

EANC Interview with Speaker of Parliament Eiki Nestor

By Karin Shuey. June 27, 2017

The Speaker of the Estonian Parliament Eiki Nestor was in Washington June 26-28 for a Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8) conference to foster transatlantic relations.  The NB8 includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden in a format that focuses on regional cooperation.  Parliamentary speakers from all nations except Denmark took part in the visit.

EANC President Marju Rink-Abel and Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey were given the opportunity to interview Speaker Nestor.  While not direct quotes, the answers below reflect the substance of Speaker Nestor’s responses.

1. The purpose of your visit to the U.S. is the Nordic-Baltic 8 conference in Washington, being held from June 26-28.  What are the important topics discussed?  Have any decisions or agreements been reached?

Answer:  Meetings were held with Speaker Paul Ryan, the State Department, Commerce, the Vice President’s staff, Senator Menendez and other offices. Discussions have been frank.  The NB8 is based on common regional understanding even without common memberships in European and transatlantic organizations (i.e., some members belong to NATO, others to the EU, and some to both).  We’ve made recent visits to Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to encourage politicians and NGOs to work toward independence and being part of the Western world.  If we lose those countries, they’re likely to fall into Russian influence.  The NB8 works to both secure ourselves and to help the vulnerable nations in Europe.  The Baltic nations serve as bridge for higher aspirations, showing what is possible to those facing challenges.

In the U.S., the NB8 seeks to relate to the larger Congress and Administration.  We want to hear what’s going on here and don’t want to be left alone.  We work to strengthen transatlantic ties and to convince officials here that those ties are in the interest of the U.S., too.

In our meeting with Senator Menendez (D-NJ), he affirmed the U.S. commitment to NATO’s Article 5.  His comments were reassuring, stating that it is easy to find common ground and strong partners in Congress.  [Highlights from the meeting with Speaker Ryan are provided below.]

2.  Security of the Baltic region is a major concern not only to the Baltic peoples but also to Baltic Americans.  What is the latest information about Russian incursions into Estonian airspace and other means of intimidation?  What deterrence approaches are working and what more needs to be done?

Answer:  Good Nordic and NATO cooperation and boots on the ground are very important.  Russia is not much different from the Soviet Union – its behavior is based on the face of the enemy and its leader must protect Russia from that enemy, which now is NATO and the EU.  No one believed Russia would invade Crimea or start a war in Ukraine.  We are in favor of sanctions and it’s important to understand that Russia acted first.  Their upcoming Zapad exercise (on the Belarus border) will be larger than previous exercises.  There are big concerns in Estonia that we need to be well-integrated in NATO and the EU.  Why would Russia spend so much money in an area where they have no interest?

3. What is the anxiety level among the population in Estonia?  Is there a difference in the Russian-speaking minority?  What steps is the Estonian government taking in this regard?  Are there specific actions aimed at the Russian speakers?

Answer:  Estonia launched ETV+, a Russian-language TV station in 2015 and it’s working well but it’s similar to Estonians watching Finnish TV during the Cold War – people are free to make their own choices. Social media disinformation is easy to propagate and it can be difficult to change to a new channel.  We can’t integrate the Russian population just through TV.  Younger people with Estonian education are more comfortable. Others miss the Soviet Union and aren’t comfortable in a Western environment.  Russian citizens in Estonia don’t think they need any kind of protection from Russia.  They see life in Ivangorod, are content where they are and don’t feel threatened.  Politicians need to avoid creating a political climate where Russian speakers grow up into enemies of Estonia. 

On an encouraging note, Estonia is the only new democracy in Europe with two years of positive population growth.  Some who left for other parts of the EU are now coming back – and a big draw is to get their children educated in Estonia’s strong school system.

4. What are the primary agenda items for the Riigikogu?  What do you hope to accomplish before the next Riigikogu elections in 2019?

Answer:  Presidency of the EU is the #1 focus.  Meetings with the European Parliament have already started.  Opening ceremonies are on July 4th and Estonians are well-prepared for the job, hoping to cultivate better understanding both ways.  We will promote the uniqueness of Estonian digital life, digital government and cooperation as tools against terrorism.

On a national level, we will promote local government and state reforms and have ideas for a new pension system.  Foreign policy and defense policy will remain strong and active; those are two committees in Parliament that work well in consensus despite the current six party system.

5. Estonians abroad, as well as activists in Estonia, have stated that they oppose the yet-to-be ratified boundary agreement (piirileping) with Russia.  What are the benefits to Estonia that will come from this agreement?  Considering recent Russian aggressive actions, why should any such important agreement be considered by the Riigikogu?

Answer:  A clear border with Russia is in Estonia’s security interest.  The Tartu Rahuleping is a holy document but would take huge changes in Russia to ratify, and Estonia won’t ratify it if Russia doesn’t.  Russia has said repeatedly that it’s “not a good moment.”  To have a signed agreement is not against the Tartu Rahu, though it probably won’t happen in the next two years.  The Zapad exercise contradicts the possibility that Russia will “find a good moment” anytime soon.

6. How familiar are you with the activities of Estonian Americans, particularly in the political sector?  What can the diaspora do to help Estonia's security in the future?

Answer:  I read Vaba Eesti Sõna regularly and encourage you to be proud Estonians.  Keep the language and culture going and keep your children and grandchildren interested.  Explain where Estonia is to your friends.  The Embassy here is very professional and very good at advocacy. The EU presidency also helps.

7. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers in the USA?

Answer:  Don’t worry – Estonia is independent, free, and well-developed.  Lots of countries are trying to follow our example.  Good luck, be proud, and we hope to see you in Tallinn next year to celebrate our great 100-year milestone!

A press release from the Riigikogu at the end of the trip summed up Speaker Nestor’s impressions.  He stated that the joint visit went better than the NB8 group expected when they planned the trip late last year.  Since transatlantic relations were the main focus of this trip, reinforcement of firm U.S. support for NATO and Article 5 was well-received.  House Speaker Ryan’s office issued a statement after his meeting with the delegation stating that “Interparliamentary cooperation is a bedrock of our transatlantic alliances.  Together, we are determined to work toward a more safe and secure future…”  The Riigikogu’s press release, dated Thursday, 29.06.2017, is available on its website.  Speaker Ryan’s is posted at www.speaker.gov, dated June 28, 2017.

EANC thanks Speaker Nestor and his office for making the interview possible.  We wish them and Estonia the best in its term in the EU presidency and look forward to continuing our reporting of news on Estonia from both sides of the Atlantic.House Speaker Ryan met with his Nordic-Baltic counterparts, including Estonian Eiki Nestor (far right), on June 28th. Photo by Tomas Enqvist.

Thursday
Jun222017

EANC and JBANC Support Ukraine Advocacy

From Karin Shuey 6/22/17

EANC’s sister organization from the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) representing Ukrainian Americans held an advocacy event on June 14 in Washington to call attention to legislation relevant to ending the conflict in Ukraine.  The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) together with the Ukrainian National Information Service (UNIS) sponsored their thrice-yearly “Ukraine Days” advocacy event on June 14th and were reinforced by EANC and JBANC support. 

The program included a morning briefing session with leaders of the Ukrainian-American community from throughout the U.S., followed by visits to both Senate and House members’ offices.  EANC Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey and JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau, along with JBANC interns Lina Sullivan, Ojars Berzins, Elīna Dīce, and Anete Rožukalne, joined the team of Ukrainians from Virginia and California to visit offices representing those states.  During the course of the day, they met with staff working for California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Virginia Representatives Don Beyer and Barbara Comstock.  EANC and JBANC reps join Ukrainian-American advocates in meeting with Senator Feinstein Legislative Correspondent Anup Rao (second from left). Photo: JBANC.Since one of the Ukrainian-American advocates was a constituent of Representative Dana Rohrabacher, he made time to meet with the group himself for a lively and sometimes contentious discussion of the issues.  This group also included a Crimean Tatar and a Georgian soldier who volunteered in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.  The day ended with a reception in the Capitol, offering another opportunity to discuss issues with Members of Congress and staff and other friends of Ukraine. Representative Rohrabacher (back row, second from right) meets with Ukrainian- and Russian-Americans, along with EANC and JBANC reps. Photo: JBANC

This event works in parallel with EANC’s and JBANC’s mission, including JBANC’s biennial security conference, in calling attention to the legislation and issues that impact the nations along Russia’s border.   Much of the legislation JBANC supports is the same as that highlighted on this advocacy day.  By reinforcing Ukrainian priorities in Congress, JBANC and EANC also bolster the cause for democracy, border integrity, fair elections, rule of law, military and diplomatic cooperation, and other democratic principles and institutions that form the foundations of European security and a stable world order.

EANC and the other member organizations of the CEEC will continue to work together to keep Congress focused on our common interests.  While the Estonian-American community makes up a small percentage of most congressional district populations, teaming up with the communities from our former Soviet Republic and Warsaw Pact neighbors, our voices become much stronger and more likely to get the attention of our lawmakers.  Our ongoing work with the CEEC produces policy statements and press releases, summaries of relevant legislation that we distribute on the Hill, and forums for Congressional staffers and members of the foreign policy community that draw high-level speakers to shine a light on the hottest topics affecting our region.  For more information on the CEEC, please visit www.ceecoalition.us.  

Saturday
Jun172017

Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Honors Mart Laar

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VoC) held its tenth annual Roll Call of Nations on June 9th.  The event each year commemorates the more than 100 million victims of communism worldwide and those still living under totalitarian regimes.  Over twenty embassies and other government agencies and thirty nongovernmental organizations took part this year, setting a record for attendance.  Former Lithuanian head of state Dr. Vytautas Landsbergis was the keynote speaker.

Dr. Mart Laar was honored with this year’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom.  VoC has awarded the medal annually since 1999 to “individuals and institutions that have demonstrated a life-long commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny,” as quoted from its website.  The award was presented by VoC Chairman Lee Edwards. 

Laar was the first Prime Minister following Estonia’s re-independence in 1992 and was elected again in 1999.  His leadership in creating an accountable government, implementing free-market reform, and paving the way for Estonia’s membership in the EU, along with his extensive background in human rights and publicizing Estonia’s history of anti-Soviet resistance, earned him the recognition.  Edwards also credited him with Estonia’s ‘Baltic Tiger’ economic reputation and leading the Singing Revolution.  Estonian Deputy Chief of Mission Marki Tihhonova-Kreek accepted the award on Laar’s behalf.

The VoC Memorial Foundation was established in 1993 to educate the public on the crimes of communism and honor the victims of communism around the world.  The memorial itself was dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2007.  Its statue is a replica of the one erected by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in 1989.   VoC Executive Director Marion Smith noted that it is the only known memorial dedicated to all victims of communism around the world.  He also noted that younger generations are “woefully ignorant” of twentieth century history and the dangers of communism that arose during that time.  VoC is now working toward building a world-class International Museum on Communism in Washington dedicated to education and a historical archive of communism’s tyranny.

EANC supports the VoC and its mission several times each year.  In addition to this event, we take part in the VoC’s observation of the of Black Ribbon Day each August and the commemoration of the March 1949 mass deportations from the Baltic nations.  EANC also provided financial support to the building of the memorial and to the anticipated museum.  We thank VoC for its enduring commitment to keeping the memory of communism’s crimes alive.

- Karin Shuey

Wednesday
Jun072017

Two Perspectives on Western Security and Russia

America’s NATO Problem:  We’ve Forgotten Why We’re a Member, Jeffrey Rathke, Center for Strategic & International Studies (csis.org), May 24, 2017

What Does Russia Want? Commentary by Kadri Liik, European Council on Foreign Relations (ecfr.eu), May 26, 2017

How have conditions in the West allowed the current low point in relations between Russia and the West to develop?  Two perspectives are offered in these two articles.  Jeffrey Rathke is a Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.  Kadri Liik is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and former director of the International Centre For Defence Studies in Tallinn.  Please see their organizations’ website for the full articles; summaries of each are provided below.

Rathke proposes that “American leaders in both parties have failed in recent decades to explain the strategic benefit of NATO to the United States.”  Much of the American public no longer appreciate the link between European stability and U.S. economic and national security.  Given that the economic relationship between Europe and the West is the largest in the world, the importance of this relationship needs to be clear.

Rathke emphasizes that the military relationship with Europe is also vital to U.S. security and interests.  NATO’s roles in deterring any conventional or nuclear threat from Russia, assembling allied forces in security interests on both sides of the Atlantic, and protecting and advancing Western interests and democratic values require “that the European continent not be dominated or destabilized by any adversary.”

Liik provides a thorough look at the evolution of Russia’s status from the Soviet era to the current international order.  Today’s Russia craves great-power status and is offended that the West has not granted it.  While the Kremlin seeks influence over the non-EU/non-NATO countries along its border and to prevent close ties between those counties and the West, therein lies a fundamental clash between the desire for spheres of control and the post-Cold War liberal order that emphasizes human rights and democracy.  Russian meddling in Western domestic politics aims to establish a new order, or at least create new rules.

The environment that allows Russia’s interference beyond its borders is rooted in “the disaffection of Western populations, and the widespread confusion about the Western model.”  The West must first restore the credibility of its own system and values if Russia is to accept the West’s version of the world order.  There is currently no incentive for Russia to do so.  “The West thinks of Russia as of a person stuck in a geocentric worldview…And Russia views the West as a New Age crackpot, trying to cure cancer with homeopathy, and creating catastrophes in the process.” 

Both authors agree that platitudes and moral high ground are no longer sufficient arguments for convincing those who doubt the Western model of democracy and peace.  While it may still be valid to affirm that NATO and the EU, along with the principles they stand for, are indispensable to global security, until the Western system gets better at presenting realistic, workable solutions to the world’s problems, Western and Russian goals will remain fundamentally at odds.

Wednesday
Jun072017

Ambassador Daniel Fried – Keynote Remarks

Ambassador Daniel Fried – Keynote Remarks (abridged)
JBANC Baltic Conference, Washington DC, May 20, 2017

Please note:  This is an abridged version of Ambassador Fried’s remarks.  For the full version, please see https://www.jbanc.org/single-post/2017/05/31/Ambassador-Daniel-Fried---JBANC-Baltic-Conference-Keynote-Remarks

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with JBANC. I first met with JBANC in 1993.  Back in those days, NATO enlargement even to Poland was considered a dangerous and radical idea, and the NATO enlargement to the Baltics was considered a kind of elaborate rhetorical device not to be taken seriously, and yet here we are, with the EU and NATO having embraced a hundred million Europeans between the Baltic and the Black Sea, who liberated themselves from communism and Soviet domination.  But our work is far from done.  The Free World faces challenges from without, from Russian aggression; and from within, not just from the Russian trolls and bots and useful idiots, but by the doubts within the West itself, as to our purposes and our achievements and our values.

The enlargement of NATO was not done for its own sake. NATO was an instrument of achieving a united Europe, democratic, prosperous, and free for the first time in its history. Credit for that goes to President Clinton - Bill Clinton made the decision to enlarge NATO over the objections of many. The decision to invite the Baltic states to NATO is to the credit of George W. Bush, who might have decided otherwise. And then let’s give full credit to Barack Obama, who ended up supporting sanctions against Russia, and led NATO’s decision to put in its forces and America’s parallel decision to put in national forces into the Baltic states and Poland. So, full credit to three American presidents in a row; very different people who carried out in their own way the same policy and did so successfully.  But the real credit for all of this belongs to the people and governments of the Baltic states.  The Baltic states did what they had to do.  And in doing so, they generated political capital for themselves, which then their friends in the West would use.

What does Putin want?  He wants the empire back, as much of it as he can claw back.  It doesn’t mean he won’t settle for less, but it means he wants as much as he can get.  And he also wants to weaken the institutions of the West in general, because he wants to show that the West is not what it claims to be. He judges us by his own standards, and he thinks we are no more than our worst selves. We need to prove him wrong. And we need to resist Russian aggression. Putin does all of this, because his own rule and Russian autocracy is safe only if democracy is weak, because autocracy at home for Russia depends on democracy being on the defensive abroad.

We have a responsibility to mobilize ourselves to meet the threats, to do and to remember that our work is not done. Our tasks still lie ahead. They include securing what we achieved from Russian aggression; facing up to the problems in the West that have raised such doubts, and never giving up on the notion of freedom in the conviction that our time will come again.

So thank you and thank you to JBANC for all the work and cooperation over so many years.

Page 1 ... 4 5 6 7 8 ... 16 Next 5 Entries »