Entries by Posted by Linda Rink (59)

Tuesday
Mar292016

Remembering Victims of 1949 Deportations

A gathering to honor and remember the deportations of innocent citizens of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in March 1949 and victims from Belarus who celebrate their National Day, Friday March 25, 2016, was held at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, DC. on Good Friday.  Speakers included representatives from the Embassies of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, the Belarusan community, JBANC, and the Estonian American National Council.Photo: Boris Mironov

The moment was particularly personal to the Estonian Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Marki Tihhonova-Kreek, as she shared that her grandmother was part of the deportations and her mother was born in Siberia.  She speculated that every family in or from Estonia probably has been impacted in some way by the events of 1949 and invited us to contemplate how those dark days might hold meaning for us.  

EANC President Marju Rink-Abel took the opportunity to remind us that information about the deportations was hidden behind the Iron Curtain from public view and even now, the events are largely unknown in the West.  With today’s abundance of outlets for news and information-sharing, we need to ensure that such atrocities are exposed while they happen, are prevented or stopped if possible, and those committing them are held accountable.  

The thread running through the remarks of all the speakers was the importance of remembering the people affected by the injustices that occurred under communism.  Clear parallels were drawn between 1949 and current events in Ukraine and Syria.  The group gathered at the memorial on Good Friday stood in solidarity with those victims of today and pledged to return each year to honor those who suffered and remind us all that the suffering is not over.
Thursday
Mar242016

An Estonian Advocate on the Washington Scene

By Karin Shuey, Washington DC Director, Estonian American National Council

Have you ever wondered what exactly goes on in our nation’s capital and how it relates to you as an Estonian-American and the issues you care about?  As the Estonian American National Council’s new Washington DC director, I’ve spent my first couple months on the job learning exactly that – and have found the process quite interesting!Secretary Kerry testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the State Department budget

This is the first of a series of updates of on the Washington scene that I will be writing, and I hope that you will find it of interest. 

It will be posted on the Estonian American National Council’s website (www.estosite.org) and on EANC’s Facebook page.  We hope to establish a mailing list of people interested in receiving these updates.  If you are, please send your email address to erku@estosite.org.

My first challenge has been figuring out who all the players are and where they fit into the development of policy and legislation.  So far, I’ve met with people in four major areas – Congressional offices on Capitol Hill; other non-profits concerned with policy in central and eastern Europe, like the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC); think tanks, like Rand, the Atlantic Council and the Heritage Foundation; and government agencies, like the State and Defense Departments.  This might kind of sound like a review of your junior high civics class, but I’ll try to keep it specific to the process as it relates to Estonia and where you can get involved, too!

The Hill and Non-profits

Congress is where the rubber meets the road.  They pass budgets and laws, and without them, there’s no movement or direction (some may argue that there’s no movement or direction in Congress, but that’s another topic beyond my scope of coverage!).  Groups like EANC, JBANC and CEEC stay informed on issues and legislation that relate to our regions of interest and visit Congressional staffers to discuss their importance.  The staffers in turn let their Senators and Representatives know that their constituents are interested in legislation regarding the region.

This is where constituent action can really make a difference – I’ve heard staffers say that your representatives in Congress want to hear from you!  Contacting your Congressperson directly is the best way to get your voice heard.  One of my jobs is to let you know about legislation that might be of interest and how to contact your rep.  

A great place to start is with the House Baltic Caucus (HBC).  JBANC recently published a call to action for continued funding for U.S. support to the Baltics here, including a link to a sample letter you can personalize and send yourself, a link to the list of current members of the HBC, and a link where you can double-check who your representative is.  They also published a Wikipedia page on the HBC at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_Baltic_Caucus.  Please check them out!

Think tanks 

Every week it seems there’s at least one new report release or panel discussion on NATO’s readiness, Russia’s behavior, or European security.  They’re usually very interesting and thorough and provide an insightful perspective on the topics at hand.  I’ll just share couple of my favorites: 

One study is about the Russian-speaking population in Estonia.  It found that an invasion similar to Russia’s advances in Ukraine is unlikely to succeed in Estonia because of the cultural differences between the two diasporas.  A synopsis is here if you don’t want to read the full 19-page report.

An Atlantic Council report looks at transatlantic security and stresses the need for our European allies to increase their defense budgets and take more responsibility for preserving their stability.  The panel discussion suggested that some European nations became complacent thanks to the peace dividend of the 1990s and have taken for granted that the U.S. would provide for their security.  Now that new challenges are arising, more equal teamwork is required to meet them.

And finally, this report from the RAND Corporation has gotten the most buzz in the last few weeks.  It’s the one that predicted through extensive war gaming scenarios that a Russian invasion of Estonia or Latvia would reach their capitals in no more than 60 hours, leaving NATO with no good options for responding. 

Both of the security reports provide recommendations for meeting the shortfalls they foresee.  The piece that’s missing is analysis of how likely a Russian invasion of NATO territory really is.  While they are based in rigorous academic methods, to me, they still boil down to speculation.  One thing most experts seem to agree on is that Putin is proving to be unpredictable, strategically-minded and willing to engage in behavior that has taken the world by surprise.  Whether he actually has the audacity to test NATO’s resolve remains to (and let’s hope never will) be seen.

Government agencies

The State and Defense Departments seem to be the practical ones of the bunch.  They take in information from a wide array of sources, to include the media, think tank reports and their own governmental networks, and determine their policy priorities, which turn into budget proposals to Congress.  The State Nordic-Baltic team recognizes the value of keeping interested citizens informed and has been considerate enough to meet with JBANC representatives regularly over the years.  For summary of the last meeting, see our website:  www.estosite.org/eanc-activities/.  It’s the second article on the page.

The government policymakers have access to information the rest of us don’t and on the topic of European security, they have expressed doubt that an attack on the Baltic States is imminent.  Their current policy reflects the need to pay attention to and deter any threats by bolstering NATO’s capabilities in Europe.  Their and the Obama administration’s answer since the events in Ukraine has been the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), which so far has received wide bipartisan support in Congress and is expected to do so again for 2017.  ERI came out of the NATO summit in Wales in 2014 and will likely be adjusted based on outcomes from the upcoming summit in Warsaw in July.  In any case, U.S. support of European security shows no signs of dwindling.  Stay tuned for updates after the Warsaw summit and in the next administration!Karl Altau (JBANC) & Karin Shuey (EANC)

So, that’s my world as your representative in Washington.  It’s a lot to sort through and make sense of, and getting the hang of it will be a process.  I hope that as I figure things out, you’ll find some interesting information in my posts and share your comments and questions, which I’ll answer as well as my understanding of the issues allows.  

Wednesday
Feb242016

COALITION OF HERITAGE COMMUNITIES CONDEMNS RUSSIAN AGGRESSION IN SYRIA––CALLS FOR DETERMINED U.S. RESPONSE

Press Release from Joint Baltic American National Committee 2/17/16

(Washington, DC) -  A coalition of heritage communities in the United States today  submitted a letter to  President. Obama and his administration condemning ongoing Russian aggression and calling for a determined  US response to it. The letter was precipitated  by the most recent Russian  bombing of Aleppo, Syria.  Reportedly thousands  were   killed and over 70,000  civilians were displaced  from their homes. The letter noted that this is the most recent  case of Russian aggression,  which was   previously manifested in Ukraine, Turkey, and the Baltic countries.
 
The letter was submitted to President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker.
 
The coalition  encompasses eleven  national organizations including the largest Syrian American, Ukrainian American, Turkish American, and Baltic American organizations in the United States as well as Libyan American, Circassian American, and Crimean Tartar American organizations. (A  complete list of organizations  is provided below.)
 
The coalition  urges the United States  to initiate specific  responses including  the creation of a safe zone in Syria for displaced civilians,  providing needed arms and training  for the Ukrainian armed forces, expelling Russia from the international SWIFT  banking network,  placing permanent NATO  forces in the Baltics, and  supporting NATO-member Turkey  in its response to Moscow’s hostile stance to it.
 
“Putin’s aggression around the world must be stopped. Only yesterday Russia bombed a hospital in Idlib, Syria run by Doctors Without Borders. We must cease looking the other way as Putin threatens international peace and security,”  stated Mirna Barq, President of the Syrian American Council.
 
“Americans of Baltic heritage are  appalled at the  horrific  reports and pictures coming out of Syria, and particularly  from Aleppo of late” said Karl Altau of the Joint Baltic American National Committee. “This is part of Putin's aggressive pattern: first Georgia,  then Crimea and Ukraine, and now Syria. What Putin's regime is currently perpetrating against the Syrian people is an outrage and is condemned by our communities. We cannot ignore this aggression. The West must respond to it directly and  effectively,” he concluded.

 

The full text of the letter is:

February 10th 2016

Senator Robert Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,

Senator Benjamin Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,

Rep. Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,

Rep. Eliot Engel, Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee,

As concerned Americans and organizations representing a diverse group of ethnic communities, we write this letter to sound the alarm regarding the United States’ policy towards Russia.

From Transnistria in Moldova, to the illegal annexation of Crimea in Ukraine, Putin continues to violate the territorial integrity of multiple states in violation of international agreements and United Nations principles. The Budapest Memorandum, the Helsinki Final Act, the 6-point ceasefire plan with Georgia, and the Minsk agreements, all have fallen prey to Russia's aggression and disingenuousness in international affairs. Military provocations, airspace violations, ground invasions, and even threats of nuclear assault have become increasingly frequent in Putin's bullying of neighboring states, a phenomenon that cannot be allowed to continue. 

When the people of Ukraine took to the streets to demand more democratic freedoms and closer integration with Europe, Russia responded by invading and illegally occupying the Crimean peninsula, an action condemned at the UN by 100 member states. For a large number of Ukrainian nationals, journalists and the indigenous Crimean Tatar people who remain vulnerable in Crimea, fundamental human rights and freedoms have been eliminated or repeatedly violated according to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. Following the invasion of Crimea, Russia then encroached upon Eastern Ukraine, militarily invading and occupying additional Ukrainian territories, in the process killing over 9,000, and displacing more than one million. According to the New York Times, 3.2 million Ukrainians now live amid destruction or are in dire need of humanitarian aid. Russia, to the point of absurdity, continues to deny the daily plethora of evidence that it is directly responsible for these events. When Russia’s separatist army shot down a passenger airliner over Eastern Ukraine, killing nearly 300 people, Russia flooded the media with false information and denials, ensuring that nobody was brought to justice. Its powers of obstruction may be as dangerous as its direct military action, as it protects war criminals and renders all negotiations and agreements null before they are even signed, a reality that the world must remember as it negotiates Syria’s fate with Russia. 

As in Ukraine, Russia continues to lie about its intentions and actions in Syria. Although Russia claims that its airstrikes are meant to target ISIS, Russian warplanes have in fact perpetrated several deliberate massacres of civilians and have systematically destroyed critical civilian infrastructure (hospitals, schools, markets) in violation of international law. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since late September 2015, Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed over 2,300 people, including 792 civilians and 180 children.

Russian warplanes are likely assisting ISIS more than impeding it. The bulk of Russian operations in Syria have mainly targeted U.S.-backed opposition groups, who are also fighting ISIS. Additionally, they have propped up the Assad regime, which is buying oil from ISIS. Russia continues to coordinate its military aggression in Syria with U.S.-designated terrorist organizations including the Quds Force of Iran and its subsidiary Hezbollah. It should be noted that Russian coordination with Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, is a direct violation of UN sanctions on Iran.

Even more ominously, Russia continues to antagonize NATO member Turkey, with the largest army in NATO besides the U.S. After constant airspace violations, followed by Turkey's shooting down a Russian jet, Russia bombed Turkish aid convoys and facilities and increasing the bombing of Syrian Turkmen fighting both Assad and ISIS. Increasingly lethal air defense systems, useless against ISIS, continue to be deployed by the Russians to ward off any Turkish or Coalition response, and Russia has begun imposing sanctions on Turkey. Furthermore, constant false accusations that the Turkish government is directly and intentionally supporting ISIS fill the Russian media. Unless the U.S. pushes back against both the false information as well as the increasing provocations, it will set a dangerous precedent for NATO allies all over the world threatened by Russia. 

The United States must take a stand for international peace and security. If the U.S. does not begin to curb Putin's aggressions now, it will have to do so under even more adverse circumstances and at a much higher cost. Inevitably, the Middle East will become even more unstable than at present, and Eastern Europe faces the same threat.

We therefore recommend the following multi-faceted approach:

•       Significant lethal assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, as well as expansion of the “Fearless Guardian II” training program;

•       The intensification of sanctions on Russia, including a possible ban on SWIFT banking, until Russia begins to respect international law and cease its violations;

•       A permanent NATO troop presence at brigade strength, including at least one sizable American contingent in the Baltics as a deterrent;

•       A ‘safe zone’ under the protection of U.S. and allied forces in Syria to protect civilians from airstrikes and pressure Russia to end its bombing campaign;

•       To strongly support NATO ally Turkey’s right to defend itself from Russian threats and provocations; 

The United States must move immediately, and in partnership with the international community, to curb and reverse Russia's aggressions in Eurasia and the Middle East. U.S. leadership is necessary to achieve this end. If not us, then who? And if not now, when?

American Latvian Association

Assembly of Turkish American Associations

Circassian Cultural Institute

Estonian American National Council

Free Russia Foundation

Joint Baltic American National Committee

Libyan American Public Affairs Council

Lithuanian American Council

Syrian American Council

Ukraine Congress Committee of America

World Congress of Crimean Tatars - Dünya Qırım Tatar Kongresi

-- 

Omar Hossino

Syrian American Council

Thursday
Dec172015

STATEMENT on passage of FY16 Omnibus bill and Ukraine funding

Today [Dec. 16, 2015], a coalition of advocates and stakeholders advocating enhanced U.S. economic, military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine (list of organizations follow below) issued the following statement in response to the passage of the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill: 

The Ukraine Working Group welcomes passage of the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, which includes vital economic, military, and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine. These resources will build upon the $190 million in new assistance recently announced by Vice President Biden in Kyiv. 

While we believe the funding levels approved in this bill demonstrate the United States’ continued commitment to an independent and free Ukraine, we are concerned that the amount of assistance still falls short of what is needed to comprehensively address the critical economic, security, and humanitarian relief needs of the Ukrainian people. 

As organizations dedicated to ensuring that Ukraine thrives as a free, democratic nation, we urge Congress and the Obama administration to provide strong American leadership and much-needed increases in Ukraine assistance in the months ahead as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. 

The Ukraine Working Group includes the American Center for a European Ukraine; American Hungarian Federation; American Latvian Association; Armenian Assembly of America; Belarusan-American Association; Estonian American National Council; Georgian Association in the USA; Hungarian American Coalition; Joint Baltic American National Committee; Lithuanian American Community, Inc.; Lithuanian-American Council; New International Leadership Institute; Polish American Congress; Slovak League of America; Ukrainian Congress Committee of America; Ukrainian Federation of America; U.S.-Ukraine Foundation; and the Volya Institute For Contemporary Law And Society.

 

Thursday
Dec102015

Andres Simonson: Estonians everywhere, make some шум (noise)

BY ANDRES SIMONSON IN OPINION · DECEMBER 1, 2015, ESTONIAN WORLD

If not maybe for a fortuitous NATO membership, is it too far fetched to imagine a Russian-backed war of aggression and influence in Estonia instead of Ukraine?

Шум is Ukrainian for noise, and Estonians need to make some.

It is wonderful to read about all the remarkable advances in Estonia’s recent past. Arvo Pärt wins another award in music. Estonian films generate buzz in the international community. Estonia is praised for a most competitive tax system. Heck, Estonians even invented the latest gruelling sport certainly poised to overtake football in global popularity – sauna marathons.

But what will it all mean if the Putin regime is continually given a pass to play the cold-blooded, calculating villain on the world stage? As if in a theatre, we watch the drama unfold from comfortable seats in the distance and merely assume an unidentified protagonist will appear to keep this band of anti-heroes from achieving their twisted ways.

But, there is no Luke Skywalker in sight to lead righteous Jedis to vanquish the malevolent emperor Putin-Palpatine. And besides, this is not a scripted screenplay where the author leads us into fictional turmoil only to raise our spirits during the last act when the clouds break and the sun shines brightly once again. This is tangible nonfiction at its worst. Regardless, do we even want a bloody battle as a remedy? Of course, reasonable folks don’t.

And that is why every Estonian, everywhere needs to make some noise. Not only altruistically to assist our friends and Western value counterparts in Ukraine, and by extension, liberal democracy as a whole. But, at the same time, because is it too far fetched to imagine the Russian backed war of aggression and influence spreading to Estonia, NATO membership notwithstanding?

Putin is the proverbial bully on the playground. He takes lunch money from one, and nobody says a peep. Then, with what little fear there was evaporating further still, he decides to trip the kid running for the swingset. Again, there’s not a teacher in sight to scold the goon. There is no fear of consequences, of reprisals. So, positively reinforced, he carries on with his ways. He invades Ukraine with soldiers and artillery, and concurrently, invades the world with misinformation to the contrary. He kidnaps an Estonian security official from sovereign territory, conveniently and embarrassingly timed with a visit to Estonia of a NATO-touting president, Barack Obama. Thumb to nose and fingers extended to his foreign counterparts, he grows bolder still.

This is not a sabre-rattling call for military action. Not necessary. Rather, this is a call for grassroots campaigning, for contacting political leaders to demand that they publically call the Ukrainian crisis what it is – a direct invasion by Russia. Demand their insistence for increased sanctions. Ensure they are willing to provide peripheral support to Western-aligned national Ukrainian reformers and foreign Ukrainian diaspora groups. Even if the rate of incoming Russian manufactured artillery shells has slowed of late, the Putin regime is fighting against Western democracy in much more subtle, but equally detrimental, ways.

Write to your local newspaper, or the like, and inform your fellow citizens of the undeniable dangers emanating from the shady interior rooms of the Kremlin. Participate or organise formal protests, because voices strengthen in numbers. Spread this post and other pertinent articles via social media. Yell out of an open window. Whatever works, just make some noise… loud enough that our political and philosophical allies in Ukraine hear us and the agents of Putin’s nefarious inner circle begin to take further notice.

Because applying pressure only works if the valve is fully open.

Notes:
  • If you’d like to read a powerful and transparent analysis on Putin’s actions in Ukraine, read the Atlantic Council report.
  • For US readers, visit the Estonian American National Council (EANC) website, which hosts a collection of articles regarding the Eastern European crisis.
  • Also for US readers, subscribe to news feeds issued by the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC), which issues timely and informative action alerts. JBANC is also sponsoring a seminar on Baltic-Nordic security on 4 December in New York.
The opinions in this article are those of the author.

 

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