Entries by Posted by Linda Rink (76)

Tuesday
Oct042016

CEEC Hosts Successful Policy Forum on Russia’s Information War

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC; www.ceecoalition.us) hosted a timely and substantive event on Thursday, September 15, to discuss the topic “Russia’s Info War:  What is the Impact?”  A panel of four distinguished experts shared their views of and experiences with the issue.  Panel members were David Ensor, former Voice of America Director; Jeffrey Gedmin, former director of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Liz Wahl, former correspondent for RT America; and Marius Laurinavicius, Hudson Institute Baltic-American Freedom Foundation Fellow. The panel was moderated by Mamuka Tsereteli of the Georgian Association in the U.S.A. and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Discussion of the problem revolved around several themes, including declining journalistic standards, our flawed understanding of Russia’s strategic goals, and lack of clarity on U.S. goals.  The speakers noted that we are living in a post-factual world where we’re becoming numb to shock value.  The rules of journalism and regard for truth that guided the news media in the past are losing significance while public trust of the media and discrimination regarding reliable sources are also fading. 

On the Kremlin’s goals, it was noted that propaganda has always been a part of Russian and Soviet military doctrine.  Russia calls its latest arsenal new generation warfare, fighting a total war on numerous fronts, to include political, economic, energy, cyber and information, in addition to more conventional military operations.  The speakers saw a gap in U.S. policy that doesn’t fully recognize the broad extent of Putin’s aggression or his efforts to divide and weaken Europe and minimize or eliminate U.S. influence in the region. 

Another U.S. shortcoming was identified as our loss of what we stand for.  Putin may be playing a weak hand, but he’s finding his way because we’ve lost ours.  One aspect of this is our still treating as valid agreements that Russia broke long ago.  We need to clarify our foreign policy goals and employ the right tools, rooted in accurate, reliable info.  The recent trend in rising relativism is diluting our values and objectivity. 

The event concluded with proposed steps for moving forward.  Renewed confidence in the media and making facts matter again, among the producers of the news and consumers, was a top concern.  One speaker observed that Putin must know Russia’s population is interested in the truth; otherwise he wouldn’t expend so much effort on containing and oppressing it.  There’s a large audience for RFE/RL and local media outlets to use the internet to present objective truth in an effort to counteract the Kremlin’s control over state media.   While there was consensus that recovering objectivity and values could be a long-term battle, on a more positive note, Western governments are growing more aware of the problems and working on effective ways to address them.

The CEEC was established to coordinate the efforts of ethnic organizations whose members continue to maintain strong cultural, economic, political, and religious ties to the countries of Central and East Europe.  It represents Americans of Armenian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian descent.  Its member organizations cooperate in calling attention to issues of mutual concern, especially as regards United States policy toward Central and East Europe. Panelists from left: Marius Laurinavicius, Jeffrey Gedmin, Mamuka Tsereteli, David Ensor, Liz Wahl.

Wednesday
Sep282016

JBANC Meets with the Baltic Embassies

The Latvian embassy hosted the Baltic ambassadors and Baltic American community representatives for the third quarterly JBANC-Baltic embassies meeting in September 2016.  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), the Lithuanian American Council (LAC) and the World Federation of Free Latvians (WFFL). 

Russia’s disinformation campaign was an important subject of discussion.  While it has been ongoing since the Baltics gained independence, participants noted that it has become more aggressive and has spread throughout Europe and to the U.S.  The problem remains how to address it.  Suggestions included more U.S. participation in NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Riga and continuing efforts by the Baltic governments to provide transparent alternative broadcasting options to their populations. 

This fall’s presidential elections in all three countries, along with the U.S. elections, were also discussed.  While definitive results were not yet available, the election period and its aftermath were recognized as a time of uncertainty when the Kremlin might test transatlantic unity.  The Baltic Ambassadors acknowledged that the Warsaw summit confirmed solid support for the region.  Since NATO’s forward presence will not be fully in place by the U.S. inauguration, the situation calls for understanding among the allies that this is a soft period.  Passage of the U.S. defense budget, which includes European Reassurance Initiative funding, is a high priority.  Advocating for permanent presence of U.S. troops on Baltic soil will also become a major focus with the next administration.

The community leaders presented their news and events.  EANC’s highlights included the November meeting, awards gala, and public forum; the upcoming publication of Estonians in America; and activities in Washington.  JBANC reported on the work they have been doing on the Hill.  JBANC requested information on upcoming Congressional delegations to the Baltics to facilitate follow-up meetings with those offices and issuance of invitations to join the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus and House Baltic Caucus. Ambassadors and representatives from Baltic-American organizations discuss current events. Photo courtesy of JBANC.

Wednesday
Sep282016

EANC Meets with Presidential Candidate Evan McMullin

Estonian American National Council representatives joined Central and East European colleagues for a meeting with Independent candidate Evan McMullin on Wednesday, September 7th.  This was the second in a series of meetings the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) has been pursuing with the campaigns of presidential candidates from all parties.  We met with Clinton campaign advisor Madeleine Albright in June and have made contact with officials from Donald Trump’s staff.CEEC members discussing policy. Clockwise from left: Ukraine representative Michael Sawkiw; JBANC intern Alex Blums; Karin Shuey, EANC; Latvian rep Ausma Tomsevics; JBANC Director Karl Altau; candidate Evan McMullin; McMullin advisor David Adesnik. Photo courtesy of CEEC.

McMullin announced his candidacy in early August.  He is now on the ballot in ten states and is a registered write-in in ten more.  He plans to be in one category or the other in nearly every state by election day.  His background includes work with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the Central Intelligence Agency and Goldman Sachs.  Most recently, he spent two years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser on national security issues for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and as chief policy director of the House Republican Conference.  He resigned from this position shortly before entering the presidential race. 

Much of our conversation centered around Russian aggression and U.S. leadership.  McMullin expressed strong support for maintaining relationships with European allies and robust U.S. leadership in the region and globally.  He shared his concern for Russia’s destabilizing behavior in Ukraine and beyond, stating that U.S. weakness has invited Russian aggression into Europe and the U.S.  He is in favor of stronger sanctions on Russia and setting Georgia and Ukraine on the path to NATO membership.  Calling Russia the most serious adversary to global security, McMullin sees a need for better communication to the public of the threat that Russia poses and considers Central and Eastern European-American communities as valuable voices for sharing this message.

McMullin criticized the U.S. for pulling back from its leadership role.  Our willingness to cooperate with leaders who violate our values has compromised our standing.  He called for a renewed demonstration of U.S. strengths by propagating abroad our commitment to freedom, human rights and free press. 

McMullin also expressed support for positive immigration reform, strengthening trade agreements, and helping Europe diversify its energy supplies.  He believes partnerships develop and strengthen through large trading networks, efficiently generating wealth for all parties.

At the end of the meeting, McMullin informed us he was working on a foreign policy speech that he would deliver soon.  Topics would include his priorities for the Central and East European region and emphasizing as imperative the value of U.S. leadership. 

- Karin Shuey

 

Tuesday
Sep062016

EANC issues statement regarding misinformation about the Baltic countries and their support to NATO

PRESS RELEASE

September 6, 2016

In light of recent misinformed comments in the press about Baltic participation in and commitments to NATO, and other issues, the EANC finds it important to ensure factual information is presented. 

The status of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as sovereign nations and members of NATO needs to be clearly understood.  They regained independence in 1991 after over 50 years of occupation by the Soviet Union, and joined NATO in 2004.  Estonia is one of only five NATO members that are actually meeting the requirement to spend 2% of GDP on defense.  Latvia and Lithuania are increasing their percentages annually and have implemented plans to meet the requirement by 2020.  All have consistently supported NATO’s force in Afghanistan since 2003 and all have sustained casualties, Estonia at a higher per capita rate than any other contributing nation.

The size and status of the Russian minorities in the Baltic nations are also often misrepresented.  While reports on Estonia have put the percentage of Russians there as high as 40%, the correct number is actually less than 26%.  Latvia and Lithuania are at around 27% and 5% respectively. 

There is a common misconception that in the event of Russian incursion, Russians living in the Baltics may be prone to providing support and forming militias, similar to the way Russia’s aggression in Ukraine unfolded.  While there are still challenges regarding their integration as citizens, studies have shown that while they are interested in Russia due to their ethnicity, Baltic Russians aren’t likely to support any attempts by the Kremlin to advance into the Baltics.  Because of their close proximity to Russia, they can compare living conditions there with their countries of residence and overwhelmingly have chosen to remain where they are.

For more information, contact EANC Washington Director Karin Shuey at karinshueyeanc@gmail.com.

Monday
Aug292016

Black Ribbon Day Commemoration at Victims of Communism Memorial 

Estonian American National Council members joined the Joint Baltic American National Committee on August 23rd for their 10th commemoration of Black Ribbon Day at the Victims of Communism (VoC) Memorial in Washington DC.  Over 40 people attended, including representatives from five embassies – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Hungary – along with VoC staff and others who gathered to remember the consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939.  The three Baltic embassies laid wreaths at the memorial and their representatives made remarks.  It was the first official event for the newly appointed Latvian ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Andris Teikmanis.EANC was represented by (from right): President Marju Rink-Abel; Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey; and board member Maia Linask. Photo courtesy of JBANC

The event was a solemn reminder of how the so-called Treaty of Non-aggression secretly negated the borders of sovereign nations, leading to World War II and the death, deportation, or displacement of hundreds of thousands.  Parallels were drawn between this period in history and current events in Georgia and Ukraine.  Speakers and audience members speculated that if more people remembered Soviet Russia’s 1939 invasions of the Baltics and their aftermath, there might be broader support for Ukraine, more substantial penalties against Russia for its incursions, and more concern over rhetoric from both sides of the Atlantic regarding the status of NATO and Baltic security.

The continuing tradition of commemorating Black Ribbon Day remains a top JBANC priority.  They have been working over the last few years to have it designated a day of public observance by Congress and presidential proclamation.  In the new administration, EANC will join JBANC’s efforts to establish official recognition of this most significant day in European history.  

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