The Estonian American National Council (EANC) and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) are stepping up their work on Capitol Hill in 2017 to raise awareness of issues affecting the Baltic region, to include the Baltic caucuses in each chamber of Congress and relevant legislation as it is introduced. They have already delivered more than 100 letters to new members of the House inviting them to join the House Baltic Caucus (HBC) and to returning HBC members thanking them for supporting the Baltics and highlighting legislation already introduced this year. Similar letters are planned for the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus in the coming weeks.
EANC and JBANC have met with three Congressional offices so far this year. Staffers for Representative Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sat down with EANC, American Latvian Youth Association, and JBANC representatives to discuss legislation on topics including the Baltics, NATO, Ukraine and Russia. The offices are striving to keep a bipartisan balance of support for these issues and frame them as important to national security, which should be a major concern for both parties.
The 115th Congress has already introduced several new bills that address European, and by extension, Baltic security. One major piece of relevant legislation introduced this year is the Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017 (S.94). It was submitted by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and is currently cosponsored by a bipartisan group of eleven colleagues. It proposes comprehensive sanctions legislation on Russia for their cyber intrusions, aggression, and destabilizing activities in the U.S. and around the world. More information is available in the official press release at Senator Cardin’s website (cardin.senate.gov). Senator Cardin also introduced a bill to establish an independent commission to investigate Russian cyber intrusion operations in the 2016 U.S. elections (bill number S.27). It has 18 cosponsors so far.
S.Res.54, introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), is a resolution to express the unwavering commitment of the United States to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It includes specific language on NATO troop deployments to the Baltics and recognizes Estonia’s defense budget as exceeding the NATO benchmark of 2% of gross domestic product within 10 years.
Representative Connolly introduced the Crimea Annexation Non-recognition Act (H.R.463) to make official U.S. non-recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which currently has 13 bipartisan cosponsors. This bill is important because it shows U.S. commitment to respecting established borders as a requirement for maintaining international peace. Also in the House is H.R.830 to contain, reverse and deter Russian aggression in Ukraine. It was introduced by Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) and has 25 bipartisan cosponsors.
Legislative efforts are also underway to support the advancing of U.S.-Baltic relations and the security of Europe through continuation of funding (currently $3.4 billion) for the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI). This funding allows the U.S. and our NATO allies to prepare for contingencies necessitated by Russia’s widening aggression against its neighbors. ERI is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is part of the 2017 continuing resolution in effect through April.
Details for all of the bills mentioned above, and other relevant legislation, are available at the Congress.gov website. They are easily found by searching by bill number or keyword. House Baltic Caucus membership is listed at housebalticcaucus.webs.com. Readers are welcome to check the lists of cosponsors for the members representing them and contact any missing offices. EANC and JBANC appreciate your support.
- Karin Shuey