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


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.



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


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.

  • 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.



U.S. Presidential Candidates on Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltics

Erik Lazdins is a political science graduate from Grand Valley State University, and works at the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC). 

 THE TRANSATLANTIC CONTENDERS: The 2016 U.S. Election on Putin’s Aggression 

October 29, 2015
In a little more than a year, citizens of the United States will go to the polls and vote for their next president. Central and Eastern European Americans represent roughly 22 million of those voters and make up important voting blocks in key states like Ohio, Michigan, California and New York.  
Russian aggression is a major issue for these voters, as many of their descendants fled to the U.S. as refugees following World War II from countries that were run over by the Soviet Union. Today, in light of an again antagonistic Russia, its strings pulled by the mass manipulator Vladimir Putin, the 2016 presidential candidates must take a stance on U.S.-Russia relations.
In recent elections, Russia has not been viewed as a significant foe. President Obama notably shrugged off Mitt Romney’s comment that Russia was the United States’ greatest geopolitical threat. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” Obama said in a 2012 presidential debate. However, the geopolitical climate has changed.
Although Russia’s role in Eastern Ukraine has recently taken a backseat due to Russian adventurism in Syria, nevertheless, this important issue is still highly relevant. Russia still poses a threat to our NATO allies in Eastern Europe. It has violated Ukraine’s territorial integrity by illegally occupying Crimea, and continues to perpetuate a violent conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
President Obama has taken significant steps to crack down on Russia’s actions. The U.S. imposed crippling sanctions, sent economic relief to Ukraine, provided defensive support, and bolstered military exercises in the Baltic countries. These progressive steps, however, should only represent a beginning. Ukraine needs much more in order to effectively defend its territorial integrity, and the Baltic states need more to secure their independence as our allies in NATO.
U.S. foreign policy has been debated by the Republican and Democratic candidates this fall. In the first two GOP debates (August 6 and September 16), the Baltic states and Ukraine were mentioned. The state of U.S.-Russia relations was touched upon in the first Democratic debate on October 13.
The stage for presidential candidates is still very packed. Since the last GOP and Democratic debates, Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Lincoln Chafee have dropped out of the race entirely, while Jim Webb has made his exit from the Democratic primary. On October 21, Vice President Joe Biden stood with President Obama to announce that he will not run for the Democratic nomination.
This leaves the stage to Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, George Pataki, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and Jim Gilmore. For the Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley remain. The number of candidates still in the race is staggering.
Many of these candidates have made other issues more central than foreign policy in their campaigns. Bernie Sanders has focused on issues of economic inequality, Mike Huckabee on family values, and Trump on immigration. However, in terms of transatlantic relations, the contender candidates that stand out the most have been Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Carly Fiorina.
Even so, we cannot overlook the fact that Trump and Carson significantly lead the GOP polls, and Bernie Sanders ranks second among Democrats. The Joint Baltic American National Committee analyzed the U.S.-Russia policy statements and platforms of all eight of these contenders. 
Donald Trump leads the Republican polls at 32%, according to an October 21 ABC News poll, and he has led the GOP race since July. Although Trump touts himself as the “most militaristic” candidate, he takes an extremely soft approach to Putin.
“I’d get along very well with Vladimir Putin,” Trump said during a press conference in Scotland at the end of July. “Obama and him, he hates Obama, Obama hates him. We have unbelievably bad relationships.”
Trump views Crimea as more of a European problem, and thinks that the United States should have better relations with Russia. He repeatedly expresses admiration for Putin’s leadership skills and often uses Putin as an example to criticize President Obama.
“In terms of leadership, [Putin is] getting an A, and our president is not doing so well,” Trump said in an interview with Bill O’Reilly in September.
This is not the first time Trump has made similar comments on Putin and Obama. He has called Putin a popular leader in Russia, and argued that Putin would respect him, if he were the president.
“Putin has no respect for our president whatsoever,” Trump said in a Fox News interview. “He’s got a tremendous popularity in Russia. They love what he’s doing. They love what he represents.”
In a speech via video link to the Yalta European Strategy conference in Kyiv on September 11, Trump echoed his foreign policy insights on Ukraine.
“With respect to the Ukraine, people have to band together from other parts of Europe to help,” Trump said. “Whether it's Germany or other countries, I don’t think you're getting the support that you need.”
Trump does not believe that Russia is entirely to blame for the downing of MH17, which resulted in the deaths of 298 victims. The Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down over Eastern Ukraine with a Russian-made BUK anti-aircraft missile in rebel-held territory.
"They say it wasn't them," he said. "It may have been their weapon, but they didn't use it, they didn't fire it, they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean to be honest with you, you'll probably never know for sure."
Although Trump went back on his comments, and said that Russia “probably” shot the flight down, he still expressed his reservations about getting the United States involved.
“We just can’t fight with everybody,” Trump said.
Recently, Russia has openly involved itself in striking against all enemies of the Assad Regime, which continues to barrel bomb its own people, helping to foster resentment and bolster recruitment for terror groups like the Islamic State. Trump believes that Putin should be more involved in Syria.
“When I heard they were going in to fight ISIS, I said, ‘Great, let them,’ ” he said.
Most recently, Hillary Clinton came out against Vladimir Putin in the Democratic debate in October.
“We have to stand up to [Putin’s] bullying, and specifically in Syria, it is important,” Clinton said. “I think it's important too that the United States make it very clear to Putin that it's not acceptable for him to be in Syria creating more chaos, bombing people on behalf of Assad, and we can't do that if we don't take more of a leadership position, which is what I'm advocating.”
In the past, Clinton has supported Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression. She broke with President Obama on his Ukraine policy, arguing that Ukraine deserves greater support than what it has received.
“It’s a difficult, potentially dangerous situation, but the Ukrainian army and ordinary Ukrainians who are fighting against the separatists have proved that they deserve stronger support than we have provided so far,” Clinton said.
Clinton clarified her stance on Russian aggression in Ukraine, in a speech she gave at the Brookings Institution in September.
“I have been, I remain convinced that we need a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia and in particular on Putin. I think we have not done enough," she said. "I am in the category of people who wanted us to do more in response to the annexation of Crimea and the continuing destabilization of Ukraine."
In the same speech, Clinton discussed Russia’s power projection across its borders into other countries.
"We can't dance around it anymore. We all wish it would go away," she said. "We all wish Putin would choose to modernize his country and move toward the West instead of sinking himself into historical roots of tsar-like behavior, and intimidation along national borders and projecting Russian power in places like Syria and elsewhere."
Clinton has also made remarks on Russia’s attempts to intimidate its neighbors, particularly the Baltic states.
“What Putin did is illegal,” she said. “It’s not because we gave the poor little Baltic States NATO protection. And people need to say that, and they need to be very clear: This is a clash of values, and it’s an effort by Putin to rewrite the boundaries of post-World War II Europe. If he’s allowed to get away with that, then I think you’ll see a lot of other countries, either directly facing Russian aggression or suborned with their political systems, so that they’re so intimidated, they’re in effect transformed into vassals, not sovereign democracies.”
Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has moved way up in the polls to second place, nearly doubling his support in the last two months. Carson is currently polling at 22% nationally in an ABC News poll, lagging behind Trump by 10%.
Carson does not have experience in elected office. Similar to Trump, he runs a campaign as an “outsider” candidate. This, however, means that Carson also does not have any foreign policy experience. This was evident when he was caught unaware of the fact that Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia were members of NATO. Nevertheless, Carson has taken a hard line approach toward Russia. He calls for arming Ukrainians, so that they can defend their territorial integrity, and for the expansion of NATO.
“I would handle Ukraine in a very different way,” Carson said. “It was agreed that they would be protected, if something happened with aggression. Have we lived up to that? Of course we have not. And what does that say to our other allies around the world?”
Bernie Sanders has picked up a lot of steam in his grassroots campaign from the progressive left. Sanders focuses his campaign mostly on domestic issues like income inequality and corporate regulation. Nevertheless, he has taken stances on U.S.-Russia relations.
In the Democratic debate, Sanders argued that Putin would “regret” his aggressive interventionism.
“Well, I think Mr. Putin is going to regret what he is doing." Sanders said, "I think he is already regretting what he did in Crimea, and what he is doing in the Ukraine; I think he is really regretting the decline of his economy, and I think what he is trying to do now is save some face."
Sanders has not taken a particularly hard stance on Russia, other than to continue the president’s strategy of imposing sanctions on the regime. However, Sanders also emphasized that force should be the very last resort. It is unclear whether or not supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine qualifies as “force” in Sanders’ view.
“I would prefer to deal with a complicated issue in a measured way: serious international discussions about how we proceed, but force, force should be the last option we use,” Sanders said.
Marco Rubio made headlines when he portrayed Vladimir Putin as a gangster and thug in a foreign policy speech he delivered in South Carolina.
"Russia is governed today by a gangster," Rubio said. "He's basically an organized crime figure who controls a government and a large territory. ... This is a person who kills people, because they're his political enemies. If you're a political adversary of Vladimir Putin, you wind up with plutonium [sic polonium – ed.] in your drink or shot in the street."
In the last GOP debates, Rubio expressed his views on Russia, and emphasized what he believed was a desire for Russia to rebuild the glory of the Soviet Union.
“[Putin] wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force,” Rubio said. “He’s trying to destroy NATO. And this is what this is a part of.”
Rubio stands up for the Baltics, and believes that the United States should proactively step up its military presence in the region to deter Russian aggression. Rubio outlined his plan in a piece he wrote for the National Review in September.
“NATO should station more than token forces in member states bordering Russia, because Putin must learn that he cannot get away with doing to the Baltics what he has already done to Ukraine,” Rubio wrote.
Jeb Bush has criticized the Obama Administration’s “soft” approach towards Russia. Bush has taken a hardline stance on Russian interventionism around the world.
"How to deal with [Putin] is to confront him on his terms, not to create a more bellicose environment, but to simply say that there is going to be a consequence," Bush said in an interview with Reuters on Russian involvement in Syria.
Bush, like Clinton, views Putin as a bully. He calls for more robust military exercises in the Baltics, and to deploy NATO ground troops. Bush seeks to increase U.S. military presence in the Baltics to send a stronger message to Putin.
“To deal with Putin, you need to deal from strength,” Bush said. “He’s a bully, and bullies don’t — you enable bad behavior when you’re nuanced with a guy like that. I think just being clear — I’m not talking about being bellicose, but just saying, ‘These are the consequences of your actions.’”
Bush has advocated for greater U.S. involvement, including the possibility of sending lethal aid to Ukraine.
“I think we need to provide defensive military support, because it’s very hard to make the structural reforms necessary and grow the economy in a world where there’s a threat of further aggression,” Bush said. “That would be the first step.”
John Kasich is viewed as a more transatlantic candidate and has taken solid positions against Putin's aggression. Recently, Kasich argued for a no-fly zone in Syria, and suggested that the situation in Syria should not distract people from the crisis in Ukraine.
“Putin seeks to advance Russian interests in the region,” Kasich said. “Nor should we allow Mr. Putin to use the Syrian crisis to distract attention from his ongoing aggression in Ukraine.”
Earlier in his presidential campaign, Kasich criticized the Obama Administration for not supplying arms to Ukraine.
“For the life of me, I cannot understand why we are not giving the Ukrainians [the ability] to defend themselves against Putin and the Russians,” Kasich said on the trail in August.
In a statement made on Ukraine's independence day, Kasich reiterated the need for defensive weapons.
"Congress gave the President the authority help arm Ukraine—by large bipartisan majorities— but its requests to the U.S. for help have been denied," Kasich said in the statement. “This must stop and we must help Ukraine protect its independence. That means providing the anti-tank, anti-aircraft and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance systems it needs."
Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, has come out as a particularly “hawkish” candidate on a number of foreign policy issues. Fiorina has repeatedly issued talking points on the need to bolster up the U.S. military presence in the Baltics. Fiorina expressed this during the second GOP debate.
"I wouldn't speak to Vladimir Putin. I would act instead, and do four things immediately," she said. "Rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, rebuilding the missile defense program, I would begin conducting very aggressive military exercises in the Baltic States, and I would arm the Ukrainians."
Fiorina, like many of the other GOP candidates, has attacked the foreign policy of the Obama Administration. She made repeated pledges to stand up to Russia militarily, economically, protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and bolster up the Baltics. She advocates for providing more consquences on Russian aggression in order to deter future violations.
“If you permit bad behavior, you get more bad behavior,” Fiorina said. “When we did not push back in anyway on Russia’s aggression into Ukraine, we get more bad behavior.”




NATO Approves Military Upgrades to Aid Members of Alliance



BRUSSELS — Rejecting charges of engaging in a Cold War-style arms race with Russia, the U.S. and its NATO allies approved military upgrades Wednesday that should help them come to the aid of a threatened alliance member faster, with better equipment and more firepower.

"We stand united in the way we are addressing the challenges we face," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

Meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and counterparts from Canada and NATO's European member nations ordered an increase in the strength of the alliance's Response Force, which was 13,000 at the start of 2015, to as many as 40,000.

They also added air, sea and special forces units to the force, which includes a highly mobile, multinational "spearhead" brigade of 5,000 ground troops the ministers ordered to be formed in February so NATO can reinforce any alliance member under threat within 48 hours.

Ministers also made it simpler and quicker for NATO generals and civilian officials to mobilize the force and bring it into action, Stoltenberg told a news conference. He said NATO will also develop more detailed advance plans to use in the case of crisis, and that a new joint logistics headquarters will be opened to help the NATO force deploy faster with the gear and supplies it needs.

Stoltenberg said the alliance revamp was in large part caused by Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its alleged and continuing military incursion in eastern Ukraine, its ability to speedily mobilize large numbers of troops, and its escalating rhetoric about use of nuclear weapons. But the NATO chief said the alliance's sole goal is to protect itself — not to threaten Moscow.

"We do not seek confrontation. And we do not want a new arms race," he said. "We want to keep our nations safe. And faced with many challenges from many directions, we need to be prepared."

Russia too has been increasing its military capacities. Last week, it said it will add over 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles this year alone. In early December, it flexed its muscle by airlifting state-of-the art Iskander missiles, which can be fitted with nuclear or conventional warheads, to its westernmost Baltic territory of Kaliningrad.

They were later pulled back, but the deployment clearly served as a demonstration of the Russian military's readiness to quickly raise the ante in a crisis.

On Tuesday, Carter announced during a visit to Estonia that the U.S. will spread about 250 tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment across a half-dozen of NATO's easternmost members that feel most at risk from Russia. Stoltenberg said the Pentagon chief also offered transport aircraft, air-to-air refueling capability, special forces and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to support NATO's Response Force — a high-end contribution Stoltenberg said "completes the picture of a truly trans-Atlantic effort to reinforce our collective defense."

Earlier, Carter told reporters traveling with him that the Obama administration still hopes to work with the Russians on issues such as the Iran nuclear talks, the fight against the Islamic State group and efforts to bring about peaceful regime change in Syria. But Carter said NATO must adapt its deterrence and response capabilities "in anticipation that Russia might not change under Vladimir Putin, or even thereafter."
In September, the U.S. announced a plan to spend up to $1 billion on various actions to reassure European NATO members. The funds are paying for increased U.S. troop rotations, more exercises, prepositioning of military equipment and upgrading of airfields and other infrastructure.

Since possessing an ultra-fast reaction force is pointless if NATO's 28 members can't quickly agree in an emergency on how to use it, defense ministers also decided on procedural changes to "speed up political and military decision-making," Stoltenberg said.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the alliance's supreme commander in Europe, will now have greater authority to put rapid-reaction forces on alert and assemble and prepare them for deployment, Stoltenberg said. But he said "political control" by civilian representatives of NATO's member nations, one of the alliance's guiding principles, will be maintained over the decision on whether to deploy troops or not.

The changes at NATO, which Stoltenberg called steps in its "far-reaching adaption" to a radically changed security environment that includes rampant Islamic extremism in the Middle East and North Africa and threats like cyberattacks, follow broad policy decisions taken by President Barack Obama and other alliance leaders in Wales last September, and come at about the midway point between that NATO summit and the next scheduled for July 2016 in Warsaw, Poland.

"Things over the last several years have gone at a dizzying pace, you might say," U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said this month in Brussels. "There has been more change than I can remember ever in a single two-year period, at least in the 34 years that I have been an observer on the defense scene."
Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor in Brussels contributed to this report.