Tuesday
May162017

EANC Thanks Ryan Delegation Members

- By Karin Shuey

EANC President Marju Rink-Abel issued a letter thanking members of last month’s Congressional Delegation (CODEL) trip that included a stop in Tallinn.  Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey, along with colleagues from the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), delivered the letters in meetings with staffers in the Representatives’ offices.  Eight bipartisan representatives, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, made the trip in the last week of April.  They also made visits to the United Kingdom, Norway, and Poland.  The Members of Congress (MoC) joining Speaker Ryan were:  House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE). 

The CODEL had meetings with President Kersti Kaljulaid, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, Foreign Minister Sven Mikser, and members of Parliament.  They also met with American soldiers and Marines currently stationed in Estonia in support of NATO’s response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.  Speaker Ryan’s office released a summary of their visit, which is available at www.speaker.gov > Menu > search for Estonia.

EANC and JBANC have so far met with six of the eight offices that participated in the trip, generally with the Representatives’ legislative assistants handling foreign affairs.  While some staffers were better versed than others on issues affecting Estonia, all expressed their MoC’s support for NATO, regional stability and continued military funding and engagement.  They recognized the threat posed by Russia’s aggressive behavior and the important message of solidarity this visit represented.  EANC and JBANC emphasized European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funding and continued Foreign Military Financing as priorities for U.S.-Estonian security cooperation.  Discussions indicated that both have strong bipartisan support and would likely continue at current or even increased levels.  Three bills supporting Ukraine and sanctions against Russia were also highlighted.  Finally, since Congressman Meeks was the only House Baltic Caucus (HBC) member on the trip, the others were invited to continue their support for Estonia and the Baltics by joining the caucus. From left: Karl Altau (JBANC), Sarah Miller (Rep. Mast staffer), Karin Shuey (EANC), Liv Hega Fears (JBANC). Photo: JBANC.

EANC looks forward to delivering the remaining letters in the coming weeks, forging stronger relationships with current HBC members, and developing new relationships as the caucus grows.  Eleven new members have already joined since the 215th Congress convened in January, bringing HBC membership to 64.  You can check the list for your representative’s name at housebalticcaucus.webs.com/members.  EANC’s work with JBANC will continue to keep our representatives in both chambers of Congress aware of issues important to Estonia and to keep our constituents informed on relevant news from the Hill. 

Thursday
May042017

DC Think Tank Explores “Permanent Neutrality”

Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) senior vice presidents Heather Conley and Kathleen Hicks recently published their views on the current trend among some European policy experts to promote permanent neutrality as a way to create a new security order in Europe.  The concept was practiced by Finland during the Soviet era after entering the 1948 treaty with the Soviet Union that was the basis of Finlandization.  Today’s version involves ending NATO expansion and establishing the area lying between NATO and Russia as a zone of nations allowed to “choose their forms of government and diplomatic relations, yet [denied] the freedom to join any formal security organizations.”  

In Ukraine, the constitution mandated neutral status by stating that the nation would not pursue NATO membership.  This may have seemed reasonable given the security assurances offered by the Budapest Memorandum, but the events of 2013-2014 made clear that maintaining neutrality was not in Ukraine’s interest, and it is now a close partner with NATO.  While Finland ended its Soviet-imposed nonaligned status in 1995 by joining the EU, it – along with Sweden – has so far maintained relative military neutrality, but now both nations are forging security alliances with their neighbors and considering making moves to join NATO.  Georgia and Moldova have also sought closer ties to NATO since the Soviet Union collapsed.  In each case, it is Russia’s actions that have prompted nations to turn to the West for security relationships and away from the Kremlin’s influence.

The authors advocate against the use of permanent neutrality, identifying it as a flawed approach for appeasing Russia because it comes at the expense of the “core democratic and international legal principles of sovereign choice” and the resulting destabilization of European and U.S. security structures.  They suggest that “[w]hat antagonizes Russian president Vladimir Putin is not simply NATO expansion but the Alliance’s very and continued existence.”  The contradiction between allowing the nations in question freedom over their forms of government and diplomacy while blocking their freedom to choose their security alliances plays directly into Putin’s agenda.

OSCE flags outside U.S. Mission (Photo: osce.usmission.gov)The article underlines that along with NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the enduring but oft-forgotten twin pillar of European security, and Russia is an active member.  Before proposing the return to a construct that limits the choices of sovereign nations and undermines an effective and relevant security architecture, the authors endorse revisiting and implementing the successful institutions that are already equipped to address today’s challenges.  While it may be in fashion for pundits, politicians and others to call for a new European order, those advocates are ignoring the validity of the current structure and the harm they’re doing to upholding the values of democracy and sovereignty.

The full CSIS article is available at CSIS.org > Analysis > There Is No Alternative to Sovereign Choice, April 27, 2017.

- Karin Shuey

Wednesday
Apr052017

Busy Week for Baltic Foreign Ministers

- Karin Shuey 4/4/17From left: John P. Walters (Hudson Institute), Minister Linkevicius, Minister Mikser, Minister Rinkevics. Photo courtesy of JBANC

All three Baltic Ministers of Foreign Affairs were in Washington recently for meetings with the Administration, Congress and think tanks.  Estonian Minister Sven Mikser, along with colleagues Edgar Rinkēvičs from Latvia and Linas Linkevičius from Lithuania, held discussions with numerous officials on U.S.-Baltic relations and reaffirmed the Baltic nations’ strong partnerships with the U.S.

Many of the points discussed during the week were summarized at an event on March 28th at the Hudson Institute, which established its relationship with the Baltic nations when it was the first Washington think tank to host the newly-appointed Baltic prime ministers back in 1991.  This event presented the foreign ministers in a panel format to consider the topic of the Baltic States and the Trump Administration and share the results of their meetings so far.

They began their remarks by outlining their conversations with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where U.S. officials reinforced their commitment to NATO and Article 5.  The Baltic leaders noted that they have had good cooperation with administrations of both parties since the 1990s and have no doubt that it will continue.  Both sides agreed that NATO needs to maintain the unambiguous message of deterrence established by the decisions made at the 2016 Warsaw Summit and that the multinational nature of the battalions deployed in the region shows that the Alliance is unified in doing just that.

While the Baltic leaders agreed that they won’t see a military altercation in their region despite the tendency of think tanks to speculate on the topic, several challenges were mentioned that require increased focus.  Hybrid threats, particularly propaganda and information warfare, remain a primary form of aggression from the Kremlin.  The ministers called for continued development of an organized, pragmatic approach and noted that the U.S. is coming to understand that it needs to address this threat.  The eleven nations participating in the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence are targeting propaganda from Russia and ISIS and would welcome more U.S. involvement.

Another key challenge is increasing popular support throughout member nations for Article 5.  There was consensus that Americans and Europeans value rules-based order and that the transatlantic community has benefitted from it.  National leaders need to do a better job of explaining to their citizens the importance of NATO and Article 5 in preserving their democracies and the institutions they rely on.

While in Washington, the ministers also attended the March 22nd meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition in the Defeat of ISIS.  They also met with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  They finished their week in Brussels at the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers on March 31st.   Video of the Hudson Institute event is available at www.hudson.org/events

Saturday
Mar042017

Estonian Embassy Bestows Awards at Independence Day Commemoration

The Estonian Embassy in Washington hosted a reception on February 22nd in honor of the 99th anniversary of Estonian independence.  Among those attending were officials, diplomats, and representatives from the State Department, Congress, the Pentagon and the National Security Council. Ambassador Marmei opened the ceremony with greetings from President Kaljulaid.  

The Ambassador bestowed presidential awards on three members of the audience.  Mr. James J. Townsend, Jr. received the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, 3rd Class for his contribution to security cooperation.  Mr. Townsend recently retired from his position as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European NATO Policy.  His work in European and NATO policy began around 1990 and was instrumental in the ascension of the Baltic nations into NATO membership.  He expressed deep appreciation for his recognition as an ardent supporter and good friend of Estonia.Ambassador Marmei presents award to Mr. Townsend (photo courtesy of Estonian Embassy)

Mr. Alexander Russell Vershbow was awarded the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, 2nd Class to recognize his work to enhance security cooperation.  Mr. Vershbow was the U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 1998 to 2001, then served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation from 2001 to 2005.  In 2009, he was appointed as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, where he was responsible, among other things, for U.S. policy toward NATO, including supporting the continuing evolution of Estonia from new member to solid ally.  His career in European policy began in 1994 when he directed European Affairs at the National Security Council.

The citizen diplomacy award went to an Estonian-American in the Northern Virginia community, Mr. Tanel Beeren.  He was recognized for his contribution to promotion of Estonian culture in the Washington region.

The ceremony underlined the significance of players behind the scenes who don’t always get recognized for getting the important work done.  It also looked ahead to Estonia’s 100th anniversary of independence next year with gratitude and optimism for continued success and cooperation.

Thursday
Feb162017

Legislation Update: Feb. 13, 2017

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

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