|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on July 26, 2017 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
HELSINKI — The NATO-aligned Baltic states are to pursue greater collaboration on the joint purchase of offensive weapons systems.
Baltic governments, motivated by unease over a more unpredictable Kremlin, also want the U.S. to house the Patriot air-and-missile defense system in the region to defend against potential future threats by Russia.
Baltic leaders have so far failed to persuade NATO to scale up capabilities in the region beyond defensive weapons systems. Baltic leaders are eager to secure such a commitment from NATO as part of ongoing plans to both increase their military budgets and strengthen their collective defense structures and capabilities, including the development of a common air defense.
Atis Pabriks, a member of the European Parliament and former Latvian defense minister, wants NATO and the United States to beef up their commitment to the defense of Baltic airspace by deploying missiles such as the Patriot system in the region.
"It is obvious that the three NATO battalions that are deployed in the three Baltic states, even taken together with the armed forces of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, would not be strong enough to combat a major Russian military offensive," Pabriks said.
According to Pabriks, the present formation of NATO forces deployed to defend the borders of the three Baltic states would constitute little more than a "delaying mechanism" in the event of a full-on attack by Russia.
Citing Russia's so-called destabilizing military movements in the region, Baltic leaders raised the deployment of the Patriot system during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in mid-May.
Mattis told Baltic political leaders and military chiefs that the U.S favors a strategy of non-provocation with Russia. Under this policy, the U.S. can be expected to continue to restrict deployments of defensive systems to only the Eastern European region.
For their own part, the Baltic states are negotiating the development of a joint mid-range air-defense system. At present, the three Baltic countries rely on short-range anti-aircraft defense systems.
While these Baltic interstate talks continue, Lithuania has contracted Nordic defense group Kongsberg to deliver two Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems at a cost of $110 million. Kongsberg is due to deliver the NASAM units to Lithuania in 2020.
The NASAMS system package purchased by Lithuania comprises 12 launcher vehicles carrying six missiles, eight radar vehicles, one fire-control center and one tactical control vehicle.
With an eye to further deepening defense cooperation, Latvia has signed a mutual agreement on military procurement with the U.S.
"The agreement will provide opportunities for companies of each nation to participate in the other's public procurement procedures," Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis said.
The joint procurement deal will, according to Bergmanis, also enable Latvian and American companies to partner and participate in international procurement competitions.
Source: http://www.defensenews.com/land/2017/05/26/baltic-states-push-us-on-patriot-missile-defense-deployment/ - accessed July 26, 2017
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on July 26, 2017 at 2:50 PM||comments (0)|
TALLINN - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is to arrive in Estonia on July 30, and during his visit, he is to meet with Estonian prime minister and the presidents of Baltic countries, the White House said on Thursday.
Pence is to meet with Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas and other Estonian officials with whom they will discuss bilateral relations. Pence is to also meet with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.
After leaving Estonia, the U.S. vice president will visit Georgia and Romania until Aug. 2.
Source: https://www.baltictimes.com/us_vice_president_to_meet_with_baltic_leaders_in_tallinn/ -accessed July 26, 2017
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on July 26, 2017 at 12:50 PM||comments (0)|
April 6, 2017 Press Release
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] — Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), and Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL), Co-Chair of the House Baltic Caucus and member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, introduced a bipartisan resolution today expressing strong support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the countries of Eastern Europe. The resolution recognizes that NATO remains the most important and critical security link between the United States and Europe. It also recognizes the United States’ strong commitment to the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic development of the countries that have emerged from the former Soviet Union, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. A copy of the resolution can be found here.
“NATO is critical to the safety and security of the United States and our European allies,” said Congressman Cohen. “Over the past 70 years, NATO has been an indispensable force for promoting democracy and stability in Europe. Many former-Soviet Eastern European countries have undertaken considerable political and economic reforms necessary to achieve aspirations for European integration, yet Russia has threatened the sovereignty of these nations. In these uncertain times, our friends in Eastern Europe must not be left behind. Our bipartisan resolution reaffirms the importance of harmony and stability rather than war and conflict and acknowledges NATO’s pivotal role in achieving such goals. The United States must stand alongside NATO and our Eastern European allies just as they have done for us in the Western Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.”
“NATO has done more to preserve the peace and security in Europe than any other institution,” said Congressman Shimkus. “The alliance has thrived for many decades amid political swings from left to the right and back again in virtually every member country. But even as national leaders have come and gone, NATO has remained steadfast in its mission to provide security for all its members and it must continue to be that guarantee for future generations.”
Cosponsors of the resolution include: Reps. Jim Banks (R-IN), Andy Barr (R-KY), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Tom Cole (R-OK), Paul Cook (R-CA), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Dan Donovan (R-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Bill Keating (D-MA), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Donald McEachin (D-VA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY), Mike Turner (R-OH), Ann Wagner (R-MO), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Robert Wittman (R-VA)
Source: https://cohen.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/reps-cohen-and-shimkus-introduce-bipartisan-resolution-reaffirming-us - accessed July 26, 2017
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on July 26, 2017 at 12:45 PM||comments (0)|
On April 23rd, House Speaker Paul Ryan ended his visit in Poland and Estonia.
TALLINN, ESTONIA—As Speaker Ryan has said, NATO is as important today as it's ever been. That's why a bipartisan delegation led by the speaker concluded a trip to Europe with stops in two nations doing their part to strengthen this alliance: Poland and Estonia.
NATO relies on an important principle of burden sharing, with member countries expected to dedicate two percent of GDP to military spending. The United States, along with the UK, Greece, Poland, and Estonia, are currently the only NATO allies hitting that benchmark.
In Poland, the delegation held a meeting with President Andrzej Duda, during which they thanked the country for leading by example. The group discussed topics such as energy security, military cooperation - including the Polish procurement of US military equipment - and solidarity in deterring Russian aggression.
The members also met with the Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, along with Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz and Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski. The delegation reaffirmed the importance of the US-Poland bilateral relationship as well Poland's commitment to NATO. The members also discussed other topics, such as the recent arrival of US Army troops in Poland as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, meant to bolster NATO's eastern flank.
In Estonia, a country that achieved renewed independence in 1991 after decades of Soviet occupation, the delegation met with Prime Minister Juri Ratas, along with Foreign Minister Sven Mikser. The delegation expressed appreciation for the Estonian people's long and inspiring fight for independence and our shared values of freedom and self-determination. They discussed the important role Estonia and the Baltic states play as the eastern border of the NATO alliance, and our commitment to deterring Russian aggression in the region.
At a bilateral press conference following the meeting, Speaker Ryan remarked, "Thank you to Estonia for being a leader. We want to say thank you to you, Mr. Prime Minister, for hitting the two percent pledge that we're asking all NATO alliance partners to hit."
Afterward, members of the delegation met with American Marines and soldiers stationed in Estonia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Later, the delegation was able to meet with the speaker of the Estonian parliament and other parliamentarians. They engaged in an important exchange about the values our two countries share and discussed ways to strengthen our bonds, particularly through trade and strategies for cyber security, a subject of which Estonia has long been on the leading edge.
Finally, the delegation was hosted for a dinner by Estonia President Kersti Kaljulaid, an opportunity to reaffirm the alliance of our two nations.
Throughout this trip, the message from the bipartisan delegation was clear and an unambiguous: our commitment to NATO is resolute, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies to promote prosperity and confront global security challenges, including from terrorism and Russian aggression.
Source - http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/codel-ryan-concludes-stops-poland-and-estonia-two-allies-stepping-meet-nato - accessed: July 26, 2017
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on August 10, 2015 at 11:50 AM||comments (4)|
On 7 August, the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andrejs Pildegovičs met with a delegation of the United States Congressional delegation, led by Dana Rohrabacher, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Latvian Foreign Ministry’s State Secretary thanked the U.S. for ensuring military presence and regular military exercises in the region, and highlighted successful strategic partnership between Latvia and the U.S. both at the bilateral level and in NATO.
Congressman Rohrabacher affirmed the unwavering commitment of the U.S. to the Baltic States’ security. He pointed out that the international community must also cooperate more actively in the fight against global terrorism, which is currently the main threat to peace and security in the world.
The conversation also addressed regional and international security, including the implementation of the decisions made at the NATO Summit in Wales, the developments in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, the fight against global terrorism and the European Union’s cooperation with the Eastern Partnership member states.
The US Congressional delegation had arrived in Latvia as part of a regional visit. The delegation also included Congressman Stephen Cohen, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice at the House Committee on the Judiciary. While in Latvia, the Congressmen met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the State Border Guard, as well as visiting the Ādaži military base to meet U.S. troops. The U.S. Congressmen are also visiting Austria, Belarus, Russia, Estonia and Lithuania.
This was the second U.S. Congressional delegation to arrive in Latvia within a week. On 5 August, our country welcomed a U.S. Congressional delegation, led by Rob Wittman, a member of the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services, Chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee. U.S. Congressmen had meetings with members of the Saeima (the Latvian Parliament), the Minister of Economy, the Minister of the Interior and the Minister of Defence. The delegation also visited the Ādaži military base to meet U.S. troops currently stationed in Latvia.
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on April 11, 2015 at 12:30 PM||comments (0)|
John Shimkus, the only US Republican congressman of close Lithuanian descent, says he is proud of Lithuania being such a staunch ally of the United States, with the ties deeply rooted in the two countries’ long-standing political, economic and cultural collaboration.
But cornered up to say whether Lithuania stands out “in any way” among the other Baltic States as the one “just-a-bit-closer” to the United States, especially in the field of energy – Lithuania is thought to be among the first European countries to start receiving US liquefied natural gas deliveries in early 2016 – Mr. Shimkus sticks to a diplomatic reply. “
I obviously have a special place in my heart for Lithuania, but I’m thankful for the enduring friendship between the US and all the Baltic states,” he says.
A quick “look-up” on the internet conjures up an image of an exuberant, gregarious and life-loving man. Those who ever worked with the Republican politician insist that is exactly the kind of person he is.
But the life has hardly been a bowl of cherries for the man whose Lithuanian descent through the parental line has been widely discussed. “
I talk about my Lithuanian heritage and my work on Baltic issues often,” he says.
He admits that some ordinary Americans still sometimes need an extra lesson not only on the Lithuanian history, but also geography, which he is always eager to give. “
I think it’s important to educate my colleagues and my constituents back home about the countries, like Lithuania, where freedom has flourished in the post-Soviet era. It’s inspiring and I never get tired of sharing that story,” the US legislator noted.
Being a lifelong resident of Collinsville, a suburb of St. Louis, he started off his career, which would eventually lead him to the legislative chambers of the most powerful country on earth, from the very bottom - as a US Army infantry private.
He ran for a public office in 1989, when he was elected a Collinsville Township trustee. A year later, he was elected as Madison County treasurer - the first Republican elected to a countywide post in 10 years. It took him a mere five years to become, in 1994, the first Republican to be reelected as county treasurer in 60 years. “
This is another thing I’m very proud of,” he says.
As the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy and, moreover, a member of Subcommittees on Energy and Power, Health, Communications and Technology, Shimkus, understandably, puts his hands on what might be called “softer” issues of the US politics, but his counterparts in the House of Representatives can envy, without exaggeration, his profound, nitty-gritty comprehension of Eastern European and Baltic security issues.
The expertise helped him breathe the pathway to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, within which, as a US delegate, Shimkus visited Lithuania last month. “
It was great to spend some time with the US troops in Rukla when I visited Lithuania in March. I think our troop rotations in Europe as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve demonstrate our commitment to NATO and our common defense,” the US legislator recalled the visit.
With the multiple debates in the air whether Lithuania needs to seek reinforcement of its security guarantees through the larger support from the US, Shimkus comes at them firm: “I do believe Lithuania’s NATO alliance suffices to have the guarantees.” He adds: “NATO is fundamentally committed to the collective defense of its members.”
Amid the standoff between the West and Russia, the debate on the issue of the Baltic security, let’s admit, sometimes goes to tantalizing extremes for the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Like, if the bellicose Russia breached their territorial sovereignty, what would the response from the US and NATO be? But upon hearing questions like that Shimkus does not wobble infinitesimally. “
I am absolutely convinced the US and NATO would step in immediately, should Russia invade Lithuania. “
Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is clear that an attack against one ally is an attack against all,” says the congressman. He adds succinctly: “Should Russia ever enter into a war against the United States of America, the US will win.” But asked about President Barack Obama’s withdrawal from the anti-missile defense system plans in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, Shimkus is blunt to say he has “long” supported a robust missile defense program. “I’m not sure if having such a system in place would have prevented recent Russian aggression, but it would reassure our allies now of our readiness and commitment to defend NATO territory,” he says.
Weighing in on the recent vociferous comments from Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė that Russia (quote) is “a terrorist state”, the American politician says he “can’t speak to what President Grybauskaitė meant by her comments”, but notices that the Russian government continues to sow seeds of discord and instability amongst its neighbors. “
Whether it’s through the propaganda and covert pressure we see in the Baltics or the direct military invasion that has taken place in Ukraine and Georgia,” Shimkus says.
President Grybauskaitė, he insists, faces the challenge of countering the aggression of the Russian government every day, firsthand. “
I have a great amount of respect for the challenge she faces and the job she is doing. We must stand with our NATO allies to show the Russian Federation that our allies do not stand alone,” the US lawmaker insists.
While the world, especially in the uneasy, security-preoccupied regions like Baltics, perhaps still expects bigger engagement from out-going US President Barack Obama, John Shimkus swiftly dismisses the hope. “
Unless the situation on the ground changes substantially, I don’t expect much of a change in what is going now between Russia and Ukraine,” he asserted.
With GOP-controlled Congress and Senate appearing to many unable to nudge the president for more pronounced actions, Shimkus agrees that is the case, but explains that it has to do with the US Constitution and laws that grant the president near exclusive authority to conduct American foreign policy. “
There is a roll for Congress in terms of providing funding for lethal and non-lethal assistance and authorizing the use of force, but there are limits to what we can make any president do,” explains Shimkus.
When it comes to the US military to Ukraine, he says, all Congress can do about it is provide the funding for such aid, but, again, it cannot force the president to send it overseas.
Russia has, obviously, been a hard nut to crack for the Western coalition. With many believing that switching Russia off the global banking system would deal it a crippling blow, Shimkus says that economic sanctions take time to affect change and require participation from other major economies. “
The US can’t do much more through sanctions without a greater commitment from major European powers like Germany and France,” noted Shimkus.
With the 2016 presidential race hopefuls popping up in the Republican Party, he chuckled upon hearing question whether he might think in the future of running for presidency of the United States. “
I’m very happy serving my constituents in the House of Representatives,” he said, adding that “regardless of the party affiliation, the next US President will be also a staunch ally of the Baltics.”
Having certainly caught the American dream in his life, he praises the system, capitalism, which opened for him the door to the US Congress. “
Capitalism has brought greater prosperity to a greater number of people than any other economic system ever devised. It’s a system that rewards hard work and creativity without regard to where one begins on the socioeconomic ladder,” he says.
When government does not pick winners and losers, he says, individuals have the opportunity to pursue their own dreams, to take risks and either enjoy their success or try again if they fail. “That’s what liberty is all about,” he adds.
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on March 11, 2015 at 12:50 PM||comments (0)|
Friendship in dangerous times tends to become even more important, US Congressman John Shimkus, the leader of the Baltic Caucus, said in Lithuania on Tuesday.
"I continue to be thankful for the relationship we have, and the strings of our commitment to each other, especially in more dangerous times, which I think many of us hoped we never have to see your experience again, but it's only when you are in difficult times friendship means more," Shimkus said at a news conference at the Lithuanian parliament.
He also applauded the Lithuanian achievements over the 25 years of independence, saying he visited the liquefied natural gas terminal and US troops in Rukla during his visit. "
For the first time you have permanent rotation, US troops on the ground, and i think it's exciting. It is not exciting only for Lithuania, I think it's very exciting for our troops who get the experience, which is friendship, the hospitality and the importance of selfless service in putting yourself in areas that help strengthen democracy and freedom," Shimkus said.
Soldiers of the US land forces have been rotated in the Baltic states and Poland since the spring of 2014 in response to the Russian actions in Ukraine. Furthermore, the alliance has stepped up the protection of the Baltic skies and seas in the wake of the changed regional geopolitical situation.
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on February 25, 2015 at 12:40 PM||comments (0)|
The prestigious Library of Congress in Washington DC turned out to be the perfect backdrop to start the 25th anniversary celebrations of the reinstatement of Lithuania’s independence on 11 March 1990. Close to 200 dignitaries turned up, including Professor Vytautas Landsbergis, Linas Linkevičius, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rokas Masiulis, the Minister of Energy, and the House Baltics Caucus member rep. Michael Turner of Ohio. Among the dignitaries were also the Deputy Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament Andriy Parubiy and the former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Lithuanian Ambassador to the USA, Žygimantas Pavilionis, introduced the speakers, referring to the former head of State, Vytautas Landsbergis, and Minister Linkevičius as the strategists that pulled Lithuania free of the Soviet oppression and that set the course for the country to join the EU and NATO within 15 years.
Professor Landsbergis became the first head of state of Lithuania in 1990. He was the president of the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament) during those dramatic March days in 1990. Professor Landsbergis reminded the audience in his speech of the continued struggle for democracy and independence. He quoted the wise words from Ronald Reagan: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction." He also expressed the fear that Putin’s aggression and ‘hybrid warfare’ that is being waged against Ukraine do not only represent a danger for Ukraine and Eastern Europe but ultimately for the United States. He wondered why people still keep on referring to Russian military and local thugs as pro-Russian separatists in Easter Ukraine, whilst everybody knows their true nature.
Minister Linkevičius emphasised the important strategic partnership between the United States and Lithuania. He called for unrelenting solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their struggle to remain whole and free. Minister Linkevičius asked for the US to keep up the lead against Putin’s expansionists plan on the European continent.
Ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis then introduced the representatives of the present day ‘Bloodlands’: the Deputy Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament and one of the Maidan leader, Andriy Parubiy and the former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili. Deputy Speaker Parubiv spoke with strong words about daily struggles and non-respect of agreements that Ukraine faces against Putin’s forces. Former Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili spoke about the many challenges that he sees first hand as Chair of the International Advisory Council on Reforms, appointed by Ukrainian President Poroshenko.
The guest were also able to visit the private reading room of the Congressmen and Senators in the Library of Congress where they could see a display with more than 40 books about various aspects of Lithuania regaining independence in 1990.
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on February 20, 2015 at 12:30 PM||comments (0)|
The Lithuanian parliament has awarded the country's allies in the United States, local representatives and officials for their contribution to Lithuania's independence and statehood.
Among those awarded for their input to the restoration of Lithuania's independence will be US Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman John Shimkus.
The parliamentary award for fostering the Lithuanian spirit and outstanding personal contribution to Lithuania's diplomacy will go to ex-ambassador to Ukraine Petras Vaitiekūnas, who is also a signatory of the 1990 Lithuanian independence act.
Awards will also be conferred on about a dozen of Lithuanian officers, artists and journalists.
The special award for the contribution to Lithuania's independence, fostering of state and parliamentary traditions and promotion of the society's well-being was established by the parliament's board last year. A person will only be able to receive the award once in his or her life.
|Posted by Central and East European Coalition on November 6, 2014 at 12:20 PM||comments (0)|
Western countries must be prepared for even more of Russia's provocations in Ukraine, for unconventional warfare methods, espionage and propaganda, according to US Congressman Adam Schiff.
In an interview with DELFI, Schiff, who is an influential voice for the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives on foreign policy and national security issues, insists that the West must make President Vladimir Putin pay for his reckless policies and Russian people feel the consequences of their leader's actions.
Looking back, what do you think were Russia’s goals in Ukraine? Has Moscow achieved them?
Moscow was taken by surprise by Ukraine’s rejection of its prior leader. And I think that Putin’s reaction was very ill-considered and dangerous and provocative by interfering in the sovereignty of neighboring Ukraine. Providing weapons and military personnel to separatists in Ukraine was a deeply destructive thing to do and no one is fooled about Russia’s complicity in the violence.
Not only have thousands of people been killed in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s belligerence, but a civilian airliner was shot down with the weapon system provided by Russia. So, it’s been deeply destabilizing and has really poisoned Russia’s relationship with much of the world. I don’t think that Putin is achieving his objective because he has permanently changed the orientation of Ukraine away from Russia and towards the West.
What more can we expect from Russia?
We can expect further excess of provocation within Ukraine whenever Ukraine is turning to the EU. When the EU Association Agreement is fully implemented, we can expect further destabilizing efforts. Whenever there are discussions on what level of autonomy certain parts of Ukraine may have, we can expect Russia to try to strengthen its hand by encouraging provocations of violence in Ukraine.
In the end, we may expect propaganda through Russian-language television in Ukraine as well as the Baltics. This is, I think, one of the more nefarious methods that Russia uses to destabilize Russian-speaking populations elsewhere. Given Russia’s claim to be the protector of Russian populations everywhere, it is establishing a very dangerous precedent which can lead to further confrontation between Russia and the West.
Do you think people in the Baltics should be worried for their security? While NATO and the US have made pledges to defend them, Russia is using a range of non-conventional warfare methods.
Yes, the non-conventional methods that Russia is using – we can expect that to continue and perhaps intensify. And chief among them are efforts to destabilize Russian-speaking populations within the Baltics, through the use of highly distorting Russian propaganda through Russian-language media. And, of course, the use of Russian intelligence services. NATO, I think, is properly stepping up its presence and commitment to the Baltic countries.
People of the United States recognize that we have an absolutely vital role to play that other countries are not in the position to play. At the same time, we want the rest of the world to share in the obligations of defending freedom. This is one of the reasons why we have pressed many other countries to increase their defence budgets.
The Baltics enjoy a very strong support in US Congress, a very bi- partisan level of support, we all take seriously our NATO collective defence and will be doing everything we can with our NATO partners to deter Russia from further act of aggression.
Should the US assist Ukraine with weapons?
I think that we need to continue to keep up the pressure on sanctioning Russia, and far from any discussion of loosening the sanctions, I think they should be further intensified. And I would like to see us provide military support to Ukraine. The Ukrainian military is never going to be a match for the Russian military.
Moscow continues with provocations in the neighbouring countries, like arresting an Estonian officer or continually violating Sweden’s airspace. What might be the purpose of such actions and how should we respond?
I think they have a dual purpose. One is to test the defences of the NATO countries, to see how quickly these countries can react to invasions to their airspace or their waters. But the other goal is to assure domestic political support for Putin. There are certainly many Russians that are worried about the increasing isolation of Russia in the international community and by poking concentration with its neighbours, Russia hopes to distract from internal problems and bolster Putin’s popularity.
I think the way we have to respond is by strengthening our defences, by deterring these provocative and dangerous Russian actions, by calling them out within international community, by further isolating them and by making Russia pay a price. And the most significant price is the economic price, because ordinary Russians have to be made to feel the negative consequences of the recklessness of their leader.
Russia has also stepped up its espionage and cyber attack efforts. Have you noticed that in the US?
Cyber attacks are a new frontier of warfare and Russia is one of the most provocative actors in this area, not only engaging in industrial espionage to help their defence industries, but also to try to disrupt systems and infrastructure in other countries. This is something that Estonia only knows too well, so does Georgia and other countries that are victims of Russian hackers, and this is going to be a threat that’s with us for a long time.
Because much as Russia disguised its armed forces by sending them into Ukraine, Russia disguises its state-sponsored hand in the cyber operations by polling them off on independent groups of Russian hackers that work in alliance with the Russian government.
Russians, I think, are one of the most sophisticated actors in the world of the cyber realm. They’re knowledgeable, they’re clever, they’re destructive and they’re willing to do damage. The only thing that we can do is to respond by improving our defences collectively, by calling them on the carpet internationally and by putting economic pressure on them. There isn’t going to be a silver bullet, we are simply going to have to intensify our efforts, because our adversaries certainly are.
You’ve mentioned propaganda. Is it possible to resist the sheer size of Russia’s efforts in spreading propaganda?
I think it’s very important that the countries in the region that have sizeable Russian-speaking populations work together, to create alternative Russian language media. I am well aware that people tune in to Russian TV not necessarily for the news, which is so badly distorted, but they tune in for soap operas, soccer games and other things. It means that in the Baltics and elsewhere, they are going to have to create alternative Russian language programing, so that people would tune in and get more objective news.
It has to go way beyond Radio Free Europe, because I don’t think those outlets can compete with the high level of production that they see on Russian TV. I think you really need Russian language programing that is on par with what has been plastered out of Moscow. It has to be indigenous, high quality TV and radio programming.
Could the US get involved on this front as well?
I think the United States can certainly help and we have worked in other parts of the world, for example, to create an Arab-language TV and production, so we have some experience in trying to match propaganda of others in other languages.
But I think it ought to be led by the countries in the region and people in the Baltics understand more what their own citizens would be interested in.