The House Baltic Caucus (HBC)



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House Baltic Caucus co-chair rep. Schiff (D-CA): Russians will be made to feel consequences of their leader's recklessness

Posted by Central and East European Coalition on November 6, 2014 at 12:20 PM

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.






Lithuanian prime minister Butkevicius and House Baltic Caucus co-chair rep. Schiff discussed mutual economic interests

Posted by Central and East European Coalition on October 10, 2014 at 1:50 PM

Halfway through the visit to the United States, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius had a meeting with Congressman Adam Schiff, as well as business and trade associations.



The PM pointed out the importance of the United States as Lithuania's strategic partner, and invited any investments in the country. He shared the anxieties generated by the geopolitical situation in the region and stressed the importance of opening of the American market for Lithuanian pork and beef, the prime minister's press service said.


"US are a strategic partner of Lithuania. Our two countries share common values, security guarantees and economic interests. I am happy that globally known American companies operate in Lithuania, but it is notable, however, that the full potential has not as yet been exhausted. We are interested in cooperation in information technology and life sciences. We also invite American businesses to use our country as the springboard for trade with Eastern European countries, as Lithuania has a well-developed road infrastructure and the ice-free seaport, as well as highly-skilled professionals," said Butkevičius.


The PM noted that in the context of the Russian embargo, the good news coming from the US Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in terms of its confirmation about Lithuania's compliance with US requirements is more than welcome by the Lithuanian sectors of agriculture and logistics. The prime minister said he was convinced about the successful outcome of the necessary procedures required for the adoption of the regulation by the US administration enabling the listing of Lithuania in the US Federal Register of countries authorized to bring in meat products to the US, as well as the public debate on the issue, thus providing a possibility to open up new markets.


Congressman Adam Schiff noted that his country saw Lithuania not only as a strategic political partner, but also as a reliable country for the development of bilateral business interests.


Among other items discussed was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement, Lithuania's accession to the Economic Cooperation and Development organisation, euro introduction and the current geopolitical situation.




Deputy Minister of National Defence Marijus Velicka discussed security situation in the Baltic region and Ukraine, and US-Lithuanian defence cooperation with the House Baltic Caucus member rep. Devin Nunes

Posted by Central and East European Coalition on August 8, 2014 at 1:55 PM

"We appreciate the speedy deployment of additional US fighter aircraft and troops in response to the changes in security situation in the Baltic region. That is a huge support and assurance to the people of Lithuania that the USA, out our key strategic ally, is firmly committed to NATO's collective defence. We are highly interested that the US presence in Lithuania is maintained after 2014 with approval from the majority of Lithuania's population," Deputy Minister of National Defence Velička said at the meeting.


According to Deputy Minister Velička, Lithuania was looking forward to the approval of the additional USD 1 billion financing for the US President's European Reassurance Initiative at the US Congress.


Nunes assured that the United States would keep to its commitments and support even though those were not easy decisions regarding additional financing for the USA.


The guest welcomed the 20 percent increase in Lithuanian defence spending to be reached this year already and the agreement of Lithuania's political parties to commit 2 percent of GDP for defence financing by 2020.


"You must continue holding intensified training and investing into strengthened military training capacity and host nation support - allied troops, US military in particular, receiving mutual benefit from the exercises in Lithuania appreciate that beyond doubt," the members of the US House of Representatives said. "


Lithuania has always been a particularly reliable partner to the US despite the changes in the security situation in the region, we were, we are and we will be prepared to contribute to multinational operations and missions side by side with the USA whenever that is necessary," Deputy Minister of National Defence Velička underlined.


Later in the day Congressman Nunes visited the Mechanised Infantry Brigade (MIB) Iron Wolf (Lithuanian Land Force) in Rukla and met with the current rotation from the 173rd Airborne Brigade deploying troops to combined exercises in Lithuania since early April.


At a meeting with Commander MIB Iron Wolf Colonel Raimundas Vaikšnoras and leadership of the US military deployed in Rukla Congressman Nunes discussed joint operation of Lithuanian and US troops and relevant issues. While in Rukla, the guest also observed US and Lithuanian troops training combat self-defence.




Black Ribbon Day in Washington, D.C., marks 75th anniversary of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Posted by Central and East European Coalition on August 3, 2014 at 1:45 PM


August 23 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Europe and facilitated the start of the Second World War. Now remembered as Black Ribbon Day in many countries, it coincided this year with the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way event. There were several commemorations in the United States that started early in the morning with a ceremony in the United States Congress and later the same morning at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Congressman John Shimkus, of Lithuanian origin, sponsored a bill to designate 23 August officially as Black Ribbon Day. Now that legislation has passed the House of Representatives, it was the first time that the Black Ribbon Day was commemorated in the Freedom Rotunda of the Capitol. John Shimkus reminded the audience of the fight for freedom in the three Baltic countries that led eventually to the successful integration into the EU and NATO. It was a particularly moving experience to hear Congressman Shimkus read a quote by Rasa Juknevičienė’s mother from the book "Children of Siberia” in which she recounts her family’s experience whilst in exile in Siberia.

The Georgian and Ukrainian ambassadors reminded the audience that the fight for freedom is still an ongoing struggle. Ukrainian Ambassador, Olexandar Motsyk stated, "We need to mobilize all forces to ensure that Ukrainians retain their freedom and that we gain a free and united Europe." Ambassador Motsyk thanked Lithuania for the full support and expressed sympathy with Honorary Consul Mykola Zelenec who was kidnapped and murdered on Friday in Lugansk.


Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States, Žygimantas Pavilionis, thanked Congressman John Shimkus for initiating the bill to designate Black Ribbon Day. Ambassador Pavilionis expressed the hope that the United States Senate will in turn pass the bill soon. "Congress is a crucial part of democracy in the United States and a symbol for the world, and therefore the commemoration of the Black Ribbon Day, will not only remember all the victims of totalitarian regimes, but honour them," said ambassador Pavilionis. He concluded, "Any attempts to cover lies and the use of intimidation and violence in an attempt to subjugate freedom, such as at present in Ukraine, will need to be confronted and unanimously supported by all forces.”


The events in Washington continued at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. The monument was inaugurated in 2007 and the Black Ribbon Day remembrance has been an annual event. Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, expressed the wish that "In the future, we hope Black Ribbon Day will become a better known day and that more people in the USA would use the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact anniversary to remember all of the victims of communism and fascism in Europe." Karl Altau of the Joint Baltic American National Committee and the incoming Estonian Ambassador, Eerik Marmei also reminded the audience of the wider significance of Black Ribbon Day. It was also announced that there are plans to build a museum about the history of communism on the National Mall in Washington DC, starting in 2017. The Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Georgian, Hungarian, and the Czech embassies placed flowers and wreaths in honour of the victims of Communism. All the participants finally held hands around the statue to mark the Baltic Way’s 25th anniversary.