Dear Members and Supporters:
Thank you! I want to commend you for your magnificent job in helping to obtain U.S. support for Baltic membership in NATO. Your dedicated and tireless efforts over the past decade were most effective. You made the difference! The United States Senate voted unanimously in favor of Baltic membership in NATO. This crucial victory is a testament to the political will and power of the Baltic American community. Our collective voice is loud and clear. We convince, we prod and we insist that government bureaucracies and elected officials do the right thing. And we win! Not always, but often enough to make a real difference in the affairs of the Baltic nations.
The Baltic American Freedom League is proud of having been a part of this process. Our strength and determination comes from patriotic, devoted and caring individuals like YOU—persons committed to a vision of free, prosperous and secure Baltic nations. We take your support very seriously.
The specific goals we declared upon regaining independence have been largely accomplished. A decade of hard work is finally turning our common vision into reality. The invitation to become members of NATO marks a crucial step in the Baltic countries return to the Western world. It means they will be joining a strong defense organization of democratic nations. This gives the Baltic countries a strong sense of security and stability, and will produce tangible economic benefits by promoting a more favorable financial and investment environment in the region. We all know that investment and prosperity flourishes best in a secure environment.
Yes! We have helped the Baltic countries on their way to become viable and secure democracies. Yes, they will become full members of NATO and the European Union. But this is not yet the time for us to rest. Much remains to be done. It is my earnest hope that you will continue your much-needed patriotic work.
Baltic—Russian Relations in the Near Future
With the Baltic countries about to join NATO and the European Union, America’s interest and focus on the Baltic countries may wane as its attention turns to other areas and problems such as the war on terrorism, the Middle East, etc. Dr. Ronald Asmus calls it the American “pigeonhole” mentality. Once a thing is done and settled it’s put on the shelf and forgotten. You turn your attention to other things.
Yet Russia, sitting next to us, because of geographical, historical and political reasons will not, at least in the short run, lose its interest or focus on the Baltic countries. We can expect political and economic pressure by Moscow on the Baltic countries to increase. We already see this in the Russian government’s efforts to grab Latvia’s oil export facility at the port of Ventspils as well as by the belligerent statements against Balts made by Russian politicians and government officials. Recently Latvia’s State Secretary Maris Riekstins stated: “If I look at Russia’s pronouncements and public activities, it is hard for me to find anything that could be called a change. Negative rhetoric has not ended.”
The Baltic American community in America has built a reservoir of good will and support in Congress and the White House. Our duty and priority is to ensure that it is used to check Russia’s advances against the Baltic nations.
Besides working diligently and aggressively on Baltic membership in NATO, BAFL in the last six months has been engaged in several other important projects
PORT OF VENTSPILS OIL TERMINAL. The Russian government is pursuing a takeover strategy for Latvia’s oil export facility at the port of Ventspils. Several months ago the Russian state owned oil company Transnef unilaterally shut down all its oil exports through Ventspils to punish Latvia for wanting to join NATO and for supporting the U.S. action in Iraq, and to appropriate Latvia’s energy infrastructure, thus denying Latvia an important revenue source. About 13 percent of Russian oil was exported through Ventspils. Russian government officials are publicly saying that Latvia’s only choice is to give up the facility to the Russian government monopoly Transneft. Sources in Moscow indicate that Transneft would like to gobble up the Latvian oil terminal at only a quarter of the asking price. Latvia has appealed to the European Commission seeking relief from the Russian bully tactics, but so far European countries seem not to be willing to interfere. BAFL has informed Congress and the White House of Russia’s actions and intent and has asked the government to intervene on behalf of Latvia.
MILITARY ASSISTANCE FUNDING FOR THE BALTIC COUNTRIES. The U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program provides funding for U.S. military assistance to the Baltic countries. The funding helps support the improvement of communications and other technology so that it is compatible with that of the U.S. and NATO systems and would help the three countries to attain Western military standards. The President requested $19.5 million for the program for FY 2004. The Administration’s request for the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program was increased from $3.3 million last year to $3.6 million this year. BAFL worked with the House and Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittees’ staff and Representative John Shimkus’ (R-IL) and Senator Richard Durbin’s (D-IL) staffs to get the appropriation through Congress.
SEED ASSISTANCE PROGRAM. The purpose of the Support for Eastern European Democracy (SEED) program is to provide funding to Eastern European countries to help strengthen democracy. The program was stopped, but several years ago BAFL was successful in reinstating it for the Baltic countries. This year the Administration has not asked for any money for the program. Representative John Shimkus has requested that the House Foreign Operations Committee allocate $5 million for SEED. BAFL is working very closely with Representative Shimkus on the request. It has also requested the same House and Senate committees to continue funding the SEED program at the $5 million level for the Baltic countries. The funds may be used to strengthen regional security, including counter-terrorism cooperation, control of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, border security, and to promote healthy societies including health, corruption, and the environment.
THE ENTERPRISE FUND. After the Baltic countries regained their independence, the U.S. government created the Enterprise Fund to provide money for business and investments in the Baltic countries to assist in strengthening their economies and in developing free market economies. The program has been successful and as NATO and EU membership progresses, the Fund will begin to make plans to finish operations. The funding up to $50 million is to be returned to the Treasury Department for use in the general fund—or perhaps secured into a new endowment dedicated to strengthening the U.S. Baltic relations. In the case of Poland, a portion of their funding for a similar program was used to create the Polish American Freedom Foundation, which supports a range of useful charitable and educational projects in Poland and in neighboring countries. BAFL seeks to encourage the Administration and Congress to do something similar with the Baltic funding. About $35 million should be reinvested in the Baltic countries. The money was awarded and administered through the U.S. assistance program and was always intended as assistance, not a loan. While we have no definite program or project in mind, we advocate that a trust fund be set up to manage the fund and that projects or programs strengthen the ties between the U.S. and the Baltic nations. We are currently presenting this idea to congresspersons and government officials. So far we have received favorable response from congresspersons. Government officials are either noncommittal or supportive.
RADIO FREE EUROPE AND RADIO LIBERTY. BAFL joined other Baltic organizations and ad hoc groups to prevent the Administration from discontinuing Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) broadcasts to the Baltic countries. Because of budget constraints, the Administration wanted to stop the broadcasts. When we first contacted government officials, we were told by persons high in the Administration that it was a “done deal,” that there’s nothing that can be done to change the decision and that we would just be wasting our time. The Balts were able to get the Senate and the House to pass legislation to continue the Baltic programs for at least a year or two while the need for the programs is assessed.
However, we did not fare well in the budget fight for RFE and VO. The House Sub-committee handling RFE and VO Budgets (Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary) under the leadership of Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) failed to appropriate the money. The Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Doug Bereuter (R-NE), and the Ranking Democrat, Tom Lantos, sent a letter to the Subcommittee urging the approval of the funds but to no avail. Other key representatives including Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, Representatives Christopher Cox and Ed Royce were ready to sign the letter; however, it was sent before they got the chance to sign it. Representative John Shimkus, Chairman of the Baltic Caucus, introduced a special appropriations bill in the House to get the funds. The House Rules Committee waived the rules to allow the bill to be brought up for debate and vote directly by the House; but then, the schedule for debate and vote was moved up without notifying Representative Shimkus. As a result, he was not there to present the bill and the House did not vote on it.
The Senate will consider the RFE and VO budget after they return from the summer recess on September 8. The subcommittee considering it will be the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary subcommittee. I urge you to contact the members of the subcommittee and ask them to fund the RFE and VO Baltic Service. You can find the names of the Subcommittee members on the Internet:
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT (ICC). As of July 1, 2003 all U.S. military aid could be cut off for 35 countries, including the Baltic countries, that do not exempt American soldiers from prosecution before the International Criminal Court on war crimes. The countries subject to the cutoff will not lose money already appropriated since only three months remain the fiscal year, but next year’s appropriations will be affected.
The ICC was established in 1998 as a global criminal court to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and human rights abuses. While the U.S. supports the principle of ICC, it finds the ICC structure dangerously flawed and susceptible to politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. military personnel and civilians serving abroad.
In order to protect its citizens, the U.S. government is requesting all NATO candidate states and other countries to execute a bilateral agreement under which the respective countries pledge not to surrender the other’s citizens to the ICC. The agreements are authorized by Article 98 of the Rome Treaty establishing ICC. More than 40 countries have made the commitments.
To coerce countries to enter the agreement, Congress last year passed the American Service Members’ Protection of Act of 2002 (ASPA). The Act denies as of July 1, 2003 military assistance funds to countries that do not sign the agreement. NATO members and nine other countries are exempted from the Act. The European Union opposes the signing of bilateral agreements with the U.S. and is exerting strong pressure on the prospective EU members, including the Baltic countries, not to sign the agreement The EU Presidency on June 24, 2003 issued a statement declaring that the ten EU candidate countries as well as Bulgaria must promise that their “national stance will be consistent with the position of EU policy,” i.e. for members and prospective members not to sign Article 98 agreement. Thus, unless a solution is found to the dilemma, all U.S. military assistance activity will cease in the Baltic countries in FY 2004, in October 2003.
To prevent this from happening, Representatives John Shimkus (R-IL), Doug Bereuter (R-NE), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), John Mica (R-FL), James Oberstar (D-MN) and Ike Skelton (D-MO) in the House and Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE), Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) in the Senate introduced legislation, respectively, HR 2550 and S. 1317 which would amend ASPA to consider NATO candidate states as members of NATO and thus qualify for military assistance. The bill has already passed the House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe, but was temporarily tabled in the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs pending additional information on the impact of the bill. Committee Chairman Allen will not oppose bringing S. 1317 for discussion and vote by the Committee.
WE URGE YOU TO CONTACT THE MEMBERS OF THE SENATE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE ON EUROPE TO ASK THEM TO VOTE FOR S.1317. WE ALSO URGE YOU TO IMMEDIATELY CONTACT PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH AND ASK HIM TO RECONSIDER HIS DECISION TO STOP MILITARY ASSISTANCE FOR THE BALTIC COUNTRIES.
For more information on this issue as well KEY persons to contact, sample letters, and talking points consult BAFL’s website at www.BAFL.com under Baltic Action.
BALTIC CAUCUS. The Baltic Caucus is a key element in our efforts to inform Congress and to get their support on issues of importance to the Baltic American community. It is the chairpersons and members of the two Caucuses that we must first turn to for help, and as you see from this report, their names are associated with every project we pursue. I like to say that they are not behind us, they are in front of us.
The Senate Caucus has 13 members: Cochairmen Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senators George Allen (R-VA), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-OH). The House Caucus has 75 members: 43 Democrats and 32 Republicans. Six other representatives have indicated that they may join the Caucus. California leads with 17 members followed by Michigan with 13 members. The House members are listed on Representative Shimkus’ website (www.house.gov/shimkus).
If your senators and representative are not members of the Baltic Caucus, visit their local office and call their Washington office to invite them to join the Caucus. If you need names, addresses or sample letters, please let us know. We’ll send you the information. If they promise to join, let us know so that we can follow up with the staffs of the Senate and House Caucus Co-chairpersons.
BALTIC CAUCUS UPDATE. BAFL publishes a newsletter, Baltic Caucus Update, about ten times a year when Congress is in session. It is meant for members of Congress and their staffs. The concept is to present in brief, concise language news and positive events regarding the Baltic countries. Over one thousand copies are mailed first class to members of Congress, the staffs of key members of Congress, the staff of the members of Baltic Caucus and staff of important congressional committees such as foreign relations and appropriations. We have received a considerable number of compliments from Congressional staff members on the BCU. We considered e-mailing Congress to save mailing costs and to get out the news faster, but we were strongly advised by congressional staffers against it. Evidently, Congress is very upset about the volume of unsolicited e-mail they receive.
You may read BCU on our website: www.BAFL.com.
Cooperation with Other Baltic Organizations
BAFL works and enjoys cooperating with other Baltic organizations. However, as this is a report on the activities of BAFL, it does not mention other Baltic organizations and groups such as the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), U.S. Baltic Foundation (USBF), Midwest Baltic Coalition (MBC), Baltic Association to the United Nations (BATUN), American Latvian Association, Estonian American National Council, Lithuanian American Council, the Lithuanian American Community, Latvian Daugavas Vanagi, the Baltic Embassies and others. But let me tell you, they are working just as diligently as BAFL for our common goal: to ensure free, prosperous and secure Baltic countries. And they share in the credit for what has been accomplished. It was, it is and it always must be a joint Baltic effort.
We expect that as in the past, the future holds many unexpected problems and opportunities for us. I am optimistic that BAFL as always will meet these challenges. In general our overall goals for the future are within the following parameters:
- Promote democratic, prosperous and secure Baltic countries.
- Maintain and increase the support of the Baltic American community and the Baltic countries in Congress and within the Administration.
- Maintain and increase U.S. transatlantic links with the Baltic countries.
- Promote Baltic economic interests with the U.S.
- Protect the interests and concerns of the Baltic American community.
- Inform and advise Congress and the government of any threats to Baltic freedom and security.
- Promote cooperation and unity among the Baltic countries and Baltic American community.
We Need Your Help
I want to thank you again for your generous financial contributions to BAFL; without it we could not carry on our important work. I have told you before that no one hates asking for money than I do.
But the simple reality of political life is that it takes money to sustain the work that BAFL is doing. And the only way we can hope to fund our operations is through the contributions of concerned and devoted patriots like you. BAFL urgently needs financial resources to carry out our mission.
You have read what BAFL has accomplished, and I think that you’ll agree: These are projects worth fighting for. Any amount you are able to contribute will be deeply appreciated.
If you are not a member of BAFL, I invite you to join. By becoming a member you support us financially and strengthen BAFL’s political voice. One of the very first things politicians alwaysask is “how many members do you have.” And the more members you have, the closer he or she listens. The life membership fee is $100. For each additional $100 donation you get an additional vote. There are no annual dues. It’s something like buying stock in a corporation. BAFL is a tax exempt organization. Membership consists of individual members and organizations. The membership fee is the same for both.
If you already are a member, buy a membership for your spouse, children, friends, etc. A membership or contribution to BAFL, a patriotic, viable and result oriented organization, makes a great birthday, anniversary or graduation gift, and is a very appropriate way for individuals and organizations to commemorate patriotic or historically important events such as independence day and June 14th. Organizations by making a donation to support BAFL’s work establish relevance from the past to the present, from words to accomplishments. For example, instead of sending flowers, make a donation in someone’s name to BAFL.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THIS: FOR BAFL TO FUNCTION EFFECTIVELY WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL HELP.
I would like to note that some of you have made a contribution BAFL recently, and I sincerely thank you for it. And I apologize for bothering you again. We are also sending the Semi-annual report by e-mail and there will be some duplication. I apologize for that too. I do not expect you to respond to both letters. One will do. We are a volunteer organization and sometimes it takes time to do things.
The BAFL Board of Directors and I feel a deep sense of gratitude to our members and supporters. Their support of the Baltic countries has helped to change history. To meet the challenges ahead, we need for you to continue your patriotic work. Years from now Balts, people you and I will never meet, will know whether we did all we could, when we had the opportunity to help them secure their freedom and security.
Valdis V. Pavlovskis