April 9, 2018
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: Why does Baltic sovereignty matter?

A: The United States has long recognized the sovereignty of the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – and works to uphold our shared democratic principles and free market economies that have aligned our nations for decades.  In fact, this year all three countries will celebrate 100 years of independent statehood. For the greater part of the 20th century, the Baltic states resisted the totalitarian regimes of Germany and Russia. Following the collapse of both empires following World War I, they joined the League of Nations and began a path leading towards cultural, military and economic integration with the West. Their efforts to form independent governments and economic autonomy were stifled by aggressive military forces led by Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. Contrary to the Soviet claim at the time and Vladimir Putin’s assertions today, the Baltic people did not approve annexation by the Soviet Union. They fell to occupation by the Red Army followed by rigged elections that swept Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet regime. The United States never recognized their incorporation into the Soviet Union, and despite the isolation of the Iron Curtain, the United States continued to maintain separate diplomatic relations with the remnants of the free governments of each country throughout the Cold War. In 1991, the Baltic republics joined the United Nations, reclaiming their rightful place as independent states. For the last quarter-century, the Baltic nations have emerged as a strategic Western ally to help facilitate the security and stability of the region. Most recently, efforts to thwart cyberattacks, enhance energy security, protect critical infrastructure and rebuff Russian aggression have enhanced cooperation between the Baltic nations and NATO allies. By any measure, the Putin regime in Russia is bent on undermining Western democracies. Since restoration of their independence, the Baltic states represent a geo-political bastion of freedom and democracy in a pivotal moment in history. Recall that Russia flexed its aggression against Ukraine in 2014, expanding upon its military intervention in the Republic of Georgia in 2008. With its meddling in the U.S. elections in 2016, the Putin regime is exposing its deeply rooted Soviet legacy. The U.S.-Baltic relations are as important today as ever before to strengthen freedom and economic, political and regional stability.  As a long-time member of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus in the U. S. Senate, I am pleased to take the reins as Republican co-chair alongside Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, to help advance our U.S.-Baltic alliance. We must renew our resolve and cannot afford to underestimate Russian threats to peace and sovereignty of the free world.

Q: What is the United States doing to stop Russia’s aggressive foreign policy?

A:  In 2012, Congress enacted the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, named after a Russian lawyer who tried to expose corruption but who was arrested on trumped up charges and died in prison after severe mistreatment. This law imposes prohibitions on travel and transactions by individuals connected with the death of Mr. Magnitsky or others involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.  Starting in 2014, the United States has imposed sanctions on more than 600 individuals and entities based on Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the Treasury Department has continued to add to that list as appropriate. Sanctions also target Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors. Congress expanded sanctions launched in 2014 with passage of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) of 2017. It imposes tougher sanctions on the Russian Federation for its human rights violations, invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and malicious cyber activity related to the 2016 presidential election. Last month, the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Asset Foreign Control announced a series of sanctions based on its ongoing investigations of activity prohibited by the new law. The new law casts a wider net to undercut the Kremlin by targeting third parties who provide goods, services and support to Russian defense, intelligence, financial and energy sectors. Congress also expanded the sanctions to target North Korea and Iran, as well.  Facing substantive threats aimed at undermining the integrity of our elections and democratic principles, the United States must fully and adequately use every tool available to protect the peace, stability and security of the free world. That includes protecting the integrity of U.S. elections, the foundation of representative government. The law gave foreign governments and entities until Jan. 29 of this year to back off doing business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors or face possible sanctions. The U.S. State Department has found that, as a result of the new law, foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions. Any foreign government that persists in doing business with the Russian military or intelligence sectors at this point can and should face the full sanctions authorized under the law. As a senior member of the Finance Committee and chair of the Judiciary Committee, I will continue my oversight of U.S. sanctions laws to make sure they are implemented as Congress intended. When we need even more bite to our bark, I’ll work to see that it happens.

Senator Grassley was recently named co-chair of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus.