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Blog by Karl Altau

Summer of Advocating for the Baltics: The Campaign to Support the Russia Sanctions Bill

August 24, 2017

 

While this summer hasn’t been climatically the hottest, it’s been one of the steamiest with respect to advocating on Baltic issues. Much of the spring and summer was spent on pressuring Congress to pass the Russia sanctions bill. JBANC, together with its parent organizations the American Latvian Association, the Estonian American National Council, and the Lithuanian American Council, together with Baltic American Freedom League, Lithuanian American Community, and other partner organizations in wider networks, including the Central and East European Coalition, gave their best efforts to make the voices of our communities heard in Congress on this issue. 

 

 

A month after the Russia Sanctions bill was endorsed by the Senate by a vote of 98-2, the "Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act" (H.R. 3364) passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 25 by the overwhelming vote of 419-3. After changes in the text of the House bill, the Senate approved final passage of the legislation on the evening of July 27 and sent the package to the White House for signing. President Trump signed it into law on August 2.

 

The bill is a direct response to Russia’s aggressive foreign policy

 

The Putin regime has demonstrated continued aggression in its foreign policy over the past three years in its military actions in Ukraine and Syria.

 

Along with these actions, including its illegal annexation of Crimea, Moscow has continued to thwart democracy in the Western Balkans, exhibits military aggression against Georgia and occupied Georgian territories and actively interfered in elections in Montenegro, the United States, and France through cyber-attacks. The Kremlin's disinformation campaigns are being waged daily against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and a massive military drill on the borders of the Baltics and other neighboring countries will soon be happening.

 

Despite efforts by the West to condemn Russia’s aggression, their foreign policy remains unchanged. Therefore, it was imperative that U.S. legislators passed the bill that sanctioned Russia, along with Iran, and North Korea for their destabilizing activities and acts of aggression.

 

JBANC and its three parent organizations have been advocating for Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians for decades, and therefore understand the seriousness of Moscow's intentions and actions. Therefore, the campaign was organized to urge Members of Congress on vote “yes” on the sanctions bill and to outline the Baltic perspective on this issue.

 

Support for the Unit

 

At the American Latvian Association’s 66th Annual Convention in Chicago in May, delegates supported the creation of a Public Affairs Office, tasking it with the political information work. Jānis Kancāns of New York volunteered to lead the Office. Also in Chicago, the Convention delegates voted to support an “ALA Call To Action Unit.” It was the idea by activist Dzintars Dzilna – to organize a network of politically active Balts willing to react to events in the Baltics by contacting their elected representatives.

 

The “Unit” decided to have their first action at the Baltimore Latvian Song and Dance Festival, by asking festival guests to fill out and mail personalized postcards thanking the representative for being members of the House or Senate Baltic Caucus, or asking them to join their respective Caucus. The card also asked the elected officials to support the Russia sanctions legislation.

 

Political Action in Baltimore

 

During the Song and Dance Festival in Baltimore, Dzilna and Kancāns helped carry out the largest political action in recent ALA history since the “Enlarge NATO” years. Under their direction, and with assistance from JBANC, about 1350 festival-goers filled out and signed post cards which were mailed by ALA.

 

Parallel to the postcard action, the “Call to Action Unit” also organized an email campaign in which 19 variations of email letters were sent to 167 “Unit” members. In all, the group contacted 82 U.S. Representatives and 28 Senators. The post card action was continued by the JBANC team, who distributed postcards via their networks all the way up until the vote.

 

We thank those who have participated in this campaign for their actions to support and raise awareness for this important legislation. Over 2000 postcards were mailed.

 

The long corridors of Congress

 

In addition to postcards, emails and calls that representatives received from their constituents, JBANC also went to both the Senate and the House of Representatives and walked miles to visit offices of all 535 Members from all 50 states of the U. S. to deliver letters about the importance of supporting the Russia sanctions bill. Two Twitterstorms were conducted in July to spread information about the issue and to help constituents connect with Congress.

 

“We believe that it’s important to address Members of Congress and their staffs personally. While we don’t always get a chance to meet the Members themselves, we try to seize every opportunity to address them through different channels. We also encouraged other to do the same, using our contacts and social media,” says JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau.

 

In conjunction with the Russia sanctions bill campaign JBANC, together with representatives from other Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) organizations, held a dozen meetings in July with key foreign policy staff members in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. We discussed Russia’s ongoing aggression in its foreign policy, including its ceaseless military actions in Ukraine and Syria, the occupation of Crimea, and continuous disinformation and cyber campaigns against the Baltic countries.  

 

We also discussed Russia's massive "Zapad" military exercises, which will take place in September not far from the borders of Ukraine and the Baltic countries. This threatening spectacle of Moscow's military might does little to assure its neighbors of the Putin regime's peaceful intentions.

 

JBANC will continue to monitor implementation of the Russia sanctions bill and to advocate further on behalf of the Baltic communities!

 

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