Prepared Statement for the Senate Record by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Co-Chairman of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus
Submitted on March 7, 2018
The Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus has been without a Republican co-chair.
This is a critical time to show solidarity with our Baltic allies given Russian aggression against Ukraine starting in 2014, following on Russian military intervention in the Republic of Georgia in 2008.
It is also a significant milestone year for all three Baltic countries as they celebrate the 100th anniversary of their statehood.
As such, it is important that the Baltic Freedom Caucus have its leadership in place.
I have been a member of the Baltic Freedom Caucus for some time and I have now agreed to be the Republican co-chair along with Senator Durbin, who is the long-time Democrat co-chair.
So, in my new capacity as co-chair of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, I would like to offer congratulations first to the Republic of Lithuania, which celebrated 100 years since the establishment of the modern Lithuanian state on February 16th.
I say the modern state because Lithuanians trace their country’s history to 1253.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania controlled a large amount of territory from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea during medieval times.
It later joined with Poland as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Then, with the partitions of Poland starting in the 18th century, it came under the control of the Russian Empire.
In the wake of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, on February 16th 1918, representatives of the Lithuanian nation signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania “re-establishing an independent state, based on democratic principles.”
Lithuania today holds true to those principles. This makes it a natural and close ally of the United States and other freedom-loving nations.
In fact, the Lithuanian government has become a particularly outspoken defender of democratic principles in the face of attacks on those principles by its large neighbor, Russia.
I would also like to recognize the Republic of Estonia, which marked 100 years of statehood on February 24th.
Like the United States, Estonia counts its statehood starting with its declaration of independence.
Also like the United States, Estonia had to fight a war against an empire with a much larger army to secure its independence.
Actually, Estonia had to fight both the German Empire and Bolshevik Russia.
Germany gave up when it lost World War I, and Soviet Russia was pushed back by the new Estonian Army, ultimately signing the Treaty of Tartu that recognized the independence of Estonia in perpetuity.
More recently, the Estonian Army has fought side by side with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan and Estonia is one of the few NATO allies that meets its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense.
I should add that Latvians celebrate their 100th anniversary of statehood in November so there will be time to congratulate them in due course.
But, I should mention that there are many connections between Latvia and Iowa.
Iowa was partnered with Latvia in a civic education exchange program a number of years ago, a prominent Iowan, Chuck Larson, served as Ambassador to Latvia from 2008-2009, and we have a Latvian-American community in Iowa.
Some people may have a vague notion that the Baltics are breakaway Soviet republics, but that is not accurate if you know your history.
On the eve of World War II, the Soviets and the Nazis signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which contained a secret protocol agreeing to divide up several sovereign countries between them.
The Nazis were to get western Poland and the Soviets claimed the Baltic countries and Finland, eastern Poland, and the part of Romania that is now the Republic of Moldova.
Then, both totalitarian governments proceeded to take those territories by force, although the Finns only lost part of the Karelia region after repelling the Soviet invasion in the Winter War.
The Soviets organized rigged elections and claimed that the Baltic countries voluntarily joined the Soviet Union.
However, the United States never recognized the annexation of these countries and we continued to maintain diplomatic relations with the three Baltic countries throughout the Cold War.
The Lithuanian Embassy is still in its original location, and during the Soviet occupation, the Estonian representative to the United States became the longest serving member of the Washington diplomatic corps.
In 1989, on the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, citizens of the three Baltic countries formed a human chain connecting the capital cities protesting the continued occupation and highlighting the history of how it came about, which was officially denied by the Soviet regime.
Vladimir Putin’s regime continues to deny that the Baltic counties were illegally occupied and to insist that they ceased to be independent states when they were annexed in 1940.
In 2015, a member of the ruling party in Russia even initiated an inquiry with the Russian Prosecutor General as to the legality of the decision allowing the independence of the Baltic states from the Soviet Union in 1991.
That decision was declared illegal.
Since the entire 50 year occupation of the Baltic countries was illegal, the legality of a decision by a defunct evil empire is hardly relevant.
What is relevant is that the current regime in Russia is continuing the Soviet legacy of rewriting history to fit its agenda.
That’s a form of political warfare.
Many Americans are now waking up to the fact that the Putin regime is bent on undermining western democracies.
Well, the Baltic countries have been warning about that for years while leaders of our government were cozying up to Putin and playing around with reset buttons.
Estonia was the subject of a massive propaganda campaign combined with a cyber-attack back in 2007 when it moved a Soviet war memorial to a less conspicuous location.
Estonia’s experience of weathering a cyberattack and its strong IT sector have made it a cybersecurity expert and it now hosts the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence.
What Russia is doing now is out of the same KGB playbook it used throughout the Cold War.
For instance, the Soviets planted articles in newspapers in the 1980s claiming that the United States created AIDS. They then got other papers to pick it up, and echoed the story via its own news agencies.
This is exactly what Russia is still doing, only with more modern technology.
We have a lot to learn from all three Baltic countries, where the governments, the media, and the citizens are more sophisticated about identifying and exposing propaganda campaigns.
The best response to propaganda is education and exposure – in other words, truth.
The citizens of the three Baltic countries fought back against Soviet distortion of history with historical truth, and were able to reclaim their independence.
So, today I want to recognize historical truth on the Senate floor and congratulate Lithuania and Estonia on their recent statehood centennials.
I look forward to celebrating the upcoming centennial of Latvia in November.
These bastions of western civilization and western values in a tough neighborhood are valuable partners in advancing our shared goals of securing democracy and the blessings of liberty for our people.