Against the backdrop of Russian aggression in Ukraine, 100 years of United States diplomatic ties with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were commemorated at the U.S. Capitol on September 13, 2022.
Relations with the U.S. are ever more critical for the three countries bordering their large neighbor to the east. The event was hosted by the Baltic-American Freedom Foundation (BAFF) and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) with honorary co-hosts, the U.S Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus and the U.S. House Baltic Caucus.
The U.S. recognized the newly independent Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on July 28, 1922, as Europe emerged from World War I. U.S. diplomatic recognition was maintained through the period of interwar independence and nearly 50 years of Russian occupation following the second World War. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania regained their independence in 1990-1991, leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and establishing the Baltics as Western-style democracies that over time gained membership in the EU and NATO.
Speaking at the event BAFF Co-Chairs Danguole Spakevicius Altman and Richard Sheridan emphasized the impact of U.S. economic and development commitments in the region that began in 1992. JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau, who represents the Baltic diaspora and advocates for Baltic interests in the U.S., spoke forcefully about the importance of continued support for security in the region, particularly in the context of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), co-chair of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, emphasized the longevity of U.S. support for Baltic security. Congressman Don Bacon, (R- NE), co-chair of the House Baltic Caucus, confirmed America’s ongoing support, including his recent congressional travel to the three Baltic countries. Joining at the podium were the Baltic Ambassadors Kristjan Prikk of Estonia Maris Selga, Latvia, and Audra Plepyte, representing Lithuania.
The Baltic-American Freedom Foundation, continuing America’s longstanding commitment to the Baltic region, administers programs “to deepen the ties between and among Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United States through programs of education and exchange centering on economic growth and democratic values”. A portfolio of scholarships and international exchange programs administered by CIEE (the Council on International Educational Exchange) provides opportunities for education and professional development. BAFF, founded in 2010, is the legacy foundation established when the Baltic-American Enterprise Fund (BalAEF), one of the Enterprise Funds authorized through the U.S. Congess Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989. The BAFF Board of Directors serves pro bono and is co-chaired by Danguole Spakevicius Altman and Richard Sheridan, both with long connections to the Baltics.
Established in 1961, JBANC has represented the Baltic-American communities and its three parent organizations, the American Latvian Association, the Estonian American National Council, and the Lithuanian American Council. JBANC’s goal has been to help coordinate their activities in Washington, DC with the U.S. Congress and administration and its related agencies in conjunction with issues related to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. JBANC taken great pride in over 60 years of joint Baltic cooperation and in being able to help coordinate and consolidate common interests. JBANC chair Ingrida Lusis, representing the American Latvian Association, also attended the event..
The Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, founded in 1997 and celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2022, is co-chaired by Senators Dick Durban (D-Illinois) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). The Caucus has 14 members, both Democrats and Republicans.
The House Baltic Caucus is a registered caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives. The bipartisan Caucus, with 73 members, was also founded in 1997, and is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2022. The House Baltic Caucus is co-chaired by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Nebraska).