Open Letter from the Central and East European Coalition to the President of the United States

The CEEC expresses concern over the Russian Government’s pressure on its neighbors on the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit of the EU to be held in Vilnius on November 27-28, 2013. Below is a transcription of the letter.

Dear Mr. President:

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), a coalition of diaspora groups representing more than twenty million Armenian, Belarusan, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak and Ukrainian Americans, is gravely concerned over Russian government pressure on its neighbors on the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit of the European Union, to be held in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on November 27-28, 2013. At stake is the country of Ukraine, which will be afforded an opportunity to sign an Association Agreement (AA) on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, while it is anticipated that other countries such as Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova are planning to initial the agreement, in anticipation of final approval by next year.

Unfortunately, the Russian Federation sees the process of Euro-integration of these countries as a threat to its national interests. Russian officials are on record expressing their discontent and have threatened economic ramifications should such agreements be reached. As an alternative to the European Union, the Russian government has initiated the Eurasian Customs Union and is trying to persuade countries on its borders to become members. The current membership in the Customs Union includes Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. More recently, it was announced that Armenia would join the Customs Union.

As the date of the Vilnius Summit approaches, pressure continues to mount from the Russian Federation upon those countries vying for European integration. Such pressure has evolved in many forms, in particular: a ban on certain Moldovan and Ukrainian imports into the Russian market; the borderization and creeping annexation of the territories of Georgia occupied by Russian military forces since 2008, among other actions. Russia recently concluded a very aggressive Zapad-13 military exercise in the Kaliningrad region, continuing a pattern of war games simulating threats to NATO members in the region, in this case Poland and the Baltic states. The Russian Federation is advancing its tactics on other states, particularly on Ukraine, a strategic partner of the United States and a keystone to stability and security in Europe.

While the United States is not a member of the European Union, U.S. diplomatic efforts to reinforce democratic processes and defend our national interests cannot be underestimated. In December 2012, Secretary Clinton mentioned, in her final speech as Secretary of State, the imminent threat of Russia’s undue influence in the region. “There is a move to re-Sovietize the region,” she stated. “It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called a customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that. But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.” Several European leaders and officials within the European Commission have also expressed their concern over these recent developments.

Mr. President, efforts by the United States should help to relieve the strain being placed on Russia’s western-oriented neighbors. To do so, we propose several policy recommendations that would strengthen democratic institutions in the region:

1) Issue a White House statement emphasizing the importance of U.S. strategic interests in Central and Eastern Europe and independent nations making their own future decisions;
2) Utilize diplomatic channels by the U.S. government to raise concerns about the encroachment of Russian territorial interests in the region, especially with respect to Georgia;
3) Strengthen our resolve with nations within NATO who have been threatened by Russia — e.g., Estonia with cyber intrusions — and thus may experience similar Russian manipulation after the Eastern Partnership Summit in November; and, 4) Meet with CEEC members at the White House to show a public sign of support for the region.
We hope that you agree on the importance of these issues and will take steps to underscore U.S. support for the countries wishing to align themselves with the EU. We look forward to the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss these issues.

View a copy of the actual letter here.