In November of 2015, the American Latvian Youth Association (ALJA) held its annual kongress in Grand Rapids, MI. Erik Lazdins, ALJA Councilmember and former JBANC intern, and Andrejs Mantenieks held a dual lecture on the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and Russian foreign policy objectives.
The discussion included the historical trajectory of Russian aggression in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the Baltic states and Ukraine. Lazdins stressed the necessity of a strong-willed response from the United States and NATO allies to to the crisis in Ukraine. In an effort to push the Baltic-American agenda forward, Lazdins and Mantenieks conducted a grassroots political action which included a letter writing campaign to the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Thanks to the efforts of their members, with the participation of the Latvian-American community, ALJA collected 210 letters to Congress over the weekend. The letters urged representatives to join the House Baltic Caucus, support full and continued funding of the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), establish an official U.S. policy of non-recognition for the illegal annexation of Crimea, support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian hostility, and pass legislation authorizing President Obama to sanction individual human rights offenders globally.
JBANC Representative and ALJA Councilman Nikolajs Timrots, Lazdins and Mantenieks introduced and passed an ALJA resolution to politically mobilize ALJA on Baltic issues. Timrots and Aleksis Vizulis also introduced a resolution to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.
ALJA has made progress since kongress. ALJA has started a Twitter account, @ALJA_Politics, to track international and political developments, and advocate for Baltic issues. After the vigorous letter writing campaign, Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH) showed their solidarity by joining the House Baltic Caucus.
ALJA urged Congress to continue to support President Obama’s funding request of about $1 billion. In February of 2016, President Obama nearly quadrupled the budget for deterring Russian aggression through military exercises, making a request of $3.4 billion for 2017. It looks like the Department of Defense is weighing rotating four battalions of troops in the Baltic states. This is excellent news, and tells us that the United States takes threats to the sovereignty of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and other US allies on Russia’s border seriously.
ALJA will continue to work with JBANC and press Congress to co-sponsor legislation and advocate for Baltic issues. If you are interested in taking action by writing a letter to Congress, contact Erik Lazdins at firstname.lastname@example.org.