Estonia and the US »

Estonia and the US



The bilateral relations between Estonia and the United States of America (US) have been steady and strong ever since the Republic of Estonia restored its independence.

The US recognised the Republic of Estonia on 28 July 1922. The first Estonian diplomatic mission in the United States was opened in the same year. It continued its activities throughout the illegal occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991. The US government recognised Estonia's diplomatic mission as the legal representative of the Republic of Estonia. The recognition of the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia has been the cornerstone of Estonian-US relations. The United States has never recognised the Soviet annexation.

The United States reopened its Embassy in Tallinn on 4 September 1991, soon after the restoration of Estonia's de facto independence on 20 August 1991. Since then, the development of relations between the two countries has been constructive and stable.

The Estonian Ambassador to the United States as of 9 September 2011 is Marina Kaljurand. The previous Estonian Ambassador was Väino Reinart from 2007 to 2011. Estonia has Consulate General in New York, where the Consul General is Sten Schwede. In the United States Estonia is represented by the following honorary consuls: Jaak Treiman in Los Angeles with the consular district of California, Paul Aarne Raidna in Seattle covering the state of Washington, Eric Harkna in Chicago, Illinois, Irja Cilluffo in Portsmouth with a consular district including New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and Floyd Richard Drake in Houston with a consular district of Texas.

American Ambassador to Estonia Jeffrey D. Levine presented his credentials to President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on 17 September 2012.

As a result of its global political and economic impact, the United States is one of Estonia’s most important partners. The bilateral relations are strong, which is corroborated by the dialogue between the countries in several matters of great importance to Estonia as well as to the United States. Beside the political dialogue, the bilateral relations between Estonia and the United States are characterized by efficient practical co-operation in the areas of state defence, international fight against terrorism as well as crime prevention. In regional issues, a close dialogue is taking place in the framework of EPINE.

As of 29 March 2004, Estonia is a member state of NATO, which signifies a strengthened allied relationship between Estonia and other members of the alliance, including the United States.

 The decision to accept Estonia as a member of NATO was made at the NATO summit in Prague in 2002. The role of the United States in shaping and approving this decision was decisive. The Senate unanimously ratified Estonia’s accession to NATO on 8 May 2003.

 In addition to direct security policy aspects, the economic co-operation between the two countries is continuously gaining importance.

Visits and Meetings

To the US
September 2012 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on a working visit; meeting with US State Department Coordinator for Cyber Issues Chris Painter
April 2012 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on a working visit; meetings with White House Cyber Security Coordinator Howard Smith and US State Department Coordinator for Cyber Issues Chris Painter
March 2012 Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on a working visit; meeting with Hillary Clinton
November 2011 Minister of Defence Mart Laar
October 2011 Minister of Education  Jaak Aaviksoo
July 2011 Prime Minister Andrus Ansip on a working visit; meeting with Vice President Joe Biden
April 2011 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on a working visit
January 2011   Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on a working visit; met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
March 2010 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on a working visit
October 2009 Minister of Defence Jaak Aaviksoo
September 2009 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on a working visit
September 2009 Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, meeting with Hillary Clinton
June 2009 President Toomas Hendrik Ilves meeting with Barack Obama
September 2008 Minister of Justice Rein Lang and Minister of Interior Jüri Pihl
April 2008 Minister of Economy and Communication Juhan Parts
April 2008 The official visit of the Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves; meetings with Vice President Richard B. Cheney and  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
November 2007 Minister of Defence Jaak Aaviksoo
November 2007 Prime Minister Andrus Ansip on a working visit to the USA; meetings with Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
October 2007 Minister of Finance Ivari Padar
June 2007 Official visit of President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at the invitation of George W. Bush; meetings also with Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and Speaker of the US Congress Nancy Pelosi
June 2007 Foreign Minister Urmas Paet 
November 2006 Defence Minister Jürgen Ligi
January 2006 President Arnold Rüütel
November 2005 Delegation headed by Justice Minister Rein Lang and Interior Minister Kalle Laanet
September 2005 Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
March 2005 Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications Andrus Ansip


To Estonia
September 2012 NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Admiral James G. Stavridis
June-July 2012 A delegation of the US Congress
May 2012 Deputy Secretary of State William Burns
April 2012 Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Rose Gottemoeller
April 2011   Delegation of senators from Congress led by Jon Kyl
July 2010 Delegation of the US Congress Helsinki Commission led by Senator Benjamin Cardin
April 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting
September 2009 Delegation of the Congress of the United States of America in Tallinn
August 2009 Assitant Secretary of State Philip Gordon
April 2009 Delegation of the US Congress headed by Shelley Berkeley
November 2008 Minister of Defence Robert Gates
March 2008 Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
October 2008 Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
July 2007 Delegation of the US Congress headed by Republican Leader John Boehner
November 2006 President George W. Bush
October 2006 Deputy Secretary of State Mark Pekala
August 2006 Delegation of the US Congress headed by Congressman Jim Kolbe
February 2006 Delegation of the US Congress headed by Bob Goodlatte
August 2005 Delegation of the US Congress headed by Henry Hyde, also President of the OSCE PA Congressman Alcee Hastings in Tallinn
April 2005 Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick



The range of agreements signed between Estonia and the United States is very broad, comprising agreements in many areas. On the basis of the signed agreements, a steady and efficient co-operation is prevalent.

  • Agreement on Extradition of Criminals (came into force 15 Nov 1924);
  • Supplementary Agreement to the Agreement on Extradition of Criminals (came into force 7 May 1935)
  • Bilateral Investment Incentive Agreement (came into force 28 Oct 1991);
  • Agreement on Trade and Investment Relations (came into force 17 Sep 1992);
  • Agreement on Fishing in the Waters of the United States of America (came into force 28 Dec 1992);
  • Agreement on the Promotion and Mutual Protection of Investments (came into force 16 Feb 1997);
  • A Charter of Partnership Between the United States of America, the Republic of Estonia, the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania (came into force 16 Jan 1998);
  • Bilateral Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income (came into force 30 Dec 1999);
  • Memorandum between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Estonia and the United States Department of State treating the automation of the export licensing system of Estonia (came into force 30 Dec 1999)
  • Bilateral Agreement Concerning Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information (came into force 23 Feb 2000);
  • Bilateral Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (came into force 20 Oct 2000);
  • Agreement Regarding Employment of Family Members of Diplomats in the Country of Assignment of the Diplomat (came into force 22 Nov 2000);
  • Agreement on Law Enforcement (came into force 26 Jun 2003);
  • Agreement on the Protection and Preservation of Certain Cultural Values (came into force 22 Jul 2003).
  • Protocol to the Treaty for the Encouragement and Reciprocal Protection of Investment (came into force 10 Aug 2004)
  • Amendment to the Letter of Agreement on Law Enforcement concluded on 26 June 2003 (came into force 24 Sep 2004)
  • Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Estonia on Enhancing Co-operation in Preventing and Combating Serious Crime (came into force 15.11.2008, except articles 8-10)
  • Extradition Treaty between the Government of the Republic of Estonia and the Government of the United States of America (came into force 07.04.2009)
  • Agreement on research and technology co-operation (came into force 26.10.2009)
  • Treaty between the Government of the Republic of Estonia and the Government of the United States of America on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (came into force 01.02.2010)
  • In November of 2008, the USA’s Visa Waiver Programme expanded to include Estonia, which allows Estonian citizens to travel to the USA with few formalities like other nations chosen by the USA.
  • In 2012 a new agreement between the government of the Republic of Estonia and the government of the United States of America regarding the employment of family members of diplomats in the country of assignment of the diplomat was concluded, replacing the old agreement (came into force 19 June 2012).

You can read more about the agreements between the countries in the Foreign Ministry's Database of Foreign Agreements.

Regional co-operation

EPINE (Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe), the framework for cooperation between the USA and the Nordic and Baltic states, was created in 2003. It essentially replaced the previous cooperation frameworks of the NEI (Northern European Initiative) and USA-Baltic charter after the Baltic states were accepted into NATO and the EU. The main goal of cooperation between nations with similar values (NB8+USA) is increasing the successfulness of freedom, security and economy in the region and in its surrounding neighbourhoods (in Moldova, Ukraine, Southern Caucasia and Belarus). EPINE cooperation focuses on the following areas:

  • Security issues, which involves cooperation in counterterrorism and the fight against weapons of mass destruction, but also in NATO, PfP programs, and the OSCE.
  • Questions of economic policy, primarily in strengthening investments, goods exchange and business connections, and also coordinating development cooperation.

Within the framework of EPINE, meetings of NB8+USA political leaders and development cooperation experts generally take place twice a year. For all parties involved, EPINE has become a highly valued meeting format with an open and honest atmosphere.

Defence co-operation

In defence policy and military matters, the United States is at the forefront of Estonia’s most important partners. Bilateral defence co-operation with the USA includes many different sectors, ranging from joint participation in operations to training and procurement projects. The legal basis for bilateral defence co-operation between Estonia and the United States was laid down in the memorandum on co-operation in defence and military relations between the defence ministries signed in 1995. In 2000, the intergovernmental agreement for the protection of classified military intelligence was signed. In 2002, the intergovernmental agreement on the prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and on the development of defence and military relations was signed. In the summer of 2008, an agreement was signed that renewed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) for the next ten years. This agreement regulates the logistics support conditions of joint military exercises and operations.

Bilateral military co-operation with the United States covers many different areas, from joint participation in military operations to environmental projects in Estonia. The USA is one of Estonia’s most important partners in international operations, especially in Afghanistan. The main consultative organ for bilateral defence related co-operation is the bilateral working group (BWG) at the level of the defence ministries, which has convened annually since 1997. In addition to the bilateral meetings, meetings also take place between the three Baltic states and the USA.

Training-related co-operation between the Baltic states and the USA has taken place with varying degrees of activity since the middle of the 1990s. So far the USA has participated in the NATO Baltic air policing mission three times (in 2005, 2008, and 2010).

One co-operation sector with a lot of potential is cyber security. In November of 2011 the USA officially joined the NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence located in Tallinn; currently there is one American cyber expert from the US Navy at the Centre, who has been working there since July 2011.

The United States is also an active participant in BALTDEFCOL (the Baltic Defence College) in Tartu. Currently one instructor position is being filled by an American – Colonel Mark Derber, who has been in charge of the Joint Command and General Staff Course (JCGSC) since August 2011. In addition, the instructor who left the college in the summer of 2011 will be replaced by a new officer, who will remain at the college until 2013. Students from the USA have also participated in the JCGSC since 1999 (except for the period 2003-2006). Currently there is one officer from the USA studying in Tartu.

The United States has supported the development of Estonia’s Defence Forces; the most extensive assistance programmes are the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programmes. Millions of US dollars are allocated to these programmes each year. The FMF is a programme of annual allocations determined by the US Congress through which aid and loans are given to the USA’s allies for purchasing products, services or trainings from the US defence industry.  Within the framework of IMET, various types of schooling and training are offered to the representatives of defence structures both in US educational institutions and in Estonia. Estonia has focused on the professional and technical training of junior officers and on the training of mid to high-ranking officers. In addition, specialty courses have recently been attended in the framework of the IMET that address military police, engineers, intelligence, communications, logistics, and air force.

Since July 2011 the US defence attaché assigned to Estonia is Lieutenant Colonel Darren Smith, and in January 2012 the previous naval attaché Commander Kip Herderson was replaced by Commander Ron Rios. The Estonian defence attaché in the USA has been Colonel Aivar Salekeshin since August 2011. 

Economic relations

The United States is a important economic partner for Estonia. The global operating of enterprises with the US origin and increasingly internationalizing supply chains often mean that the end consumer of an electronics component or device meant for some European country may well be in the United States.

Economic agreements

All major economic agreements have been concluded between Estonia and the US:

  • Bilateral Investment Incentive Agreement (came into force 28 Oct 1991);
  • Agreement on Trade and Investment Relations (came into force 17 Sep 1992);
  • Agreement on Fishing in the Waters of the United States of America (came into force 28 Dec 1992);
  • Agreement on the Promotion and Mutual Protection of Investments (came into force 16 Feb 1997);
  • Bilateral Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income (came into force 30 Dec 1999);
  • Agreement between the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications of the Republic of Estonia on the funding of the Tallinn Port security assistance project. (signed on 21 September 2006)

In the areas in the European Union’s competence, Estonia’s economic relations with the US are also regulated by agreements concluded between the EU and the US, the list of which is available at


The importance of the USA in bilateral trade relations with Estonia has grown from year to year since the restoration of Estonia’s independence.
According to the data of Statistics Estonia, the USA was Estonia’s 10th trade partner in the first six months of 2012 (with 2.8% of Estonia’s total trade turnover). Estonian export to the United States totalled 292 million euros, which was 4.8% of Estonia’s total exports and placed the USA in 6th place among Estonia's export partners.  Imports from the USA totalled close to 64 million euros or 1% of total imports, which placed the USA in 20th place among Estonia’s import partners.

Estonia - US trade 2005-2011 (in million euros):

Year Export % of total export Import % of total import Balance
2005 191.3 3.1 118.1 1.4 73.2
2006 511.2 6.6 122.7 1.2 388.5
2007 334.8 4.2 140.9 1.2 193.3
2008 407.4 4.8 128.6 1.2 278.8
2009 274.0 4.2 100.7 1.4 173.3
2010 330.9 3.8 92.8 1.0 238.1
2011 (11 months) 680.7 6.1 127.6 1.1 553.1

Estonia's primary exports to the USA in the first half of 2012:

  • Mineral products
  • Machinery and equipment
  • Metals and metal products
  • Photographic, medical and measuring equipment

Estonia's primary imports from the USA in the first half of 2012:

  • Machinery and equipment
  • Photographic, medical and measuring equipmentChemical products
  • Transportation vehicles

Source: Statistical Office of Estonia


According to the Bank of Estonia, as of 30 June 2012 the total of US direct investments in Estonia was 319.5 million euros, which means 2.3% of all investments come from the USA. Of this total, 55% went to the manufacturing industry, 19% to financial and insurance activity, and 14% to real estate activity.
Estonia’s direct investment position in the USA as of 30 June 2012 totalled 73.5 million euros, which is 1.9% of Estonia’s investments abroad. The primary sectors were wholesale and retail trade and the manufacturing industry. Investments were also made in the sector that supplies climate control through electric, gas, or steam energy, transport and industry, information and communications, financial and insurance activity, real estate, and professional, research, and technical activity.


There is still much room for development in tourism relations between Estonia and the USA. The number of America tourists staying overnight in Estonian accommodation establishments grew by leaps and bounds in 2004, after Estonia joined the European Union (a growth of 50% compared to the year before). Over the following years the number of Americans staying in accommodation establishments has gradually increased, reaching 16.3 thousand in 2009 and 20.5 thousand in 2010. In the first 11 months of 2011 the number of tourists from the USA increased and a total of 23 thousand US tourists used Estonian accommodation establishments.

Many Estonians travel to America independently to visit their friends or relatives. Finding short-term work or studying in the USA is also popular. Tourism relations will surely develop more rapidly thanks to the implementation of the USA Visa Waiver Programme with Estonia in November 2008. In 2008, travel agencies sent 19 706 travellers to the USA, and in 2009 they sent 8 894. As of 2010 statistics are no longer calculated for people from Estonia travelling to the USA.

Cultural relations

Estonian culture has been introduced by many actors, artists and musicians in the United States. Artistic director and head conductor of the Estonian National Symphonic Orchestra Neeme Järvi has been the chief conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and has also participated for many years in the work of the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For the last few years, Neeme Järvi’s son Paavo Järvi has been conducting the Cincinnati and Chicago symphony orchestras. Performances of Erkki-Sven Tüür’s music are becoming increasingly more frequent in the USA. The works of composer Arvo Pärt are also appreciated and respected in the United States.

The folk, spiritual and awakening-era songs of Estonian composers (G. Ernesaks, R. Tobias, A. Pärt, V. Tormis, E. Tubin) have been presented to US audiences by both Estonian and American mixed choirs. Jazz composer and pianist Kristjan Randalu has given concerts in Washington and New York. Famous American musicians and ensembles like Kenny Garret and the Victor Bailey Group, Chicago Beau, Brian Melvin, Mike Stern, Joey DeFrancesco Trio, Terry Lyne Carrington Group, and David Liebman have performed in Estonia’s largest annual jazz festival Jazzkaar.

The biggest cultural events of 2011 were the performance of Erkki-Sven Tüür’s works by the New Tallinn Trio at the Phillips Collection within the framework of the “Leading European Composers” series and the performance of the orchestral piece “Aditus” by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Lincoln Centre. In February Sofi Oksanen’s play “Purge” was performed at the La Mama Theatre in New York.  At the beginning of June the children’s choir Eesti Raadio Lastestuudio went on a longer concert tour that included a performance at the Six Flags music festival in New Jersey. At the beginning of October the festival of contemporary Estonian culture BIO EST took place for the first time in New York. During the 13-day festival visitors could become acquainted with Estonia’s newest works in photography, art, film, dance, performance art, and music. The successful run of the documentary film “The Singing Revolution”, which had done well in US cinemas in the previous years, continued in 2011 – it was showed through the USA’s public broadcasting station on over 850 stations all over America and a set of study materials was created based on the film; 3 000 of these sets were distributed to American schools.

Estonians in the US

The formation of an Estonian-speaking and culturally active community in America began in the beginning of the 20th century. The community saw its largest expansion in the mid-20th century, after the tragic events of World War II. Refugees were often helped by those who were already there. They constituted a new wave of Estonians, larger than any in the past. Their stand for Estonia’s freedom and the way they constantly had to explain their origins and situation stengthened the community and helped them to preserve their heritage. The third wave of Estonians of the 20th century hit the USA in the 1990s.

According to the 2000 United States Census, 25,034 persons of Estonian ancestry live in the United States. Due to the methodology of the survey, this number reflects the number of people who chose to indicate their Estonian origins in the population registry. To that number 1,461 (as of January 2006) Estonian citizens living in the United States either permanently or temporarily can be added. The traditional centers of residence and culture for Estonians are situated on the East Coast (New York, New Jersey), in Mid-West, Chicago, around Lake Michigan and on the West Coast.

There are 22 Estonian Societies functioning in the United States currently, along with choirs, church congregations, alliances and Estonian Houses. Altogether there are over 100 organisations. The oldest Estonian Educational Society is the Detroit Estonian Educational Society „Kodu”, which was created on 17 October 1926 by 25 enterprising Estonians and still functions today. A few years later, on 7 December 1929, the New York Estonian Educational Society was established, and it continues its activities in the New York Estonian House. Most of the Estonian Houses were purchased in the 50s and 60s by the regional organisations. Other than New York, these centres of Estonian language and culture also exist in Baltimore, Chicago, Lakewood and Los Angeles. Estonian newpapers or other periodicals are published in many states. The largest Estonian-language newspaper is Vaba Eesti Sõna (Free Estonian Word), published in New York. The Estonian language is taught in Indiana University (since 1970), where it is also possible to study Baltic history (beginning in 1918) and Estonian culture and civilization. The Estonian language is also taught at Washington University. The most famous Estonian choir is the New York Estonian Men’s Choir, which was established in 1950. Estonian literature that has been published in the United States is covered in the series „Estonian Literature in Exile in the 20th Century” (Eesti Kirjandus Paguluses XX Sajandil).

On 19 July 1952, the regional Estonian organisations came together under the Estonian American National Council (Eesti Rahvuskomitee Ühendriikides—ERKÜ). Until 1991, the goal of the organisation was to restore Estonia’s freedom. In recent years, its activities have focused on strengthening the vitality of the Estonian language and culture in America by supporting student and cultural exchanges and youth camps. Estonians in the USA often celebrate traditional Estonian holidays together and organise fun and relaxing summertime gatherings or cultural events. A good example of a multifaceted Estonian event in America is the program from this year’s 28th West Coast Estonian Days.

In 1961, the national organisations of the Baltic States in America formed the Joint Baltic American National Council (JBANC) in order to increase the efficiency of their efforts for restoring independence and to bring more attention to the lack of human rights and democracy in the Balic states. Today the organisation helps to support national interests of the Baltic states by exchanging information and by organising economic and security policy conferences and seminars.


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