US Ambassador discusses visa restrictions and future of US-Georgia relations

The US Ambassador to Georgia Robin Dunnigan has addressed recent visa restrictions imposed by the United States on representatives of the Georgian government and their associates, highlighting concerns about recent actions taken by the Georgian authorities and emphasizing the strong, historical partnership between the two nations.

- First of all, I would like to thank you for your work and for visiting us at such an important time for the country.

One of the main issues of Georgian-American relations in the recent period is the first tranche of visa restrictions, which Washington imposed on representatives of the Georgian government and persons close to them. As we know, the sanction was extended to 24 to 36 persons. On what principle were these persons selected and are the restrictions expected to be extended? And the question that worries everyone - is it expected that the USA will directly impose sanctions on the state of Georgia?

- I would like to answer your specific question regarding the visa restriction, but I would like to start the conversation with a broader picture, because I think it is very important now to tell the full story of America's commitment to Georgia. We have an amazingly strong partnership. Any American you meet knows Georgia, knows about Georgia, loves this country and appreciates and respects it. For almost 32 years, we have created this partnership that seeks to strengthen Georgia and also help the United States of America.

We want a prosperous, stable Georgia that can defend itself. We would like to see Georgia that has a well-equipped and trained army, a well-equipped coast guard. We want Georgia to have a strong education system and we want to see Georgia creating jobs for its people so that they can stay in the country and not go to work in another country. We want to see Georgia that can protect its cultural heritage and language. All our help and cooperation for 32 years has gone towards achieving all this and I think it has been an amazing success story. We are committed to this partnership. When I came to Georgia in October, I came with the understanding that there were some challenges in our relationship, but I came with the full responsibility to work with the Georgian government and the people of Georgia to get back on the course of this rich partnership that we have. And you know, we even did that together when I first came here, we made real progress. The first thing I did was to go to Brussels and recommend that Georgia get candidate status, which Washington also supported. The European Union, which was of course responsible for the decision, made a great decision from my point of view. I think we were doing well, which is a new beginning for our relationship, but in the last few months, the Georgian authorities have taken steps that are extremely disturbing. One of them is misinformation and negative rhetoric against the West, another example is the "foreign agents" law, which we believe is against the stated aspirations of the Georgian people. Another step is cases of violence and intimidation against peaceful protestors, representatives of civil society and opposition parties. All these steps have led to the unfortunate situation where we are now - the United States of America has imposed visa restrictions. I want to reiterate that no one in the United States wants us to do this. We would like to return to a positive partnership with the Georgian government, but recent actions have led the Secretary of State to determine that individuals and their family members who have contributed to these actions that undermine democracy, spread misinformation, and violence against citizens will be barred from entering the United States. . As you mentioned, the first tranche of restrictions has already been implemented and people who have visas have been notified that their visas are no longer valid and those who do not have visas will no longer be able to get them. The Secretary of State has been very clear that there will most likely be further consequences. Did it have to happen? No! I would like to see the Georgian government change course and take steps so that we don't need to impose more restrictions. Is this directed against the population of Georgia? Are we trying to sanction the Georgian people? Definitely not! We want the best for this country and we want this country to succeed. The consequences of the government's actions on our part are a tool to change the action and are not intended to punish the people of Georgia. They are very targeted and I hope this sends a signal to reverse the negative action.

- Regarding the sanctions, I will have further clarifications, however, as you mentioned, when you arrived in Georgia, there was quite good cooperation between you and the government, and suddenly something changed during the last months. If you personally or the officials in Washington have any idea why the Georgian authorities decided to adopt this contradictory law, which the Western society assessed as undemocratic, what would be your version?

- What is the motivation?! ow when I look at actions of governments I like to think of them in terms of how are they serving the people of the country you know we're getting close to the United States independence day and we have the same that President Abraham Lincoln first said in the Gettysburg, that democracy means government of the people, by the people, and for the people. So when a new policy is activated, here in America, or in any democracy, one must ask how it serves the people of the country. What I would say in this case is that ultimately it is up to the people of Georgia and the government they have elected to decide whether these actions serve the people, but I can tell you that the EU has made it very clear that these actions are not in line with Georgia's trajectory towards the EU and moreover, It will stop, slow down and hinder Georgia's progress towards EU membership. The United States of America has also made it clear that these actions have a negative impact on our bilateral relations and call into question our support for Georgia. Members of the economic and private sector in Georgia said that these actions were negative for the Georgian economy, the tourism industry, the stability of the GEL, as well as publicly traded companies, and this is not good for the Georgian economy. Therefore, in the end, it is up to the people of Georgia to decide whether these actions are motivated by serving the people, or whether they are motivated by serving someone's personal interests.

- The US State Department has stated several times that a complete review of all bilateral relations between the US and Georgia is planned. More specifically, how should we understand it? Will military cooperation be stopped? Will American organizations stop working in Georgia? Financial aid at zero dispute?

- Let me say again that I hope we will not get to that point. During the last few days, the representatives of the Georgian government, including the Prime Minister, say that they hope to return our relations to the old tracks. But we've also been very clear that the Secretary of State will review the relationship as a whole, from specific collaborations, including support across all agencies. The European Union presented some very interesting statistics in an infographic showing that the top ten recipients of EU aid are government ministries or agencies, just as much of the US aid goes either directly to support government ministries or government policies. Our support helps people with disabilities, we help families of children with Down syndrome, we help hospital employees, we help schools in areas populated by minorities, we helped to create, train and equip the Georgian Defense Forces, we helped to create, train and equip border guards, we helped to build an irrigation system in creation. It's the largest network of partnerships that we've built in this country, and Secretary of State Blinken has been very clear that, unfortunately, all of this aid is at risk. We do not want to do this, but we also clearly stated that it is very difficult to continue a strong partnership in all these directions if the government considers us as an enemy, and some members of the Georgian government describe us and the European Union as enemies in some of the statements made.

- According to the position of the ruling party of Georgia, foreign partners, including Washington, cannot justify which specific article of the controversial law is undemocratic. Can you tell us which aspects of the law you find most problematic?

- I could elaborate on that, but fortunately I don't need to because the Venice Commission and ODIHR have provided a very clear, written explanation of how this law is inconsistent with EU laws and norms and inconsistent with the European Code of Human Rights. The legal assessment of the Venice Commission is quite extensive, but is summarized in paragraph 96, which very clearly states the specific legal points in the EU with which this law is incompatible. Also, the leadership of the European Union, the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, very clearly stated that the law is legally incompatible with the norms and standards of the European Union. It is not accurate to say that the international community has not been clear in stating which specific aspects of the law are incompatible. This is very clearly stated in both of these analyses. But the issue again comes back to what problem is being corrected, because most of our aid goes to support government policies, civil society organizations that work across the spectrum in Georgia. Regarding some of these organizations, the authorities have been very clear that they hope to stigmatize them, especially some of those who work in the direction of human rights. It's an important voice in a democracy, not every voice in a democracy will agree with everything the government does, that's part of what it means to be an elected government in a democracy.

- Let's say, theoretically, the law on "transparency of foreign influence" will be repealed tomorrow. Will this alone be enough to normalize relations and lift sanctions? Should Tbilisi take other steps?

- From the perspective of the United States, this will be a very important step in improving our relationship and will help us get to a place where we can stop any negative consequences. But this is not the only step, an end to disinformation, negative rhetoric about the United States and the West, and an end to violence against protesters and peaceful assembly will also be very important steps. However, this will be a very important first step. I don't want to speak for the EU, but the EU has publicly pointed to the same areas: disinformation, rhetoric, law and violence against peaceful protesters.

- And will the normalization of relations depend on how the October parliamentary elections in Georgia will go?

- We would like to see and hope that free and fair elections will be held in October. But the government of Georgia can change this course and there is no need to wait until the elections. The government of Georgia can take steps now that will help improve the situation. I really want it to happen. I hope the government will do it. Elections are a separate issue. What we want about elections is that they are free and fair. The government has welcomed international and local observers and I hope that this will happen and I hope that the citizens of Georgia will come out to vote and exercise their right to vote.

- Before we finish the interview, I would like to touch on one more issue, I mean the development of the Anaklia port project. I would like to ask you, what is the official position of Washington on the entry of the Sino-Singaporean company in Anaklia port? I should mention here that according to the Georgian authorities, no one prevented American companies from entering, but they did not show any interest.

- The development of the Middle Corridor and the critical infrastructure of Georgia is crucial, and I want to say that next week or this weekend I am going to come to the United States, accompanied by a delegation of 40 Georgian businessmen, more than 20 companies, Georgian companies, to talk about business relations and investments in the United States. The meeting will be with the United States Secretary of Commerce, the meeting will be at the White House, I am doing this to deepen our economic ties. I believe that economic ties between the United States and Georgia are absolutely necessary. Yesterday evening I met with representatives of these companies who are preparing to go and use these really great meetings with interlocutors in the United States. I think that will lead to real investment on both sides, more investment here by US companies and more investment in the United States.

As for Anaklia, the majority owner of CCCC, the company contracted by the Georgian government, is the Chinese Communist Party and is known to be linked to the Chinese military. The Chinese Communist Party is the number one banker, the number one financier of the Russian army today. So one question is, why deepen economic ties with the party that finances your occupier? Because the Russian army is financed by the Chinese Communist Party. This is one question. The next question is about the quality and standards of the given company, CCCC does not have a good reputation globally. In 2009, the World Bank banned the bank from financing infrastructure projects implemented by this company. Recently the company built a port in Sri Lanka and there is a lot of controversy surrounding this port. I don't know if you've read about it, but finally, the Chinese government was able to secure a 99-year lease on Sri Lankan land, and its ships, warships, will be able to come in and out. So there is an argument that Sri Lanka has given up its sovereignty and basic critical infrastructure. The United States Treasury has identified this company as a company on a list of companies with deep ties to the Communist Party military. So there are many concerns about Anaklia. Of course, this is a sovereign decision. But I'm just reiterating some of the concerns that exist globally about this particular company.

- Finally, you know that today is a very important sports day for Georgia. You may know that the Georgian national team was able to participate in the European Championship for the first time. Maybe you can share your wishes with us..

- I am a huge football fan. I attended the qualifying match in Tbilisi. It was very nice to share this moment with so many Georgians. It was a unifying moment for Georgia, and that's why I want to end our interview on a positive note. I hope and am sure that Georgia will win, I would like to be there. And I wish all the best for Georgia. However, I think that Georgians were not only happy because they supported their national team, but because Georgia passed the qualification stage of the European Championship, where Georgia's place is. Finally, I would like to point out that let's do everything we can to get Georgia back on the road to becoming a member of the European Union, to continue moving on this road at the same pace as Ukraine and Moldova are doing, and in a few years we can say that Georgia is a member of the European Union. Nothing would make me happier!

Robin Wagener - With the law on "transparency of foreign influence", there will be no EU membership - No chance for that
Estonian Ambassador to Georgia - If we want EU membership, we should all play by the rules - The Georgian Government on the one hand says that they are moving closer to the EU, but their actions do not prove that