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Helsinki Commission hearing, July 17, 2018. Photo: twitter.com/HelsinkiComm

Helsinki Commission Holds Hearing on Russia’s Occupation of Georgia

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the United States Helsinki Commission, held a hearing on July 17 to assess the state of affairs ten years after the Russo-Georgian war and to explore the steps U.S. policymakers can take to address its consequences.

The Commission Chairman, Senator Roger Wicker (Rep.), emphasized in his introductory speech that the hearing would “help assess if the United States is doing everything possible to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity” and to reverse Moscow’s “assault on the borders of a neighboring state and on the international order.”

“In August 2008, Russian armed forces invaded Georgia in direct violation of the territorial integrity and political independence of states,” Senator Wicker said, adding that this has led to ten years of occupation and caused “incalculable political, economic, and humanitarian costs.”

The Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. Government agency, which monitors compliance with the Helsinki Accords through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental, and military cooperation in the OSCE region. It unites nine Senate and nine House Commissioners, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

In his testimony before the Commission, the Georgian Ambassador to the United States Davit Bakradze, spoke on Russian military and political actions in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, as well as on the human rights situation in the regions and the steps the Georgian Government has taken for conflict resolution.

“Throughout these ten years, the Russian Federation has intensified its illegal steps towards factual annexation of Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali,” Bakradze said, adding that the Kremlin’s integration treaties with the two regions continued “absorbing Georgia’s occupied regions into Russia’s military, political, economic and social systems.”

According to Bakradze, the human rights situation on the ground remains “alarming,” with fundamental rights of the local population “infringed on a daily basis.” The Ambassador said the ethnic Georgians residing in the two regions are subject to “intensified ethnic discrimination,” including through restrictions on free movement, illegal detentions and kidnappings, deprivation of property rights and right to education in native language.

He then welcomed the bipartisan U.S. support of Georgia and stressed the necessity of placing the peaceful conflict resolution “high in the international arena,” including in the U.S. dialogue with Russia. “Strong leadership of the United States is essential to reach progress in the resolution of the Russia-Georgia conflict,” Ambassador Bakradze stated.

Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council Damon Wilson said ten years ago at the Bucharest Summit, NATO leaders failed to agree to offer the Membership Action Plan to Georgia, but decided that the membership issue “would be a question of when, not whether.”

“Today, ten years on from the Summit and ten years on from the subsequent Russian invasion of Georgia … we run the risk of our rhetoric not keeping pace with reality,” he said, urging the Allies to make clear that “there is no third-party veto over the enlargement decision.”

Director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation Luke Coffey said in his remarks that Georgia has remained a dependable U.S. ally and has been”on a successful journey towards democracy” since regaining independence.

“It is in America’s interest that Georgia remains on this path,” Coffey added, stressing that the country’s enthusiasm for NATO membership should be further encouraged.

The hearing came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16, with the former telling Fox News after the meeting that NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine endangers the security of the Russian Federation.

This post is also available in: Georgian, Russian

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