U.S. Ambassador-Designate to Georgia Lays Out Priorities

Kelly Degnan, the U.S. Ambassador-designate to Georgia, spoke during her nomination hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on October 29.

She has pledged “to help the Georgian government and people build a resilient, prosperous society that values its rich and diverse heritage and can withstand the pressures of Russian malign activities and growing Chinese influence.”

Military and security issues loom large

Kelly Degnan started her remarks by stressing the familiarity with the Georgian context, since she served in neighboring Turkey, when Russian army invaded Georgia in 2008.

“A year later I was in NATO headquarters, where Georgia was and is a valued partner,” Degnan said, emphasizing that the Allies have reaffirmed their 2008 pledge that Georgia will become a member of NATO during the last year’s Summit.

“During my three years at NATO I was always impressed by Georgia’s commitment to make reforms that were necessary for strengthening its military”, Degnan said, adding that Georgia’s commitment is evident as the country has “deployed one of the largest contingents of forces, fighting with no caveats and at the cost of 32 Georgian lives and 290 wounded” in Afghanistan. She emphasized that “Georgia is still there [in Afghanistan] with us, with almost 900 soldiers deployed to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission”.

Degnan stressed that as the foreign policy adviser of US Naval Forces Europe, she has seen “Georgia’s value as a capable, dedicated partner supporting U.S. and NATO presence in the Black Sea”. “Our outstanding security cooperation underscores the fact that Georgia is a key partner in a geo-strategic region, a vital interest to the United States”, she added.

Pledging to continue steadfast support of Georgia as it makes the “reforms necessary for NATO membership and for economic integration into the European Union and the West”, Degnan noted that “our work together is aimed at strengthening Georgia’s capacity to defend its borders while it builds prosperous, integrated, democratic society.”

Responding to the committee question concerning Georgia’s NATO membership aspirations, Degnan stressed that “NATO being a political-military organization has very high standards.” She said “Georgia is aware of what [these] expectations are” and that it “made progress, especially in military area and is working hard on meeting political standards as well.”

Degnan stressed that U.S. will continue to assist Georgia on its NATO path, since the Allies stand behind their 2008 pledge to offer Georgia eventual membership, “but it is upon Georgia also to meet those very high standards, political-military requirements that are essential to NATO’s strength.”

Commitment to the rule of law and democracy “fundamental”

Degnan stressed that despite the progress Georgia made, “there is still much work to hold and build on those achievements.”

Degnan underscored the need of “promoting pluralistic legislature, independent judiciary, a diverse media and a vibrant civil society” in Georgia. “A continued commitment to the principles of democracy and rule of law is absolutely fundamental to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration,” she added.

Speaking of upcoming 2020 Parliamentary elections in Georgia, Degnan stressed that she will make it a priority to work with all relevant stakeholders in Georgia “to ensure next year’s elections are free and fair.”

Russian Occupation

“Perhaps because of its successes, Georgia still finds itself the target of destabilizing and destructive Russian actions”, Degnan said, adding that the U.S. “will continue to be a vocal advocate of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”

Condemning ongoing occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions by Russian forces and Russia’s attempts at borderization of the dividing line, Degnan said “the solution to this conflict which is a result of Russian aggression is for Russia to fulfill its obligations under the 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, including withdrawing its forces to pre-conflict positions, allowing humanitarian access and reversing its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”

Degnan pledged to sustain U.S. efforts “to help the Georgian government and people, build a resilient, prosperous society that values its rich and diverse heritage and can withstand the pressures of Russian malign activities and growing Chinese influence.”

Responding to Senator Mitt Romney’s question on how to better make evident the U.S. support towards Georgia against Russian invasion, Degnan said “we have demonstrated importance of continued vocal advocacy for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and strong commitment to support Georgia as it makes reforms necessary to strengthen institutions to follow on the path it has chosen – to integrate into European Union and the West.”

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