U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan spoke with Evelyn Farkas, Executive Director of the McCain Institute, on 6 September during the 6th Tbilisi International Conference titled “Slava Ukraini – Glory to Ukraine” to discuss U.S. role in assisting Georgia in its European aspirations, attacks from the ruling Georgian Dream party on the U.S., and the Black Sea security.
U.S. Commitment to Georgia
“For 30 years we have been doing what we can, not to support a particular political party but to support the Georgian people in their effort to build a stable democracy, which is the United States’ top interest in Georgia,” Amb. Degnan emphasized.
“A lot of what the U.S., the EU, and member states have been doing [in Georgia] is to continue to build the structures, and foundations that are going to be there for Georgia every step of the way forward, however long that takes, and whatever terms that involve,” she explained.
Amb. Degnan denoted that while Georgia’s allies need to continue helping it in “building its stability and democratic structures”, “what is really encouraging when we travel around this country… is to see the really inspiring things that Georgians are doing… [even] where they are most vulnerable to disinformation and the realities of life, including poverty, unemployment, high crisis, poor education, and poor infrastructure”.
Referring to the country’s European aspirations, Ambassador Kelly said “I think it’s absolutely essential that Georgians continue to go [towards Europe] together, otherwise it will not be ready.”
“This is hard work and Georgia is not going to get a shortcut, just like the Baltic States,” Amb. Degnan emphasized. “But we need to be there for Georgia and with the Georgian people, and give an encouraging message about what is going right in this country [as well]…” she added.
War Blackmail Conspiracy and U.S. Military Commitment in Georgia
Addressing the allegations that the U.S. and other partners of Georgia have been trying to pull the country into war, the Ambassador underscored, “I think it’s important to remember that the biggest threat to Georgia is Russia, to Georgia’s security, stability, prosperity, and democracy is Russia.”
“And it has been for centuries, this isn’t new for Georgians, this is just the latest version and it’s important to understand that this is in Georgians’ minds, this long shadow that Russia uses so effectively to sow confusion and separate people,” she said.
The U.S. Ambassador remarked that is why the “U.S. has been helping Georgia for 30 years to improve its ability to deter and defend its own borders… to build that capacity to defend its own borders…”
In line with those efforts, the Ambassador highlighted the importance of Georgia hosting multinational military exercises such as Noble Partner, which is currently taking place in Georgia. “Our firm belief is that a strong defense force is the best deterrent to making Georgia a target of Russian aggression,” she said.
“The military cooperation and partnership are long-standing because we understand that for Georgians, the first thing on their mind is stability and security of their country, the confidence that they can defend their own borders is at the heart of that and we want to continue being with them on that,” said Amb. Degnan.
Black Sea Security and Georgia’s Role
Speaking on black sea security and pathways for Georgia to protect itself, Amb. Degnan stated, “There needs to be an understanding of not just the Black Sea, but how the Black Sea links up with Central Asia and Asia.”
“I think we’re starting to see that as we’re looking for alternatives to the northern corridor that’s a really important role that Georgia can play… and that opportunity needs to be developed,” Ambassador thinks. “Because that’s going to be a part of Georgia’s stability and security, when it becomes an essential thruway for Central Asia, whether in energy or goods. Anything that can help anchor Georgia with its European neighbors is very positive and strong,” the Amb. concluded.
Georgian Sanctions Against Russia
Asked by an audience member about the U.S.’s efforts to encourage the Georgian government to join sanctions imposed against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, Amb. Degnan stressed that sanctions are meant to change behavior and are most effective when there are “no loopholes.”
She noted that the Georgian government has complied with Western sanctions to an extent, specifically with financial sanctions, and pointed out that the U.S. continues to work with Georgian agencies on maintaining vigilance against sanctions evasions.
She remarked that the U.S. can “continue to encourage Georgia to do everything it can with the understanding that victory in this conflict, the fastest way to bring peace is for us to stick together on sanctions enforcement.”
Ukraine’s Demand for Sanctioning Ivanishvili
Asked about Ukraine’s publication of a new list calling for sanctions among several notable Georgian citizens including ex-PM and ruling party founder Bidzina Ivanishvili, the Amb. emphasized that while she was not involved in developing those sanctions or the basis for the decision to do so, “for the U.S. obviously sanctions are a very important tool.”
“They can be a very effective tool if they are well implemented, they are designed to influence and change behavior,” she stated and concluded that the U.S. “does not discuss our sanction policy as we are developing it and don’t announce it until we implement them but they are certainly a very important tool.”