US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing for Ambassador Nominee to Georgia, Robin Dunnigan

On March 30, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a nomination hearing during which Robin Dunnigan, the nominee for the position of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Georgia, discussed her plans and goals for her term.

Robin Dunnigan was introduced to the Senate by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, who took the opportunity to address the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. “In some ways, our current problems with Russia started in Georgia,” Sullivan said. “Back in 2008, when Russia invaded Georgia. We talk a lot about how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was unprecedented, in terms of scale and duration it has been. But the world got its first taste of what was in store for Russia’s sovereign neighbors back in 2008 in Georgia.”

Dunnigan stated that if confirmed, she will focus on four priorities: “First, my highest duty will be to ensure the safety and security of the team working at the U.S. Embassy and of all Americans in Georgia. Second, I will work with the Georgian government and the people of Georgia to help them realize their dream of being firmly integrated with the EU, NATO, and the West. Not only will Euro-Atlantic integration benefit the citizens of Georgia, but I deeply believe it is in the U.S. national interest. We want a democratic Georgia firmly integrated with the West, capable of defending its borders and able to withstand the pressure of Russian malign activities. Georgia has made remarkable progress over the last 30 years, but some concerning developments show there is more to do.”

She then added: “Third, I will strengthen bilateral trade and investment, including by increasing US exports and opportunities for American companies in Georgia. My final priority will be to advocate for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as Russia still occupies 20% of its territory.” I will work with Georgian international partners to hold Russia to its commitments under the 2008 ceasefire agreement and the UN charter.”

During the hearing, Senator Chris Van Hollen asked Ms. Dunnigan about the recent protests in Georgia and the “foreign agents” bill expressing concern about legislative crackdowns on NGOs and civil society not only in Georgia but also in other countries around the world. Although the bill had been dropped, there are still apprehensions about Russian influence, especially in the eyes of Georgian protesters, he noted and inquired about Dunnigan’s perspective on Russian influence in the Georgian political system and the state of democracy in Georgia following these events.

Robin Dunnigan responded that the recent protests in Georgia over the “foreign agents” law reflect the Georgian people’s desire for integration with the West and the EU. She emphasized the importance of US support on this path. Dunnigan also noted that Russia is engaged in malign activities in Georgia, including disinformation, which is affecting the country. Therefore, she believes that it is crucial to provide assistance to help Georgia implement democratic reforms, in particular the EU’s 12 reforms required for EU candidate status. If confirmed, she would work closely with the government to support their implementation.

Senator Pete Ricketts spoke of the influence of Bidzina Ivanishvili and the “Georgian Dream” party and asked what could be done to counteract Russian efforts to draw Georgia closer to its sphere of influence.

Dunnigan said: “I believe that it is imperative that we are frank with the Georgian government about concerning steps that we have seen, and I will continue to be frank with the government if confirmed.” She also stressed the importance of supporting Georgia’s democratic institutions, judiciary, and independent media to strengthen society and protect it from Russian and Chinese malign activities. She stressed that efforts to integrate Georgia with the West through infrastructure development, security, and economic cooperation were essential to cementing Georgia’s future with the West.

Senator Tammy Duckworth asked about how Georgia position on war in Ukraine, Dunnigan noted that the Georgian people strongly support Ukraine in the war, and that the country has taken important steps to assist Ukraine, such as sending critical energy equipment to repair the energy grid damaged by Russia’s targeting of civilian infrastructure. Georgia has also taken in thousands of Ukrainian refugees and Russian dissidents, activists, and journalists who have fled their country during the war. She reiterated that if confirmed she will continue to work closely with the Georgian government in support of Georgia’s own sovereignty and territorial integrity and to help hold Russia accountable for its commitments under the 2008 ceasefire agreement and other international obligations.

When asked about the Georgian government’s response to the invasion in Ukraine, and in particular why it hasn’t imposed sanctions on Russia and whether Georgian businesses are helping to avoid existing sanctions, Dunnigan explained that ensuring sanctions compliance is a priority for the United States. She said the US is working with the Georgian government, national bank, private sector, and the financial sector to ensure there is no evasion of sanctions. She also noted that Georgia had supported Ukraine in international fora and passed resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression. Dunnigan assessed: “Georgia absolutely should understand that we do not want to continue to fund, via sanctions evasion, Russia’s war machine and its military for future aggression. So that is a conversation that we are having with Georgia, in fact, our special coordinator for sanctions and other agents, inter-agency officials will be going to Georgia in the coming month to continue this important dialogue.”

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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