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Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Black Sea, Discusses Georgia

On October 25, the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation convened a hearing on “Assessing the Department of State’s Strategy for Security in the Black Sea region.” Chaired by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the hearing featured testimony from James C. O’Brien, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, who provided insights into the State Department’s strategy for the Black Sea and fielded questions from senators, including Jeanne Shaheen and Pete Ricketts.

According to O’Brien, the U.S. is seeking “a Black Sea that is secure, prosperous, democratic, and globally connected to markets around the world.” Georgia emerged as a recurring topic of discussion during the hearing.

Recurring History

Senator Shaheen opened the session by emphasizing the Black Sea as an area of focus for Russian President Vladimir Putin. She described Putin’s “aggressive agenda and revisionist history” and pointed out that Georgia was the first target of his “revanchist policies.”

Shaheen recounted events, stating, “in 2008, Putin annexed South Ossetia and Abkhazia because Georgia was moving toward democracy. In 2014, he illegally annexed Crimea when Ukrainians expressed support for EU membership. In 2022, Putin further invaded Ukraine when he realized that his bullying tactics would not work.”

Senator Shaheen warned that unchecked Russian behavior had implications for the security and economies of Black Sea countries.

Senator Shaheen continued discussing developments regarding Ukraine, and finally concluded that “we need a comprehensive interagency strategy toward the region. That’s why the Senate NDAA bill [ed. National Defense Authorization Act] this year includes a provision requiring just that, a comprehensive interagency strategy for the Black Sea.”

Russian Naval Base in Abkhazia

After Senator Shaheen, the floor was given to Senator Pete Ricketts, according to whom “Putin would like nothing better than to turn the Black Sea into a Russian lake and its airspace into a no-fly zone,” but Ukraine attacks have put Russia’s vaunted maritime dominance into question “so much so that it is now looking to separatist friends in Abkhazia for a new naval base.”

Senator Ricketts asserted that “Georgia must be unequivocal in its rejection of this Russian power play into its sovereign territory.”

Ricketts also cautioned against overlooking China’s desire to expand its influence in the region. The senator urged that “our Black Sea allies and partners should send a clear message to Beijing that its predatory lending practices and malign influence have no place in the Black Sea.”

EU Candidacy and 2024 Parliamentary Elections in Georgia

To Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s question about how the United States is working to secure Georgia’s democracy in the context of the next year’s parliamentary elections, Assistant Secretary O’Brien said the US is waiting for the initial UN election preparation Office Report to determine what the design of a a long-term observation mission has to be.

“We’ll work with the Georgian authorities to be sure that that election is as free and fair as we can make it using our very excellent partners, both international organizations, the Georgian people,” O’Brien added.

As for Georgia’s EU candidacy bid, O’Brien noted that absolute majority of Georgians support the EU integration, but “the question is whether a small group of businesses and others, who do have some political influence, prefer being in a gray area, sort of between Russia and the West.” According to the Assistant Secretary, their [the U.S.] “challenge is to point out to the people each time there’s an inflection point when a decision must be made. So we have put forward some sanctions and some requirements for reform.”

Countering Chinese influence in Georgia

Senator Shaheen brought up the topic of PRC’s “concerning” effort to develop a port in Anaklia, Georgia, and asked how the U.S. is supporting Georgia to remain resilient. Assistant Secretary O’Brien asserted the U.S. has made it clear that “that critical infrastructure should not belong to states that will steal or suborn the countries in which they operate” and “that includes port facilities like the one in Anaklia.”

O’Brien mentioned that the U.S. has provided a very large loan to a facility in the Poti, and the US “is working to develop these other facilities in Georgia so that they’re able to manage a great deal more traffic.”

“Part of it is making sure that there is competition, but also that Anaklia [ed.port] is controlled by a firm that is open to working in accordance with the rule of law, and we’ll continue to insist on that,” O’Brien added.

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


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