Ambassador Degnan’s Remarks at CDC Graduation
Question about restoration of flights between Russia and Georgia
Ambassador Degnan: Before we get to your questions, I’d like to address the outrageous lies that have been spreading about the International Republican Institute by the ruling party and their media affiliates. IRI has been supporting multi-party democracy in Georgia for over 20 years. It’s important to note that Georgian Dream receives more support from IRI than any other political party.
In fact, a number of GD leaders are graduates, alumni of IRI programming, having participated and benefited from what IRI has been doing for all the political parties in Georgia for over 20 years. So it really raises the question as to why the ruling party is trying to stifle independent polling and attack young people who are just interested in learning how to be good citizens in this country.
Independent polling, when it’s not supportive of your position may be inconvenient, but it is also very important to provide feedback and information to political leaders as to what the public’s priorities are. That is why it’s very important to allow responsible, independent polling like what has been done by IRI and NDI for many years, in many countries around the world, supported by the United States Congress, to continue. We have seen in Georgia that young people here want to contribute to discussions about the issues that will determine their future. That is what IRI’s work is about. It’s about helping them develop the skills to be able to discuss issues, especially when they have different views. It’s about helping them understand how to peacefully and constructively participate in their society, in the political process, working with the government, working with civil society to contribute to their country’s future. IRI and NDI have been very, very important in supporting Georgia’s democratic development over the years, and the United States government is very proud to continue to support them.
On your, on your second question, it’s not for the United States to say whether this will impact Georgia’s European Union candidate status. It does raise the question as to why Putin would give this to Georgia. Now, no one, I’m sure believes that he cares about the convenience of Georgian travelers, and we have seen that Putin does use the presence of Russians in a country to sometimes interfere in that country. I think there’s already many Georgians who are concerned about the hundred thousand Russians who came to Georgia last year, and now we hear from the Russian Tourism Agency that maybe a million more might be coming in as a result of these direct flights. So, I think that if Mr. Putin wanted to show that he cared about Georgia, he would withdraw Russian forces from Abkhazia and Tskinvali. He would comply with the obligations under the ceasefire agreement from 2008, and he would reverse Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and Tskinvali. Those would be signs that I think Georgians would appreciate as a true gesture, a sincere gesture. Remembering that this is the country that in 2008, invaded Georgia, that in 1989, tried to crush Georgia’s freedom, that tried to silence Georgia’s language in 1979, and that for centuries desecrated Georgia’s churches throughout this country. This is a country that is attacking Ukraine in the same way that it attacked Georgia 15 years ago, targeting apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, children, taking children from their families. It seems very odd to welcome a gesture from a regime, a bloody regime that is in the middle of doing to Ukraine, what Russia did to Georgia just 15 years ago and still occupies your land.
Follow up on the restoration question
Ambassador Degnan: I would say an important difference between today and 2019 is the fact that Russia has invaded Ukraine. Again, Russia has destabilized the entire region with this unjustified, brutal war that is purely aimed at taking Ukrainian territory and trying to eliminate Ukraine’s identity. That is a significant change from before.
Another important detail is that Georgia doesn’t rely on Russian tourism, and Russian business as much as it did in 2019. We saw after the ban was put into effect a surge in visitors from many other countries. Georgia does not have to rely and become dependent on Russia again. That is giving Russia dangerous leverage over your economy, and we have seen in many other countries how Russia will use that against your country when it wants to.
Georgia does not need to fall into that trap again in becoming dependent on Russia. We need more information as to how the Georgian government is going to respond to this, what the details of these potential flights are going to be before we can establish whether there are export control or sanctions that apply to this situation, but I would imagine that there will be some.
Question about the European Socialist Party’s statement
Ambassador Degnan: The United States is not in the European Parliament, so we don’t have anything to do with those decisions.