Ambassador Degnan's remarks to media at Community Fourth of July Celebration
Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: This is one of the best days of the year because it’s the AmCham 4th of July picnic. We have so many friends here to celebrate our 4th of July in the true American style of hamburgers, hot dogs, fireworks, and fun. It’s great to be with our family and friends. We had about 2000 of our close friends and partners for our official reception last Thursday. We were honored to have the President and Prime Minister, and so many ministers and other partners and friends from the many areas where the United States and Georgia have a close partnership. Today is for families and all our friends just to relax and have an informal celebration. I really want to thank our many sponsors who have made today possible and who were so generous in supporting our reception on Thursday. They are what made this happen. The American Chamber of Commerce has a wonderful membership that is doing great things to stimulate the economy here in Georgia. Today’s our day to celebrate.
Question about the recent visit of the Sanctions Coordinator
Ambassador Degnan: It’s very important. This kind of statement shows the partnership that the United States and Georgia have in trying to monitor and stop the flow of components and equipment that are showing up on the battlefield in Ukraine. These are what Russia is using to continue this brutal war against the Ukrainians. We have seen very good cooperation from the Customs and Revenue Service, from the Border Police. The United States has worked with many of these agencies for decades, training, donating equipment, ensuring that there is the capacity and the knowledge and capability to really know what is coming in and out of Georgia. It’s an enormous task. There is a tremendous amount of goods going through Georgia because it has a border with Russia, and we know that Russia is putting a lot of pressure on countries in Georgia’s position and on companies to try and evade these sanctions and export controls. So, the visit by the Sanctions Coordinators was a chance to say thank you to the Georgian authorities for really taking this seriously and also to look at how we can continue to work together because we need to remain vigilant about the possibility and the risks that these items will flow through Georgia and make it into Russian military equipment that is being used to kill people in Ukraine.
Question on the recent violence against those critical of the ruling party
Ambassador Degnan: I don’t have information on the specifics of this case, but we are obviously very concerned to see a series of violent attacks on citizens. This is a great concern, I’m sure, for Georgians because you have done so much. It reminds people of the 1990s. It’s something that Georgia has really moved away from, moved forward from. It does seem as though the authorities are taking this seriously as there have been arrests, there have been investigations; I understand one attacker is in detention while his case is moving forward. I think it is concerning that some of the Facebook posts are very similar, which gives the appearance of this seeming to be coordinated. But I think much more investigation needs to be undertaken here. And again, I think when we see prosecutions of people who have admitted to physical attacks and violence on their Facebook posts, I think everyone will feel more reassured that this is not a trend and that it’s a trend that’s going to stop. Of course, the United States does not condone violence in any way; and I think it would be helpful if more of Georgia’s leaders spoke out and specifically condemned this violence and called for it to stop. I am not somebody who uses swear words, and I’m somebody who spent the last three and a half years trying to bring Georgians together, including Georgian political leaders; and I think that this is a moment when it’s very important for Georgians to come together and make sure that there is no kind of coordinated trend toward violence.
Question about the 12 priorities of the European Commission
Ambassador Degnan: The European Commission in their recent oral report made it very clear that, while three of the recommendations have been fully met, which is great news, there are still nine more that need serious work, that need urgent work over the coming months for Georgia to be eligible for candidate status. We’ve heard from many different European leaders, and they all want Georgia to get that positive decision in December, as does the United States, but they’ve also made it clear that there is real work to be done and that the process of doing the work is as important as the results. It needs to be an inclusive process, not just the government, but the stakeholders that need to be part of developing these reforms and then implementing the reforms. So, I think it’s a good first step, a good first report card, but clearly, there is more work that needs to be done. Everyone is urging Georgia to get serious in these next months and meet those remaining nine recommendations.
Question about Ukrainian sanctions on Georgian Airways
Ambassador Degnan: I don’t have a comment on that. That’s obviously a decision of the Ukrainian government. What we have said repeatedly is that these direct flights are concerning, not only because this is not the time to be normalizing relations with Russia, growing closer to Russia, allowing thousands more Russians to flood into Georgia. It’s also of concern because many of them are using this as the stepping stone to Europe, and Europe has closed its doors to Russians. So for Georgia to allow these direct flights to be the gateway for Russians to flood Europe is undermining the pressure that we’re trying to bring to bear, to get Putin to stop this war. All these measures are designed to stop the war as soon as possible. This requires that we all work together and be unified and in enforcing sanctions, and export controls; but the main purpose is to bring some pressure to bear on Putin. We are doing everything we can to stop this war as soon as we can. It’s brutal. Putin started it. Putin can stop it today, and we need to keep that pressure on. So, I hope that people understand that is why there’s a concern about these direct flights being restored. That’s why Putin made the gesture.