Question about the event
Ambassador Degnan: I am delighted to be here to open this wonderful photography exhibit that is showing photographs of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan from over a hundred years ago. This is a great collaboration between the two: we see a photography and multi-media museum and the United States Library of Congress which was supported by the US Embassy. These are photographs that were taken of daily life in the three Caucasus countries by a photographer who then left because of the Soviet occupation, and the Library of Congress acquired his photographs and negatives from his heirs. They’ve never been seen before here in the South Caucasus, and so we were very proud to be able to bring them back to Georgia and show what life was like in these three countries over a hundred years ago. This is also an example I would say of how much the United States respects Georgia’s culture and wants to help Georgia preserve and protect and promote its very unique culture. That’s something that we’ve done through many different ways and we’re delighted to be able to do it with this exhibit here, which is called Three Colors: Red, Green, and Blue.
Question about defense cooperation and the Georgia Support Act
Ambassador Degnan: We’re very proud of what the Georgian Defense Forces have accomplished in the last couple of decades, working very hard to become a strong resilient force that is strong in being able to defend Georgia’s borders. The work we’ve been doing together as strategic partners for many years now has proven to be extremely important in terms of agility and the strength of the Georgia Defense Forces. The Georgia Support Act that the US House of Representatives adopted is a sign of that security cooperation and of the bipartisan support in Congress in the United States.
The calls for increased security cooperation between the United States and Georgia are especially in the areas of cybersecurity, in the areas of the resilience of the Georgian defense forces, and resistance. What we’re seeing in Ukraine is how important a plan of resistance is when you’re defending your sovereign internal integrity. And that is something that Georgia Defense Forces, Georgia National Guard, coast guard, and border police have been working on and working towards for some time with the United States. We are very pleased to celebrate the Georgia Defense Forces anniversary today. I can’t think of a better way than through the adoption of the Georgia Support Act by our Congress. It does include important reminders by Congressman in Washington that Georgia needs to continue its reform efforts. There’s still a lot of work to be done, including this cooperation to ensure that Georgia is as strong as it can be, as prepared as defenders. Democratic, judicial reforms, parliamentary oversight: all of these are very important to a strong, capable, Georgia. And that is also what the Georgia Support Act is calling for. If Georgia is committed to those reforms, it sends a very strong message for Georgia’s membership in the European Union and NATO.
Question about former President Saakashvili’s physical condition
Ambassador Degnan: I understand there are increasing concerns about Mr. Saakashvili’s condition, that he receives appropriate medical care and was seen and treated by qualified medical professionals. It’s a basic human right and something that we have been calling for as well. I didn’t see the Penitentiary Service’s comments that they are providing medical care. We urge the government to take the Public Defender’s recommendations seriously and to carefully consider those recommendations. The Public Defender’s obligation is to defend the human rights of every citizen of Georgia. That’s a mandate under the constitution. So, they are the right office to be checking on his condition and to provide recommendations, and we will continue to closely follow this situation.
Question on Georgia’s EU application
Ambassador Degnan: This is an incredible opportunity for Georgia as well, and it’s important that everyone takes it very seriously because this is a whole of society process. Everyone needs to be involved in helping Georgia meet the requirements for European Union membership. This questionnaire has two parts. The first part I understand is what’s going to be presented to Ambassador Hartzell soon, and that’s very important. The second part of it is even more lengthy and extensive. And then, of course, the European Union will look over those responses and may come back for additional information. So it’s a very long process. And so it’s a rigorous process that every member of the European Union went through, and this is Georgia’s chance to demonstrate that it is willing to make the reforms and the legislative changes required to meet, to be consistent with EU standards and legislation. Georgia has already made a lot of progress in that respect. There is a long way to go, as I said, not only the government, and Parliament, but everybody in society is part of the process of getting Georgia to your candidacy status.
Question on alleged phone calls between Bidzina Ivanishvili and Russian businessmen
Ambassador Degnan: I heard about the calls and saw the many different responses and explanations. And the main point for the United States is that Georgia must not be used for sanctions evasion. This is very important because we see that the sanctions are having an effect. It’s the first thing that the Russians raise when they talk about ceasefires: lifting the sanctions. So we know that they are having an effect and they are working.
They work best in terms of persuading Mr. Putin to stop this war, that is if everybody stands united in enforcing the sanctions. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister pledged that Georgia would not be used for sanctions evasion. And of course, we’re monitoring that very closely. It’s the most effective way to stop the war short of expanding beyond what no one wants: no one wants Georgia to be a target of this war. I’ve talked to many political leaders. I haven’t talked to any party about bringing Georgia into the war. I think the attacks against each other, calling each other traitors is exactly what Russia wants. Georgians fighting Georgians only helps Russia. So I sincerely hope that Georgians will live up to your motto.