Ambassador Kelly Degnan’s Remarks to Media at the Rondeli Security Conference

Q-n about the Rondeli Security Conference

Ambassador Kelly Degnan: I am very honored to be here today for the Rondeli Security Conference. This is a very important annual event, but particularly so this year, as it marks the 80th jubilee of Alexander Rondeli who founded this organization 20 years ago. The United States Embassy has been very proud to work with the Rondeli Foundation for 20 years, developing the next generation of Georgia’s national security experts. The conference today, I think, is particularly well-timed. It is a pivotal moment in European security. So, it was very interesting to hear this first panel that looked at the relationship between Russia and the West at this very crucial moment in European security. Thank you.

Q-n about Russia’s demands to cancel the Bucharest Summit decision to make Georgia a member of NATO, and GOG’s position on this matter

Ambassador Kelly Degnan: The United States and our European allies have been coordinating very closely, as well as with Ukraine and Georgia, to respond to this threat to the European security architecture that we have all invested so much in building over the last 30+ years. We will continue to coordinate and communicate closely. Foreign Minister Zalkaliani ‘s meeting yesterday with NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg and with the allies is a good indication of just how important Georgia’s views are in the deliberations about the appropriate response to Russia. So, last week, there was a series of significant meetings in Geneva, in Brussels, and in Vienna, giving Russia the opportunity to explain its concerns; but it is important to remember that it is Russia that has created this security crisis on Europe’s doorstep.

It is Russia that has massed troops on the borders of a neighboring sovereign nation. It’s Russia that occupies sovereign nations here in Georgia, in Ukraine, in Moldova.  It is Russia, that is trying to overturn 30 years of peace, stability, and economic growth benefiting all of our countries.  So, while we were open to listening and meeting—after all, the NATO – Russia Council was formed 25 years ago to give Russia and NATO a forum for discussing security concerns. We will sit down and we will listen, but we are going to act according to very clear principles that we have stated many times before. And the first one is: Russia does not have a veto or a voice in Georgia’s or Ukraine’s NATO membership. Membership in NATO is decided by the 30 allies, and the country that wants to become a member of NATO. As you all know very well here in Georgia, there are very high standards, military standards, and also political standards that must be achieved to join NATO. There’s a reason for this. Georgia ultimately has the right to choose its own security and economic partnerships. That is a fundamental principle that has kept Europe strong and prosperous for these past 30 years. And finally, as the United States has made very clear, we will not negotiate about Europe without Europe, will not negotiate about NATO without our NATO allies.

And we are not going to negotiate about Ukraine or Georgia without Ukraine and Georgia being very much involved. So, we will continue to stay closely in touch in coordinating with the Georgian government here, as well as with the Ukrainian government as we go forward. Thank you.

Q-n about the process of selecting the Central Election Commission and members, as well as President Zourabichvili not vetoing abolishing of the State Inspector Service, and transparency of these processes

Ambassador Kelly Degnan: The President made very clear her concerns about the abolishment of the State Inspector Service legislation, as well as the legislation that changed the disciplinary proceeding regulations for judges. We shared those concerns. That’s why, I think,  we made very clear in the statements that we issued, particularly regarding the rushed process,  the lack of consultation and deliberation with stakeholders.   When you have something as important as the State Inspector Service that is an established independent agency to protect the human rights of Georgia’s citizens, it is especially important there be a very careful process to change anything about it. Certainly, it’s important to consult with stakeholders if you’re going to abolish the State Inspector Service and dismiss the inspector, who has a six-year term mandated by law. You should have input to make sure that what you were doing is at least understood by people, as well as explain why this is necessary. The idea that this is not abolishment – if that’s the case, then why was it necessary to dismiss the State Inspector?  Georgia needs the experience of professional,  impartial professionals like the State Inspector who can bring a great deal of experience to the job.  At the very least, she should have been put in charge of whatever this new entity is, if it was not the abolishment, why was she dismissed then? I think it’s really a great loss to Georgia to have experienced professionals like this who have served the citizens of Georgia so well, who do a very difficult job, dismissed without full consultations with stakeholders.

Regarding the Central Election Commission, It’s obvious that there is already a deficit of confidence in the electoral process, we’ve seen that in the last few elections. That makes it particularly important that the selection of the CEC members, especially the chair, be a very transparent and fair process. We would hope that all of the stakeholders would take part in this. I think it is very important for the opposition and civil society to contribute to the selection of consensus candidates that would have the full confidence of the Georgian public. It’s just too important not to have this – an impartial, fair, and transparent process.

Q-n about the allegations about Kadyrov’s “hitmen” in Georgia to kill Nika Gvaramia, and their possible flee from Georgia

Ambassador Degnan: I don’t have information on the specific case, although I do understand that Mr. Gvaramia has raised his concerns with the security services. I hope they will take them very seriously. Obviously, it’s extremely important that journalists are able to do their jobs safely, without fear, intimidation, harassment, or something as serious as this.

Thank you.