Q-n: What is the purpose of the visit? Why after 2 years, as I remember, since you became Ambassador of the USA to Georgia, and only now you have come to Samtskhe-Javakheti, to Javakheti in particular?
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: I am delighted to be able to visit Samtskhe-Javakheti. My first year, of course, because of Covid, I was not able to travel as much as I’d liked, but I’ve been having a really wonderful experience here, traveling around this region. I had no idea it was so beautiful. It is just a spectacularly beautiful region and so diverse and interesting. I was also very impressed with Samtskhe-Javakheti University–quite a high-level program with a lot of different opportunities for students in this region, including an English and American studies program. I’ve met with students, journalists, women in business, a whole variety of people from this region, who are doing really interesting things. I am visiting a USAID-supported potato farm, that is going to increase the quality and production of potatoes here, as well as the special potato seedbank that is improving the quality of potatoes here. Yesterday I visited a dairy farm that is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture Food for Progress Program. It’s the same concept of helping dairy farmers to improve the yield productivity and safety and quality of their milk products. So, it has been a wonderful visit so far and I am looking forward to a few more events today before I have to go back to Tbilisi. Thank you.
Q-n: For now, a political crisis, that started after the elections, is still going in Georgia. What do you think, to whom is our government leaning over to more? Do we still hold the Western course, or did we become closer to Russia? How do you evaluate the whole situation in Georgia?
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: It is important to remember that Georgia is in the middle of an election campaign, so people tend to say sort of provocative and extreme things during an election campaign. What is important is that Georgia’s political leaders together negotiated a roadmap, the April 19th agreement, that sets out all the reforms that Georgia needs to take, to strengthen its democracy, to strengthen its economy. These are all important steps for Georgia’s Future. All the mechanisms are there, all the reforms are clear. These [April 19] are not all the reforms, but these are some of the most important reforms to begin the process of strengthening Georgia’s democracy. The only thing lacking right now is political will, and if the Georgia’s political leaders truly want to end polarization in this country, they have the roadmap to do that. Thank you.
Q-n: This is the 13th anniversary, this year, from the August war. What can you say about it? And, another part of the question is about the Russian annual report that talks about the disinformation as if Javakheti is asking for autonomous status. How would you assess this?
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: This is a very painful period for Georgia. Always around this time of the year, I think it brings back very painful memories of lives lost and of suffering that still continues in many communities, especially along the Administrative Boundary Line. I think when Georgians see Russia actually fulfilling its obligations that it committed to, under the 2008 agreement, then there will be some hope that there can progress in this area, but first Russia needs to withdraw its forces and reverse its reconciliation of Tskhinvali and Abkhazia as it agreed to do and allow humanitarian corridors so that the assistance that is vitally needed by the communities on the other side of the ABL can get the help that they need. That is the first and the most basic step that needs to happen. On this disinformation, it is absolutely false. In my traveling around this region, I see people very, very much integrated into Georgia, into building their communities. This is really in some ways the strength of Georgia because it represents the greatest diversity. I think this is something we have seen in America as well. Diversity of communities, of religions, of languages, of cultures is the strength of Georgia and as well as we see in the United States. Thank you.
Q-n: On behalf of everyone, first of all, I would like to express our gratitude for your work, and for the present that we received in the form of vaccines that are so important for our country and especially, in this difficult situation. And as the confidence towards the Pfizer vaccine is quite big, are there any plans in the future that the United States will again provide the vaccine in this, let’s say, quantities [so] that all the people have the opportunity to get them?
Ambassador Kelly Degnan: Most important right now is to make sure that the vaccine that has been provided is fully used. We were very, very happy to be able to donate the 500,000 doses of Pfizer to Georgia. That is a lot of doses and they have not all been used yet, so, I understand that people are registering, people are coming in to get their vaccinations. That is really important for all of the vaccines that are available. The government of Georgia also purchased additional vaccines, Pfizer and other vaccines. So, what is needed now is for Georgians to come in and get their vaccinations. We are seeing the numbers [and] the only way to bring those numbers down is for people to get vaccinated, to wear masks and to take those simple precautions. But it is absolutely vital that people come in and get vaccinated. I was very happy to see, when I visited the hospital in Akhaltsikhe, many Georgians were there. It was a very well-organized vaccination program, and that, I think, shows that people are feeling more confident and more comfortable. These are WHO-approved vaccines, they are safe and effective, and they are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones, and your families from getting sick. The sooner everybody gets vaccinated, the sooner the economy can start taking off again. So, again, it really becomes very simple. People just need to come in and get vaccinated. Thank you very much.