Ambassador Robin Dunnigan’s Live Interview with Mtavari TV
Q: about Ambassador Dunnigan’s priorities during her ambassadorial tenure in Georgia, about the top priority on the agenda
Ambassador Dunnigan: Well first, thank you so much for having me. It’s really a pleasure to be here today. I have many priorities here. You mentioned the protection of Americans in Georgia, but also for the Georgians who work in our embassy. We have a fabulous team of Americans and Georgians in the U.S. Embassy. But related to Georgia and our bilateral relationship, my top priority is to deepen our strategic partnership between the people of Georgia and the people of the United States, and between our governments, between all aspects of society.
I want to further support Georgia’s integration with the West. And I should take a moment to congratulate all Georgians on really a historic step that happened on November 8 with the European Commission’s recommendation. I also want to grow our economic relationship. The more we trade and have economic ties together, the better that is for Americans and Georgians. And I will always defend Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
- about the Georgian authorities’ negative attitudes towards Ambassador Kelly Degnan, the former U.S. Ambassador to Georgia.
Ambassador Dunnigan: I want to say that Ambassador Kelly Degnan is a tremendous diplomat and a tremendous human being, and I have incredible respect for her. I think negative rhetoric is not in the spirit of the partnership between the United States and Georgia. We will always work with every democratically elected government, in all of the democracies with whom we have relationships. And that’s true here as well. What’s important is looking at the deep relationship between our countries. And, I think what we do together should reflect that relationship. We’ve had a partnership with Georgia for more than 31 years. It’s incredible what we’ve done together. We’ve provided six billion dollars’ worth of assistance to Georgia. We have these deep ties between our populations in the health sector, in education, between our militaries, between our media even, people-to-people exchanges. Why I am so glad to be here and why I was thrilled that the President nominated me for Georgia – which is where I wanted to be – is because I believe the people of Georgia and the people of the United States share core values.
And those core values are, we believe in democracy, freedom of choice, and we’re going to work hard to make a better future for our children and for the next generation. And I have felt that connection with Georgians every day that I’ve been here. I’m extremely lucky to have this position. And I look forward to working really cooperatively with the government, with Georgian Dream, with the President, with opposition parties, with civil society organizations, and with the media.
Q: about Georgia’s EU integration and a recommendation for EU candidate status in the midst of allegations that the Georgian government has harmed Georgia’s EU path; some view the recommendation was granted due to Georgian people’s achievements and its geopolitical location
Ambassador Dunnigan: So it is a tremendous step, the recommendation on November 8, but it was a recommendation and the European Council will need to vote unanimously in mid-December. What I think is very important about the recommendation is that it was very specific in the next steps, nine steps, very detailed, 135 pages, 36 pages in English. I read a lot of it because I think in their lies the key to the work that’s ahead of Georgia.
I really hope that this is an opportunity to unify all aspects of Georgian Government, society, all political parties, because this is something that will be good for Georgia, but it can’t be done by any one segment of the government or society alone. It will require unity. So, I think, as if we’re looking forward to the future, it’s really a moment. It’s a moment where EU enlargement for countries like Georgia, and Moldova, and Ukraine, there’s really a feeling that it’s possible. And I hope that Georgia really seizes the moment.
Q: about possibilities for peace with neighboring Russia, an aggressor country, what can be a solution while some view the choice as being between good relations with Russia and war
Ambassador Dunnigan: Georgia does live in a difficult neighborhood. It really does. And again, it’s why I think further integration with the EU, NATO, and the West is essential. When we say that we respect Georgia’s sovereignty, we mean it. And that means that the Georgian government and people will take the sovereign decision to manage their own foreign policy relations. I think Georgians know better than anybody the threat of Putin because you’ve been living with Russian occupation of your 20 percent of your territory since 2008.
And I want to take a moment to offer our condolences to the family of Mr. Ginturi, which was a really tragic example of the outcome of that, of having that kind of occupation in your territory. Again, it’s the Georgian government and people’s decision on what sort of foreign policy to enact. I would say that this is a time when the European Union and the United States, and much of the world, is turning away from stronger relations with Russia, not embracing stronger relations with Russia.
Something that will be a part of the next steps in European Union candidacy status will be closer alignment with Europe’s foreign and security policy, common foreign security policy. I think that the EU will be looking over the course of the coming months and years that Georgia is more aligned with the EU’s security and foreign policy. So again, I don’t want to speak and tell Georgia, the people or the government, how to run your foreign policy. I think that we all just know the negative aspects of Putin’s aggression, what that is meant for Georgia, what it means for Ukraine. And you know, we’re living in a world where right now, very close to here, Ukrainians are fighting every single day for their sovereignty, and they’re showing the world what bravery and resilience is, but it’s because of Putin’s aggression.
Q: about potential threats China can pose to Georgia in light of China’s closer relations with Russia, and Georgia’s strategic partnership with China, while Georgia has to align its foreign policy with that of the EU
Ambassador Dunnigan: It’s a really good question and one that we’ve received actually many times over the last few days because my President just had a meeting with China’s President Xi . What our president has said repeatedly is we will compete with China where our values differ, and we will cooperate with China when it’s aligned with our interests. And I know every country has to make its own sovereign decision on how to balance these objectives.
What I like to say, with respect to China, having worked with countries for decades to help strengthen countries’ ability to combat China’s sometimes very coercive economic practices. What I like to say, to countries, and I’ve said it here and I will, is that when you’re doing business with China, you have to always really be careful and understand potential impacts on your critical infrastructure and ensure that in the economic relationship, that relationship is fair and transparent with a market-based rule system that benefits Georgia, in this case.
Q: about NATO exercises, and Georgian authorities rejecting having exercises last year
Ambassador Dunnigan: It’s a good opportunity to talk about what I think is one of the strongest pillars of our relationship – stronger pillars – and that is our military relationship. I understand if it’s the exercise that you’re referring to that’s a decision the Georgian government made in consultation with our military officials as well on how to apply resources. But what’s most important here is what is the long-term goal. I think the long-term goal is Georgia’s NATO aspirations, which we very much, very much support.
And, you know, Georgian soldiers train with American soldiers, do exercises with American soldiers, and have fought on the battlefield with Americans and have died with them in NATO operations. I have tremendous respect for what Georgian military, Georgian Defense Forces have done over the years, and also the strides that Georgian Defense Forces have made, and the Georgian Coast Guard, in becoming more interoperable with NATO.
Much of that is due to our cooperation, and I want to see that cooperation continue with regular exercises. Georgia’s the only non-NATO country that hosts an annual exercise with the United States. We did Agile Spirit this summer where Georgian military exercise side-by-side with American and other NATO partners, and it’s really an extraordinary military. I hope to see more of that.
But NATO is a political alliance and a military alliance. So, steps will have to be made on Georgia’s political development to also meet that, that combination of a military and a political alliance. I hope that the reforms that are undertaken to make EU candidate status over the coming months and years, also helps strengthen the elements of the political alliance that we need to see.
Q: about importance of 2024 elections in Georgia, and in democracies as a core element, and the international partners’ decision for log-term observation – what does that mean, any possibility the election is rigged?
Ambassador Dunnigan: You’re absolutely right that elections are a core element of democracy. In fact, I think, one of the most important elements of democracy is that every citizen believes their vote will be counted fairly and will matter, and that they have the right to choose their own leaders. You’re right, we’re going to have our own election next year, so it will be an interesting year as we undergo our election, and Georgia undergoes yours. We in the United States, we also accept election observers into the United States. We are a much older democracy and still we accept election observers because democracies are a work in progress.
It is, I think, extremely important, particularly after the European Commission’s recommendation that next year’s elections in Georgia be free, fair, and transparent. We are working closely with Georgia’s Central Election Commission and the OSCE, as well as international partners. And we will contribute through the OSCE to any election observation missions. We think it’s extremely important. And, I’ve already been in touch with our ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, who was in Georgia a couple of months ago, to talk about what I know will be important for everybody – and I believe important for all Georgians – to know that next year’s elections will be free, fair, and transparent in Georgia and in the United States too.
Journalist: And again, thank you so much and welcome to Georgia
Ambassador Dunnigan: Didi Madloba