Senior Georgian officials said that the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Tbilisi may suspend its Euro-Atlantic efforts because of “effective Russian propaganda” and “rising frustration among Georgia’s elites” with the slow pace of Western integration, is a reminder that the West should speed up delivering tangible results on Georgia’s path towards the EU and NATO.
Opposition UNM party, however, said the assessment “precisely reflects the situation”, which is a result of ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s efforts to reverse Georgia’s pro-Western course.
The annual report, Worldwide Threat Assessment, which was presented by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on February 9, reads: “Rising frustration among Georgia’s elites and the public with the slow pace of Western integration and increasingly effective Russian propaganda raise the prospect that Tbilisi might slow or suspend efforts toward greater Euro-Atlantic integration.”
Georgia’s Defense Minister, Tina Khidasheli, said that “concerns voiced in the report are legitimate, which have to be reckoned with and which require relevant reaction.”
She said the report suggests that “if the West fails to deliver on its promises and if there are no tangible results on the path of Georgia’s NATO and EU integration, and if the Russian propaganda further increases – and of course delays in concrete actions from the West contributes to this propaganda – it may cause strengthening of the Russian narrative in Georgia.”
Khidasheli, however, stressed she strongly believes that such a scenario is not likely, including because of the fact that memories of the August 2008 war with Russia are still fresh.
“But again, anything can happen. Therefore it is our common duty to make it impossible for the Russian narrative to succeed. With the help from our Western partners, our nation should make more European presence in Georgia – to make the West more visible in our daily life; that’s the key to solution of this problem,” Khidasheli said in Brussels, where she will be meeting her counterparts from the North Atlantic Alliance in frames of the NATO-Georgia Commission on February 11.
Deputy Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council at the President’s office, Ivliane Khaindrava, also said that the report represents a “call towards the Western leaders to speed up the pace of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration” in order not to feed Russian propaganda.
A lawmaker from the UNM opposition party, Giorgi Kandelaki, said that warning over a risk that Georgia may suspend its Euro-Atlantic integration, “precisely reflects the situation in which [Bidzina] Ivanishvili’s regime has brought the country.” He said that the government is “embracing” Gazprom and funding anti-western media sources; but fearing backlash from overwhelming pro-western public, the opposition MP continued, “Ivanishvili cannot make any drastic moves” to make foreign policy U-turn and has to keeps pro-western rhetoric. “This report shows in which direction Ivanishvili actually leads the country. The Georgian people will put an end to this harmful policy in this year’s [parliamentary] elections,” MP Kandelaki said.
U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Tbilisi, Nicholas Berliner, was in the Georgian Foreign Ministry on February 10, where he met First Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani to discuss the report.
The U.S. diplomat told journalists after the meeting that the report was “unfortunately a little bit misconstrued here in Georgia.”
“This is an assessment that our intelligence analysts produced,” he said. “It is something that is intended to inform US political leaders and government officials about possible risks that we see around the world, including here in Georgia, but it is by no means an assessment of the current situation in Georgia and so I just wanted to make very clear that in that regard we have absolutely no doubt that this government is committed to Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”
“That is also the will of the Georgian people and it is the policy of the United States to do everything we can to support that,” the U.S. diplomat added.