Davit Bakradze, Georgian Ambassador to the United States, along with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister and Ambassadors from Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, appeared at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on March 7.
The hearing, dubbed as the Russian Policies and Intentions Toward Specific European Countries, was presided by Senator Lindsey Graham (Rep.) and held at the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs under the Senate Appropriations Committee.
It his testimony, Ambassador David Bakradze spoke at length on the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and its consequences.
“I am here today to remind you that before Ukraine, Georgia was invaded in 2008 and 20 percent of our country remains under Russian occupation. Despite ongoing Russian aggression, with the support of the United States, Georgia has made tremendous strides in strengthening democratic institutions, fostering economic development and solidifying an irreversible path towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration,” Bakradze stated.
“I am also here to tell you that we need a stronger America in Georgia and the region,” he added.
The Georgian Ambassador spoke on Russia’s efforts to undermine Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity, saying that Russia has been trying to slow down Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration through unconventional, hybrid warfare.
“Russian propaganda in Georgia, in addition to economic embargo of 2006 and energy cuts, the cyber-attacks in 2008, seeks to challenge and derail Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations,” he noted and added that Russian propaganda “builds on fears that exists in different societies, creating myths, and communicating through different forms of media.”
“The Georgian Government has been effective in its strategic communication efforts through coordinated approach, dismantling myths but also countering anti-western narrative by bringing tangible results to the Georgian citizens, like Free Trade Agreement, Association Agreement with Europe, Visa Liberalization,” he said.
Davit Bakradze also emphasized that Georgia remains to be “an essential part of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture” and “a reliable and democratic ally of the U.S. in a very tough region.”
“Despite Russia’s vicious efforts, for a small nation, Georgia makes an outsized contribution to international security efforts … We are a committed partner in the fight against terrorism, and we are one of the largest contributors to the resolute support mission in Afghanistan,” he said.
In conclusion, Davit Bakradze expressed his hope that the new U.S. administration would soon develop a comprehensive long-term engagement strategy for the region and Georgia, which will include strengthening of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, improving bilateral trade, economic and the investment relationship, and supporting the democratic choice of the Georgian people to integrate with Euro-Atlantic institutions.
“Stronger Georgia is in America’s interest, as much as stronger America is in Georgia’s interest,” he stated.
In the Q&A section, Senator John Boozman (Rep.) inquired into the impact of the recent crossing points closure in Abkhazia.
Bakradze replied that it “is affecting free movement of people and free movement of school children over the occupation line.”
“We also appreciate the very strong statement that was made by the U.S Department of State with this regard. This kind of developments continue but we believe in a peaceful resolution of these problems, we believe in the Geneva [International] Discussions, where U.S. authorities are actively contributing,” he said.
Georgian Ambassador also pointed out the initiative by “the de facto Tskhinvali region authorities to hold a referendum about renaming this region into the one associated with one of Russia’s autonomous republics.”
Stressing that the past efforts “to stop Russia,” including in Georgia and Ukraine, “is clearly not working,” Senator Lindsey Graham stated in his closing remarks that his goal “is to come up with something that will work.”
“I want a better relationship with Russia but that will never be achieved until Russia changes its practice of trying to drag democracy into the ground. I can understand why Putin is afraid of democracy, but I can’t understand why America and others will not defend it,” Graham told the diplomats.
“The safer you are, the safer we will be,” Graham also stated.
The Senator reassured the the diplomats that they have “a good ally in President Trump, in terms of having a rotational troop presence in a permanent fashion” and “that Ukraine will be helped more, not less and that we will push back against all Russian aggression.”
“I look forward to working with him and my Democratic and Republican colleagues to give you some hope in the region – that America is back,” Graham stated.