U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary: ‘Russian Military Presence, Recent Buildup Great Concern’
Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Reeker, who paid his first visit to Georgia on September 7-10, expresses his concern about Moscow-backed Tskhinvali authorities’ repeated threats to close the crossing points, connecting the occupied region with the rest of Georgia for “indefinite” period of time.
“Here we see, yet again, another checkpoint that has been closed off for no reason, disrupting the lives of people in these communities nearby, making it difficult for them to go about their lives and for their families to live normal lives. I think that is what’s of concern to, of course, Georgian authorities and of concern to the friends of Georgia, including the United States,” the Acting Assistant Secretary said.
Calling for the immediate halt to the construction of any structures, fencing, or barriers intended to strengthen the “illegal borderization” in Georgia, Reeker called on Russia to suspend its illegal occupation of 20 percent Georgian territory and fulfill its commitments under the 2008 ceasefire agreement.
- Security Service: Occupation Forces Carry out “Illegal Works” on Tbilisi-Controlled Territory
- Tskhinvali Accuses Tbilisi of “Provoking Crisis,” Closes Crossing Points
Reeker, who visited the occupation line near village Odzisi adjacent to Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia on September 8, said the U.S. “has a long and strong partnership with Georgia.” He said U.S. is “very concerned about the buildup of Russian troops along the administrative boundary line (ABL) here and the resumption of construction of fencing and other efforts at borderization in this decade-long situation.”
The reports of efforts to construct a new police presence on the ABL represent an escalation by Russian forces in this region. The United States calls upon Russia to pull back its troops, to live up to their commitments under the 2008 ceasefire agreement and indeed to withdraw and end the decade-long occupation of one-fifth of Georgian territory,” he stated.
Reeker said “Russian tactics are well-known now to all of us across Europe, in the United States, around the world – this effort by Russia to influence through a variety of means including, of course, this military presence and the recent buildup, which is a great concern to us.”
There is a Russian flag right here. You do not have to look far to see it – to see this Russian effort. So, there are mechanisms with which to deal with this ongoing situation, but of course, Russia made commitments in 2008 to withdraw its troops to the lines before the conflict. They have not lived up to those commitments and they are continuing to occupy one-fifth of Georgia,” Reeker said.
He then noted that “this pattern” is observed in other places as well, including Ukraine. “Now, for a decade we have seen this sort of Russian behavior, malign efforts, illegal, against the interests we would all like to promote, for a more stable and peaceful Europe,” he added.
On September 9, Reeker spoke of U.S.-Georgia relations with new Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia. According to PM’s press office, Gakharia said that “further deepening strategic partnership with the U.S., as well as the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration” remain among Georgia’s “unwavering foreign policy priorities.”
Philip Reeker had a brief encounter with PM Gakharia on September 8 as well. As he said in his remarks at the Tbilisi International Conference, U.S. has “a consistent set of messages” about its strong support for Georgia, “the friendship” that the two countries share and, the U.S. “goal to see Georgia continue to strengthen its vibrant democracy and to resist the destabilizing influence that Russia presents.”
Reeker hailed Georgia’s contribution to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, “to all that Georgia does in participating in and hosting bilateral and multilateral exercises and the continued hard work Georgia does to build capacity towards self-defense through the Georgia Defense Readiness Program.”
He said “what makes NATO successful and important to maintaining stability and peace across the transatlantic region is the resilience of the societies of the countries that belong to NATO, and its a resilience that lies in a shared set of values upheld by all NATO member countries and that is a continued commitment, by every country in the alliance, to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.”
And these, of course, these values are the fundamental, foundational elements of the U.S.-Georgia partnership. And we will continue to work with Georgia, including through various assistance programs, to help the Georgian government and people continue to build a more resilient society that can withstand the pressures of Russian malign influence and help underscore Georgia’s Western outlook and trajectory and integration into this key institution, he stated.
Welcoming Georgia’s decision to move to a proportional electoral system for the 2020 parliamentary elections Reeker said U.S. has been “urging Georgia to move forward on concrete measures to ensure that elections allow all of the candidates to compete on a level playing field,” which means means that “votes are cast freely, and this will be an opportunity for Georgia next year, in 2020, to really demonstrate its commitment to democratic values.”
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