U.S. Congressman Speaks of ‘Negative Trend in Democratic, Free-Market Economic Indicators’ in Georgia

U.S. Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) published a letter addressed to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, in which he expressed “increasing concern regarding Georgia’s continued decline from democratic values and the associated decay of its economic prosperity.”

Congressman joined his colleagues – Georgia Caucus Co-chairs Adam Kinzinger and Gerry Connolly – in their recent letter which highlighted concerns over Georgian government’s decision to renounce “promised democratic reforms, as well as reports of violence against associated peaceful protests.”

While acknowledging Georgia’s progress since regaining its independence in 1991, Congressman pointed to a “continued negative trend in democratic and free-market economic indicators”, as a result of which foreign direct investment has diminished. Mullin also said that U.S. and European business interests have been subjected to “harassment and expropriation attack,” mentioning U.S. company Frontera Resources as an example. Congressman further noted Facebook’s decision to shut down a network of accounts allegedly linked to the ruling Georgian Dream Party, which had been used to advance “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in order to “crush opposition views in Georgia and advance anti-Western sentiments, especially towards the United States.”

Mullin emphasized that, for the first time in its modern history, Georgia had been cast in a “negative and cautionary light with respect to appropriations from the U.S. government.” He noted that two consecutive annual appropriations bills for 2019 and 2020 “have addressed concerns regarding the Georgian government’s progressively antagonistic actions against democratic values, free-market principles and American business interests.”

Congressman said that “because of the negative tendency,” and in an attempt to encourage a reversal, voices of concern and calls for consideration of sanctions and other penalties are increasing.” He referred to a bill introduced [by himself] in February 2019, which envisaged imposing sanctions with respect to the Government of Georgia whether it took actions to “undermine commitments or contractual agreements with U.S. persons engaging in business operations in Georgia.”

Concluding the letter, Congressman Mullin expressed hope that Georgian “government will halt aggressive actions against U.S. companies and act quickly on the increasing warning signs that represent a threat to the democracy and economic prosperity that the Georgian people deserve so much.”

On December 23, U.S. Department of State Spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus stated that the U.S. urges “the Georgian government to reinforce its commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and rule of law by ensuring that its judicial and prosecutorial system is free of political bias.” Prior to this statement, two U.S. Congressmen, co-chairs of U.S. Congressional Georgia Caucus, wrote a letter to Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia, in which they voice concern regarding “[Georgian government’s] recent decision to abandon promised political reforms, as well as the reports of violence against peaceful protestors.”

Reactions from Tbilisi

Georgian ruling party and opposition politicians have reacted to Congressman Mullin’s open letter. Civil Georgia offers a compilation of these assessments.

Ruling party assessments

Archil Talakvadze, speaker of Georgian Parliament: “Congressman’s statement is linked to Frontera’s lawsuit against Georgian government. Our state will defend its interests in this legal dispute. As for U.S. position, in this matter we pay heed to positions from official Washington, U.S. Government and their assessment is that Georgia undergoes irreversible progress in enhancing democratic institutions and human rights protection.”

Gia Volski, first deputy speaker of the Parliament: “Congressman’s statement is biased. There are 200 U.S. companies registered in Georgia and I cannot recall a single case, when interests of these companies have been under assault. There is this company, Frontera, which has been operating in Georgia since 1994 and which speaks of huge gas reserves but without any evidence. [As for the state of democracy], if not upholding of democratic standards, Georgia and U.S. could not have enjoyed such high-level relations in many spheres.”

Opposition’s assessments

Salome Samadashvili, MP from United National Movement: “For the first time, sanctions regime has been mentioned with regard to our country. The letter points to the fact that U.S. Government, while assigning appropriations for Georgia, addresses problems that may hinder effective use of financial aid [by Georgia]. Bidzina Ivanishvili’s government [chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party] brings future of Georgian citizens to a deadlock.”

Sergi Kapanadze, MP from European Georgia party: “Congressman Mullin’s open letter attests that U.S. are concerned about ongoing processes in Georgia. This letter must serve as a wake-up call for Georgian government, if it still holds some common sense. It is evident for all that there is a persecution of political opponents, blows to democratic processes, dire economic crisis and neglecting of democratic institutions in Georgia.”

Mamuka Khazaradze, founder and leader of “Lelo for Georgia” party: “In his letter, Congressman delivered sharp criticism to Georgian government’s policy towards Western, namely U.S. partners. These ongoing events in Georgia put at risk strategic relations between Georgia and U.S., which is a result of decades-old toil and efforts. This statement calls on the incumbent government to cease its hostile behavior towards U.S. companies. It mentions that our country is continuously diverted from democratic values.”

Beka Natsvlishvili, Independent MP: “…Frontera’s employees have not been paid wages for 11 months. Some U.S. politician, who has accepted money [for lobbying] or simply ill-informed, allows himself to instruct the Georgian State. Congressman, by issuing this statement, attempts to safeguard “rights” of a company, which is violating human rights in Georgia itself. Any [Georgian] politician who was eager to share Mullin’s assessment, is a person of colonial conscience and mentality.”

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