Senator Shaheen criticized the Georgian Dream

The U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on 16 November to assess U.S. policy in the Caucasus, with Senators asking the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Karen Donfried, critical questions about Georgia’s democratic backsliding, among other issues.

In response to a question from Senator Ben Cardin about Georgia’s democratic backsliding and how the U.S. should respond, including in reference to anti-Western rhetoric and attacks on U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan, Assistant Secretary Donfried emphasized that recent trends in Georgia regarding declining democracy have been “deeply concerning” for the U.S.

Addressing criticism addressed at  Amb. Degnan, Assistant Secretary Donfried said that the Ambassador has been a “fantastic representative of the U.S. to Georgia and I will back her up any day of the week.”

In another question from Senator Jeanne Shaheen, on whether the U.S. should rethink its strategic partnership towards Georgia in light of “tremendous backsliding” and the fact that the Georgian government has “reneged” on its promise to attain EU candidate status, Assistant Secretary Donfried responded, “I think it’s always a good thing to assess policy so very open to having that conversation in greater detail with you, you know the reasons why we wanted to stay the course at this point in time.”

“We have voiced our strong concerns about some of the troubling statements and behaviors that we are seeing from some Georgian politicians. As I noted, I don’t think that those are indicative of the majority of Georgian people…,” she added.

The MPs of the Georgian Dream party criticized Senator Shaheen’s remarks as “unfair.”

Irakli Kobakhidze, the Chairperson of the Georgian Dream party, said that “huge part of the U.S. funding goes mainly to civil society organizations. Thus, it is less interesting to us. As for the unfair criticism, it has no value for us. Only criticism with specific grounds can be valuable. In this case, we again heard unfair criticism.”

Georgian Dream member Irakli Zarkua called American Senator Jeanne Shaheen a “crook”. He noted: “It was an important detail and Shaheen with such incorrect information, incorrect approaches, and tactics… that is why the Democrats lost the majority in Congress, with such an approach – incorrect, unfair.”

Olivér Várhelyi visited Tbilisi

European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, during his visit to Georgia on November 15-16 held meetings with Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili, President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili and MPs from parliamentary majority and opposition.

During the press conference, Prime Minister Garibashvili noted that he thanked Commissioner Várhelyi for his “personal contribution” to Georgia’s Europeanization and stated that the Commissioner is “a true friend of our country, a friend of our people, [and] an active supporter of our country’s European choice.”

“We understand this well, and with this responsibility, in this spirit, we are meticulously working on the implementation of the 12 recommendations,” he said and reiterated that Georgia is committed to its European choice.

In this context, PM Garibashvili brought attention to the implementation of the 12 recommendations and noted that within a week of receiving them, the Georgian Dream party presented a plan to implement the recommendations and invited all actors to participate in the effort.

However, he underlined that “unfortunately,” the opposition, “whose direct obligation is to implement these recommendations, [and] the main, first recommendation – which is depolarization,” is not involved in the process.

Prime Minister Garibashvili also brought attention to the “active help” provided to Georgia by the EU for developing the economy, including in areas of infrastructure and energy.

Regarding the 12 recommendations for Georgia to be granted the candidate status, the Commissioner emphasized that in the coming weeks and months Georgia must “work very hard to demonstrate its readiness to become a candidate country.”

In that context, the Commissioner noted that he was “pleased to see that steps are already being made” to fulfill the EU reforms, like judicial reforms, and the fight against corruption.

He reiterated, however, that “there is still a lot to work on and for example, we need a fully independent Anti-Corruption Agency, we would need the law on de-oligarchization – I understand that work has already started there as well – and of course, we need steps to intensify work on the fight against organized crime, and you know the rest of the 12 priorities.”

European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi, held a meeting with President Salome Zurabishvili.

The President’s administration reported that the sides discussed the issues related to Georgia’s European perspective, granting the candidate’s status to the country, as well as the fulfillment of the European Commission’s recommendations. In this context, they stressed the importance of overcoming polarization.

Várhelyi also met with Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili, representatives of Parliamentary factions and groups, as well as independent MPs as part of an expanded format on 15 November.

Following the meeting with the Commissioner, Akaki Minashvili, an MP of the United National Movement, stated that they discussed the judiciary, anti-corruption issues, and deoligarchization, as well as the “arrogant attitude” of the Georgian government, including in regard to the international community.

According to the MP, he raised the issue of transferring imprisoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili to a foreign country for medical treatment, as well as the release of imprisoned Mtavari Arkhi TV chief Nika Gvaramia.

“The message from Brussels, as well as the Commissioner’s statement that the 12 recommendations should be implemented jointly, means in practice that the government should take into account broad consensus,” stated Ana Natsvlishvili, a Lelo for Georgia MP.

Prime Minister addressed the Parliament at interpellation

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili answered questions sent to him by opposition MPs in the manner of interpellation in Parliament on 18 November.

Prime Minister Garibashvili started by talking about the implementation of the European Commission’s 12 recommendations in order to obtain EU candidate status by criticizing the opposition. He also stated that considering the fact that a large part of the opposition is not participating in the working groups created for this purpose, asking such a question on their part is “real hypocrisy.”

In the same context, PM Garibashvili once again reiterated that, unlike Georgia, Ukraine was given candidate status because of the ongoing war, and Moldova was given the status as an “advance” as a kind of “encouragement” because it “is in a state equal to the war.”

He once again called the European Council’s decision to grant Georgia a European perspective “historic” while emphasizing that “no one could have dreamed of this.” “It was clearly, unambiguously stated that Georgia will become a member of the European family,” he added.

In this context, he also recalled the “anti-state, anti-Georgian, shameful, and unfair” resolution adopted by the European Parliament before the announcement of the decision on candidacy, adding that the opposition alongside their lobbyists did everything for a “decision to be made against the country.”

Noting that Georgian Dream MPs are working 24 hours a day, so that “all these recommendations are carried out thoroughly and nobody’s questions remain unanswered,” the PM asked opposition MPs – “What are you doing?”

PM Garibashvili also explained that his obligation as the Prime Minister and one of the leaders of the Georgian Dream is to “maximally” maintain and strengthen the existing strategic relations with the U.S. and the EU. “Not only with them, but we also have very good relations with everyone in the region,” he added.

“My position is simple and unequivocal – we have a strategic partnership with the USA, this is a relationship started after the country gained independence,” the PM stated, and expressed the wish for “more moderate statements to be made towards the U.S. Ambassador.”

He also accused the opposition of trying to damage the country’s economy and national interests and said that before the 2021 local self-government elections, the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, was brought to Georgia for the very purpose of sparking a “revolution here.”

“Their ideological partners, employees, and friends are representatives of the Ukrainian government… They openly said that we wanted to open a second front in Georgia… these people are their allies,” said Prime Minister Garibashvili.

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