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Politico: US considering significant trade, military deals with Georgia if it reverses democratic backsliding

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk May 20, 2024 7:40 PM 3 min read
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze (R), Founder and Honorary Chairman of the Georgian Dream Party Bidzina Ivanishvili (C), and Chairman of the Georgian Dream Party Irakli Garibashvili (L) attend the protest in support of the draft law on "Transparency of Foreign Influence," in Tbilisi, Georgia on April 29, 2024. (Davit Kachkachishvili/Anadolu via Getty Images)
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The U.S. is considering a package of military, trade, and visa liberalization incentives for Georgia if it reverses the trend of democratic backsliding and abandons the controversial foreign agents law, Politico reported on May 20, citing a draft bill to be introduced in Congress in the coming days.

Concerns about Georgia's democracy have reached a fever pitch after the ruling Georgian Dream party passed the foreign agents law, which requires organizations that receive foreign funding to be labeled as "foreign agents" and mirrors repressive Russian legislation used to crack down on Kremlin regime critics.

Even before the law was revived after a failed attempt to pass it in 2023, EU and U.S. officials warned that Georgia's democratic institutions were weakening and that the country was under the control of the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who only holds the title of honorary chairman of Georgian Dream.

Georgia received EU candidate status in December 2023, but a report by the EU's Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) the following month said that the country had made limited progress in its required reforms and was at risk of drifting toward Russia.

The proposed measures would offer Georgia increased access to U.S. markets, a military support package, and the liberalization of the visa regime for Georgian citizens.

They would only be instituted if the U.S. finds that "Georgia has shown significant and sustained progress towards reinvigorating its democracy, evidenced at minimum by substantially fair and free elections and a balanced pre-election environment," the draft measure read.

Beyond the proposed carrot, the U.S. is also preparing a stick.

Congressman Joe Wilson, who is also behind the package of incentives, will introduce a bill that would create a specific set of consequences for Georgian Dream officials deemed responsible for backing the foreign agents law.

The draft law would sanction government officials who "have material responsibility for undermining or injuring democracy, human rights, or security in Georgia."

It would also include travel bans for lawmakers who voted for the law, a measure that would also apply to their families.

Additional unspecified consequences would be levied against police and security services who have responded to the ongoing protests with excessive force.

"The idea is to show that we take our relationship and obligations to the Georgian people seriously, and that we will stand up for them," an unnamed congressional staffer told Politico.

Explainer: What’s behind ongoing protests in Georgia?
For the past few weeks, thousands of protesters have gathered every night in front of the Georgian parliament in opposition to the controversial foreign agents law that the ruling Georgian Dream party is attempting to pass. The final vote is set to take place on May 14. The law would

Georgian opposition lawmaker Tina Bokuchava told Politico that she supported the U.S.'s idea of creating concrete consequences for Georgian Dream.

"Sanctions against Bidzina Ivanishvili are long overdue, but if the measures being drafted by the U.S. are to have real teeth they must go beyond Ivanishvili and target the top tier of Georgian Dream's leadership structure, including those who directed the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in recent weeks," she said.

The foreign agents law was formally passed in its final reading on May 14 and subsequently vetoed by pro-Western President Salome Zourabichvili.

Shalva Papuashvili, the speaker of Georgia's parliament and a member of Georgian Dream, said earlier on May 20 that the party was planning to hold a vote to overrule Zourabichvili's veto.

Georgian Dream and its allies have a majority in parliament and likely have the ability to override the veto.

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