U.S Restricts Georgian Visas, Launches Relations Review Over Foreign Agents Bill

U.S Restricts Georgian Visas, Launches Relations Review Over Foreign Agents Bill

Tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets in recent weeks to protest the draft law. Riot police used force to disperse protesters and detained opposition politicians. | Giorgi Arjevanidze/AFP via Getty Images

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U.S. to Restrict and Pressure Georgian State 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken today announced on Twitter/X that he will be “announcing a new visa restriction policy for those responsible for undermining democracy in Georgia, including in connection with the Georgian Dream’s proposed “foreign influence” legislation.”

Proposed U.S. legislation soon to be revealed by lawmakers could potentially further offer carrot or stick incentives to Georgian politicians and government depending on how the legislation ends up, threatening sanctions and probes if it passes but offering trade, military support, and more if the bill and other recent measures are reversed.

Foreign Agents Bill and Russia

The bill, characterized as a defense against foreign political and cultural influence from the West, shares many similarities with a Russian bill that widely labels support from abroad for groups and people as “foreign agent activity.” This legislation in Russia has been used broadly to suppress and dismantle individuals and organizations that are opposed to or have not fallen in line with the government, including such people and organizations as journalists, activists, scientists, doctors, protest ralliers, humanitarian advocates, and NGOs.

The Georgian bill, off the bat, would label any group with 20% of its funding from abroad as a foreign agent working in the interests of a foreign power.

This legislation, recently progressed by the Georgian Dream conservative party and now awaiting a final vote in Georgia’s parliament, has been faced by tens of thousands of protestors in the capital of Tbilisi and elsewhere, clashing with police and riot squads who deployed crowd dispersal weapons, including tear gas, and made violent arrests.

U.S. Response to Georgia’s Lawmakers 

On Monday, New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Idaho Republican Jim Risch said they would announce the “Georgian People’s Act” which, according to POLITICO, “would impose travel bans and other sanctions on Georgian politicians accused of “obstructing Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration” and being behind “corruption, human rights abuses and efforts to advance foreign agents law or facilitate its passage.” It also calls for a permanent suspension of the U.S.-Georgia Strategic Dialogue, which has seen the two countries work together on security and democracy issues. As well as targeting the governing Georgian Dream party and other officials, the bipartisan bill would allocate at least $50 million “to support democracy and rule of law projects in Georgia,” as well as trigger probes into “foreign malign influence” in the country.”

POLITICO reported also on Monday that “the U.S. Congress would consider a draft bill that would sanction Georgian Dream politicians if they pass the law, while offering visa liberalization, trade deals, and military support if they reverse democratic backsliding.”

Detailed restrictions and contents of proposed U.S. legislation is likely to be made available in the coming weeks.

Blinken’s Full Statment: 

“Over the past few months the ruling Georgian Dream party has developed and passed a “foreign influence” law that would stifle the exercise of freedoms of association and expression, stigmatize organizations that serve the citizens of Georgia, and impede independent media organizations working to provide Georgians with access to high quality information.  As Georgian citizens have voiced opposition to the law, we have seen clear indications of a campaign of intimidation and the use of violence to suppress peaceful dissent. Both the “national security law” and the repressive tactics used to quell legitimate dissent undermine Georgia’s democracy and the fundamental freedoms to which the Georgian people are entitled and run contrary to Georgia’s long-stated goal – reflected in its constitution — of Euro-Atlantic integration and strategic partnership with the United States.

In response to these actions, the Department of State is implementing a new visa restriction policy for Georgia that will apply to individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members. This includes individuals responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation.

U.S. support for Georgia’s democracy is longstanding and foundational to our bilateral relationship. Anyone who undermines democratic processes or institutions in Georgia —including in the lead-up to, during, and following Georgia’s October 2024 elections — may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy and precluded from travel to the United States. Immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.

I am also launching today a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation between the United States and Georgia. It remains our hope that Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. As we review the relationship between our two countries, we will take into account Georgia’s actions in deciding our own.”

Bill Pass or Fail?

This moment in Georgia’s political history and the reaction the country and voters will have after either of the outcomes are viewed by many observers as a likely indicator of the direction the country will go, whether aligned closer with the U.S. and Europe or Russia.

Georgian Dream has responded bitterly to intentions by the U.S. to change the passing of the law or punish it, calling it blackmail. Russian MFA Maria Zakharova echoed those words on Thursday.

OurWarsToday
OurWarsToday
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