Wess Mitchell Warns of Russian Influence through Orthodox Church

On September 11-12, 2018, the McCain Institute and the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) co-hosted the 4th annual Tbilisi International Conference in the Georgian capital. This year’s title was “World in 2018: Upside Down?”

The conference aimed to bring together regional experts on security issues, Georgian policymakers, civil society activists, and representatives in the private sector “with a view toward keeping Georgia high on the transatlantic agenda and keeping Georgia on track in its democratic progress and transatlantic aspirations,” according to the McCain Institute.

At the conference on Wednesday, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, A. Wess Mitchell, had a discussion with Batu Kutelia of the Atlantic Council of Georgia in a panel titled “Conversation: Georgia and the West.”

Mitchell drew some attention with his remarks. Speaking of western political leaders, he said “Earlier, they said that Russia is not a threat. Now, they have woken up in the West and realized that Russia is a threat. It's a pity that we did not wake up even after the Russia-Georgia war and this became the precondition for starting the war in Ukraine. The West woke up and they already know that Russia is playing a serious game. We must say goodbye to the argument that Russia is weak, we must say goodbye to the idea that economic stagnation in Russia is weakening Russia. Putin is a threat and he is carrying out aggression.”

His statements were questioned by Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, who was on an official visit to Georgia, and also spoke at the “World in 2018: Upside Down?” conference. Kaljulaid said, “You said that the West had woken up, but I do not think that we, from Europe, will agree with your assessment.” She added that Europe has “to do business with Russia. Besides, let’s see what the populist parties say - they don’t care about our liberal-democratic values, which is good for the Russians. So, what has been done since Georgia's war is not enough. We said let’s try to bring private business to Georgia, it took three months to do it! But I'm not saying that nothing has been done.” In a meeting with President Margvelashvili, however, Kaljulaid noted that “It was very heart-warming to see Wess Mitchell and our other friends at the international conference, also showing strong support for Georgia.”

During the conference, Mitchell also accused the Georgian Orthodox Church of being influenced by Russia, saying “Russian misinformation and propaganda are strong. We know Russia’s tools, and we are ready to fight back. We are working, and Georgia has paid careful attention to social media, but there is a great force – the Orthodox Church – and Russian influence is indirectly coming from it. We have to reach to those layers of society who do not have internet access, for example, if we want to win this battle.”

Mitchell’s main message was straightforward: “Georgia succeeding on the path to reform is the ultimate and most important way to beat Vladimir Putin.”


Note: Quotations translated by InterPressNews

By Samantha Guthrie

Photo: Civil.ge

14 September 2018 08:58