Strong Messages of America’s Friendship to Georgia

This month, three top US Senators- John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Amy Klobucher, as part of a bipartisan delegation to Georgia, visited the Russian occupation line in the village of Khurvaleti and travelled to Tbilisi to demonstrate, many would say, some strong views to Tbilisi, Moscow and Washington. Voice of America polled Washington-based analysts and Caucasus watchers for their commentary and analyses. The report was first published by Voice of America’s Georgian Service in Washington. Interviews were recorded by Anna Kalandadze. Here is an abridged version of two of those interviews:

Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President, US Atlantic Council, Washington

The visit of Senators McCain, Graham and Klobuchar to Georgia was very significant and deliberate. They were trying to send clear messages. Now remember that the visit started in the Baltics, and then went on to Ukraine and Georgia with the express aim of first reassuring our allies and partners- in Sen. Mccain’s words, he sees Georgia as a US ally- and sending a clear signal of US support to the counties in the region, and second, for the eyes of the real audiences in Washington and Moscow. For Moscow, the intention was to say that ‘regardless what you hear about our transition or even from the President-elect, the US Congress and the US senate remains very strong in support of our allies, very skeptical and concerned about what Russia is doing, and plans to exercise its role and its authority to maintain a strong US posture against Putin’s adventurism and in support of sanctions’. And at the same time, the message to Washington was that the Senate has strong views on Russia and they will be heard and they will be acted on. I think at this time of uncertainty, with the Senators’ visit, they wanted to set out that they know what Russia is doing, saying ‘we want to expose this a little more to the American people and at the same time stand firmly by our allies and partners in the region.’

Joshua Kucera, Editor-in Chief at Eurasianet, Washington and Istanbul

The Senators were trying to show that in spite of all the uncertainty towards Russia in US, at least some parts of US Government are firm in their support for Georgia and their opposition to Russia- that was pretty clear given the itinerary: Baltics, Ukraine, and Georgia. So, that was the message to Russia, and back to President-elect Trump: that if he is going to change the policy towards Russia or Georgia, there will be opposition in Congress and other parts of the US Government. Sen. McCain alone will not be able to influence the US Government’s actions, but if Trump is to dramatically change policies, he will likely run into an opposition from the US State Department, US Defense Department and other agencies. But if I were a Georgian, I would ask how this is different from anything else that has happened in the last ten years. These are very strong messages of America’s friendship to Georgia. So, the question is whether the US is defending Georgia against Russia? Of course not; we saw that in 2008 and I don’t think anything has substantially changed since then. So, if I were a Georgian, I would take all this skeptically. To me, it’s just a photo-op, a grandstanding by Senators that otherwise does not mean very much. What you have to look at is the details of US policy. Last summer, the US started a new military cooperation agreement, a memorandum with Georgia that will completely change the direction of US security assistance which has been helping Georgia train its forces to deploy them in places like Afghanistan. Now it’s going to deemphasize that and emphasize territorial defense, which is what the Georgian forces always wanted. So, the trendline of US security assistance is positive from Georgia’s perspective. Nobody knows if that is going to change come January 20, but in general, the US has been more strongly supportive of Georgia militarily than ever before.

Anna Kalandadze, Voice of America Georgian Service

12 January 2017 20:08