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Biden administration condemns Georgia for ‘Kremlin-inspired’ legislation

The Biden administration is condemning the country’s Georgia government for implementing legislation inspired by Russia’s “foreign agents law” that has sparked mass protests in Tbilisi and been met with a security crackdown.

“The United States condemns the Kremlin-inspired ‘foreign influence’ legislation introduced today in the Georgia parliament and the false narrative that government officials have adopted to defend it,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. released Wednesday night.

“The statements and actions of the Georgian government are incompatible with the democratic values ​​that underpin membership in the EU and NATO and therefore jeopardize Georgia’s path towards Euro-Atlantic integration.”

Lawmakers from both parties had previously warned that the law could lead to U.S. sanctions and the withdrawal of aid.

The Georgian law is based on Russian legislation passed in 2012 that has been criticized for criminalizing civil society organizations that receive funding from abroad.

More recently, the Russian government used the law to arrest Russian-American journalist Alsou Kurmasheva, who was accused of failing to register as a foreign agent because she is a journalist for the US-funded Radio Free Europe. Kurmasheva said her trip to Russia was for personal reasons.

The United States and Europe fear that similar legislation in Georgia would silence free speech and remove democratic checks on institutions.

“Members of the ruling party have made clear that the intent of the law is to silence critical voices and destroy Georgia’s vibrant civil society, which serves as a critical check on government in any democratic nation,” Miller said.

The proposed law was introduced on April 3 by the ruling Georgian Dream party. It marked a new effort to push legislation that failed the previous year amid massive protests.

Lawmakers wrote to Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze on April 26 saying the legislation could trigger U.S. sanctions, lead to individual visa bans and the withdrawal of U.S. assistance.

“If this legislation is enacted, it could send a powerful message to the Georgian people that their government no longer reflects their wishes, is actively undermining their EU membership agenda, and refuses to respect their constitution,” 14 senators wrote in the letter. . It was led by the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and James E. Risch (R-Idaho), respectively.

“As a result, this legislation would portray Georgia’s strongest partners, the United States and the European Union, as malign actors. “Such a change would require American policy toward Georgia to change to reflect the new state of Georgia politics.”

Public backlash on the streets of Tbilisi against the bill reached a fever pitch on Wednesday night, after the government advanced the bill in a second reading, with a third and final reading expected for approval on may 17th.

Security forces reportedly cracked down on thousands of protesters gathering in Tbilisi with water cannon, tear gas and stun grenades, and media reports indicated arrests and injuries among protesters. Georgian opposition parties have called for protests to resume on Thursday night.

The protesters have gained support from European leaders, who warn the Georgian Dream political party that backs the bill that implementing the Foreign Influence law would harm the country’s chances of joining the European Union (EU).

Critics of Georgian Dream, which was elected in the 2020 parliamentary election, say the party had reneged on promises to reform Georgia in line with EU standards and allow its accession to the bloc.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU commission, warned on Wednesday night that “Georgia is at a crossroads. She should stay the course on the road to Europe.”

“I follow the situation in Georgia with great concern and condemn the violence on the streets of Tbilisi. “The Georgian people want a European future for their country.”

Georgia occupies a fragile position between Russia and the West.

Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and still occupies two territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The ruling Georgian Dream party is criticized for deepening ties with Russia at the expense of the public’s desire to join the EU.

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