The United States must stand with Georgia’s fight for freedom
Vladimir Putin and his influence remain a top threat to democracy, not only in the United States, but across the globe. Look no further than the current situation in Georgia to see firsthand the impact it is having on those who are fighting for freedom.
Georgia is controlled by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Russian-schooled oligarch who made billions in the corrupt feeding frenzy on abandoned Russian industries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He led the “Georgia Dream” coalition to power in 2012, similar to the playbook that has been used over the years in Russia and Ukraine to disrupt/hijack economic and democratic progress. As founder and financier of the Georgian Dream party, Ivanishvili abandoned his Russian citizenship to return to Georgia to become the country’s prime minister in 2012.
After establishing power by installing loyal individuals, many of whom were part of his business empire, into senior government positions, he abruptly left office in 2013. Despite resigning, he remained the de facto head of the Georgian government and formally returned to the chairmanship of the Georgian Dream party in May of 2018.
The Georgian Dream party promised to implement constitutional amendments to move to fully proportional parliamentary elections in 2020. The promise of this was a huge step toward becoming a true democracy. Last fall, Georgian Dream went back on their word, sparking protests, causing the opposition in parliament to boycott all legislative and voting activities, and significantly eroding international confidence, particularly within the United States. On March 8, the Georgian Dream and the United Opposition parties reached a seemingly tenuous agreement on electoral reform and the inadmissibility of political interference in the judicial system, including the release of political prisoners. However, the implementation of this agreement is still in question with more work still to be done.
Ivanishvili’s need for unmitigated consolidation of power and control isn’t confined to Georgia’s government. The Putin ally is working vigorously to expel American businesses operating legally in the country. Here are some examples…
Since 1997, Houston-based company, Frontera Resources, has invested more than $500 million in its “Block 12” license area. The company has financed and deployed significant technology from the U.S. to explore for and develop oil and natural gas resources in Georgia. The result has been the identification of billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Frontera’s investment in the country has given Georgia the prospect of energy independence and placed it on a path to potentially become a net energy exporter. Despite this, Ivanishvili’s government has aggressively sought to advance state-capture and expropriate Frontera’s holdings.
Iconia Capital LLC, an investment management firm and real estate investment company from Hawaii, has been pursuing large-scale development projects in Georgia since 2014. Throughout the past five years, it has been the target of an aggressive expropriation effort which included defamation by a pro-government TV station and attacks by politically connected individuals seeking to illegally seize their property in Tbilisi.
Other American companies like Miami-based Georgian American Alloys’ local Georgian subsidiary, Georgia Manganese, has seen its holdings seized. The U.S. multinational Philip Morris also experienced similar attack by the Ivanishvili-led Georgian government.
Attempted state-capture of high value U.S. private-sector investments has been a common theme for all of the above, with an objective of sending competitive advantage to corrupt allies in Russia, China and Iran via overt and covert business arrangements.
Last year, I introduced the Georgia Fair Business Practices Sanctions Act. It directs the president to submit a report to Congress about U.S. government and non-government investment in Georgia and if the Georgian government is working to undermine those investments. It also seeks to identify current or former Georgian government officials who are responsible for such actions. If the president determines Georgia has committed such actions, the president must impose financial and trade sanctions on the government of Georgia, as well as visa and property blocking sanctions on identified individuals.
Enacting my legislation would be a good first step in holding bad actors accountable and showing we support the fight for freedom. With this, there must also be a broader strategy of support for the Georgian people to further deter this corrupt behavior. Failure to stand with the Georgian people not only threatens to erode the friendship between the peoples of the United States and Georgia, but also undermines the rule of law and democracy across the globe.
The Republican Study Committee, the conservative caucus of House Republicans, recently unveiled their National Security Strategy called Strengthening America & Countering Global Threats. This proposal is a solutions-oriented plan for preserving American leadership around the globe and promoting a U.S. foreign policy which advances the interests of Americans at home and abroad. It acknowledges the influence Putin’s authoritarian regime has had on Georgia and proposes the strictest ever sanctions on his cronies, including Ivanishvili.
The world looks to the United States as an example and if we don’t hold Russia accountable for eroding freedom, who will?
The Georgian people want a prosperous economy and to become a true democracy. Every Georgian has a right to expect this. As Americans, it is also in our national security interest to support these efforts to prevent further Russian influence throughout the globe. We must stand with the Georgian people in their fight for freedom.
Markwayne Mullin represents the 2nd District of Oklahoma.