In-Depth: Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), the co-chairs of the Georgia Caucus, reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to assert the U.S.' continued support for Georgian independence. In a press release, Rep. Connolly said:
"I am proud to reintroduce the Georgia Support Act, which strengthens the vital U.S.-Georgia partnership, a strategically important relationship in a critical part of the world. This bill demonstrates the United States' robust support of Georgia's sovereignty, continued democratic development, and security, especially in the face of Russian aggression. As the head of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I am pleased that this bill recognizes that Georgia has been a longstanding NATO-aspirant country.”
Rep. Kinzinger added:
“For years, Georgia has worked towards independence and complete separation from an aggressive and encroaching neighbor in Russia. I believe the United States plays a pivotal role in encouraging our Georgian allies, and this legislation solidifies our support for their sovereignty and security."
Last Congress, then-Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced this bill to support Georgia’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and reassert the U.S.’ opposition to the forceful and illegal Russian invasion of Abkhazia and the Tskhinivali region / South Ossetia:
“Georgia is a stalwart friend of the United States and serves as a regional model for democracy and liberty in a part of the world where government repression is the norm. The friendship between our two nations has been forged in blood, as Georgian troops fight and die alongside American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no doubt, the United States must do more to help Tbilisi continue its democratic trajectory and defend against the very real Russian threat to its territorial integrity and democratic institutions. As Co-Chairman of the Congressional Georgia Caucus, I am pleased to introduce this important legislation reaffirming America’s bipartisan support for our friend and partner, Georgia.”
Poe added that the U.S.-Georgian relationship is special due to Georgian troops’ support of American military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan:
“The friendship between our two nations has been forged in blood, as Georgian troops fight and die alongside American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no doubt, the United States must do more to help Tbilisi continue its democratic trajectory and defend against the very real Russian threat to its territorial integrity and democratic institutions.”
Finally, in floor remarks upon introducing this bill, Rep. Poe contended that this bill was needed to contain Russia’s expansionist ambitions:
“Czar Putin must be shown that his dream of rebuilding the Russian empire is not going to happen. We must show our freedom-loving friends around the globe that America will stand with them. The Georgian people have shown they will fight for freedom, even against overwhelming odds. While the Kremlin believes that it has prevented Georgia's aspirations of joining the important organization of NATO by seizing territory, we can send a signal that that victory is hollow. Georgia is still on the path to greater integration with the West. Georgia must remain, with our help, free and prosperous. Russia will find itself isolated and full of regret for ever following Putin's foolish ambition of aggression in the region.”
Last Congress, Rep. Connolly (D-VA) — who was was original cosponsor of this bill — added that Russian aggression in Georgia has resulted in serious human right abuses that need to be punished with sanctions:
“Georgia is a valued and strategic partner of the United States. The Georgia Support Act demonstrates the United States’ robust support of Georgia’s sovereignty, continued democratic development, and security, especially in the face of Russian aggression. In the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia has violated Georgia’s territorial integrity and committed serious human rights abuses, including ongoing detentions and killings. This bill authorizes sanctions against those responsible for or complicit in human rights violations and builds on previous efforts to bolster Georgia’s territorial integrity.”
Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Zalkaliani, has expressed strong support for this bill, calling it an “unprecedented” and “truly historic” statement of support from a U.S. legislative body:
“This resolution protects every direction of cooperation between the US and Georgia. Special emphasis is made on cooperation in the fields of defence and security, as well as free trade possibilities.”
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili has also expressed gratitude and support for this bill, tweeting, “I am glad that the Co-Chairs of Group of Georgia's Friends submitted a bipartisan bill (Georgia Support Act) to the US Congress. This legislative act reasserts the US support for Georgia.” During a visit to Washington, D.C. on March 15, 2018, President Margvelashvili added:
"An act in support of Georgia will be the next logical step to support and strengthen the special relationships [between the U.S. and Georgia]. The Georgia Support Act will unify all existing cooperation formats and create new formats. It will provide long-term stability of my nation as well as the protection of US interests in the region.”
The Trump administration has expressed support for Georgian independence. In a visit to Tbilisi, Georgia in August 2017, Vice President Mike Pence strongly reaffirmed Washington's support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and denounced Russia's “aggression” and “occupation” of Georgian territory.
The European Union supports Georgian independence. In a statement at the 10-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, the EU stated, “The European Union reiterates its firm support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.”
Russia claims Abkhazia and South Ossetia — the Georgian provinces it’s currently occupying — are states that exist independently of Georgia. In August 2018, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, “[W]e view Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We understand that if any other country claims that they are part of its national territory, this may have severe consequences.”
In 2008, former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev wrote in support of Russia’s actions:
“The roots of this tragedy lie in the decision of Georgia's separatist leaders in 1991 to abolish South Ossetian autonomy. This turned out to be a time bomb for Georgia's territorial integrity. Each time successive Georgian leaders tried to impose their will by force -- both in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, where the issues of autonomy are similar -- it only made the situation worse. New wounds aggravated old injuries. Nevertheless, it was still possible to find a political solution. For some time, relative calm was maintained in South Ossetia. The peacekeeping force composed of Russians, Georgians and Ossetians fulfilled its mission, and ordinary Ossetians and Georgians, who live close to each other, found at least some common ground. Through all these years, Russia has continued to recognize Georgia's territorial integrity. Clearly, the only way to solve the South Ossetian problem on that basis is through peaceful means. Indeed, in a civilized world, there is no other way. The Georgian leadership flouted this key principle…. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas. Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against ‘small, defenseless Georgia’ is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity… Of course, peace in the Caucasus is in everyone's interest. But it is simply common sense to recognize that Russia is rooted there by common geography and centuries of history. Russia is not seeking territorial expansion, but it has legitimate interests in this region.”
This bill has eight bipartisan cosponsors, including seven Republicans and one Democrat, in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, this bill passed the House without objection with the support of seven bipartisan House cosponsors, including six Republicans and one Democrat. However, since it wasn't voted on in in the Senate, it wasn't enacted.
Of Note: This bill continues strong congressional support for Georgia, as in 2017 lawmakers proposed and amended six bills and resolutions supporting Georgia.
In 2008, Russia invaded the Republic of Georgia. The conflict erupted into a five-day war in which Russian forces drove deep into Georgia before pulling back in the wake of a European Union-brokered peace agreement. The conflict, which each party accuses the other of starting, left hundreds dead and drove thousands from their homes. Today, the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia, which includes about half of Georgia’s Black Sea coastline, and South Ossetia, in the center of Georgia’s northern border with Russia, remain under Russian occupation. Together, these two provinces comprise 20 percent of Georgia’s land mass.
Georgia claims both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as its sovereign territory, and most of the world agrees. Russia is one of only four nations to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru are the only states to side with Russia on the issue.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / LilliDay)