Title

Russia's Occupation of Georgia and the Erosion of the International Order

Tuesday, July 17, 2018
11:00am
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 124
Washington, DC
United States
Members: 
Name: 
Senator Roger Wicker
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Ranking Senate Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Senator Cory Gardner
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Richard Hudson
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Randy Hultgren
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Representative Gwen Moore
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
His Excellency David Bakradze
Title: 
Ambassador of Georgia to the United States
Name: 
Luke Coffey
Title: 
Director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy
Body: 
Heritage Foundation
Name: 
Damon Wilson
Title: 
Executive Vice President
Body: 
Atlantic Council

August 2018 marks the ten-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. A decade on, one-fifth of Georgian territory remains under Russian occupation.

During this hearing, expert witnesses explained what is occurring behind the Russian-imposed internal administrative boundary lines in occupied Georgia, as well as the implications of the continued occupation for U.S. interests and international security. The witnesses discussed potential actions and strategies that the United States and its allies can take to restore the territorial integrity of Georgia and respect for its sovereignty.

Russia enforces its occupation through a large military deployment and, in concert, with de facto Ossetian and Abkhaz authorities, prevents NGOs and monitoring missions from entering the occupied regions. Despite the displacement of tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians as a result of the 2008 war, many thousands continue to reside in the territories where they face discriminatory policies aimed at marginalizing Georgian culture, including strict restrictions on Georgian language instruction in schools. Russian authorities continue to engage in what has been termed “creeping annexation” through the incremental advancement of the razor wire administrative line deeper into Georgian territory.

Border crossings remain incredibly perilous for Georgians wishing to reach family, property, and communities on the other side of the occupation line. These travelers regularly face arbitrary detention, kidnapping, and sometimes death. De facto authorities do not launch credible investigations into the suspicious death of Georgians in their custody, contributing to an overwhelming climate of impunity.

In their opening statements, U.S. Helsinki Commissioners affirmed the bipartisan, bicameral commitment in the U.S. Congress to Georgia’s territorial integrity and NATO. Commission Chairman Roger Wicker and Ranking Member Ben Cardin noted their joint introduction of Senate Resolution 106 that affirms the territorial integrity of Georgia and Senate Resolution 557, which expresses the strategic importance of NATO to U.S. security.

All witnesses agreed that Georgia should be admitted to NATO as it has met or exceeded the benchmarks of a prospective member state. They recalled the alliance’s failure at its 2008 Bucharest Summit to extend membership invitations to Georgia and Ukraine that effectively signaled to Moscow NATO’s wavering commitment to the defense of these countries.

Georgian Ambassador to the United States, David Bakradze, described his country’s readiness to join the alliance. In addition to its concrete commitment of troops to NATO missions, Georgia already spends more than 2% of its GDP on defense, he said. He further cited positive Georgian public opinion towards NATO as well as his government’s strategic orientation toward the West.

Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council and Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation agreed in their assessment that Russia’s occupation of Georgia should not give the Kremlin a veto over Tbilisi’s accession to the alliance. They both recommended a change to NATO’s practice of not inviting states with ongoing territorial disputes.

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