WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) today hosted a hearing on Russia’s decade-long occupation of the Republic of Georgia. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and seized the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The war in Georgia set the stage for Vladimir Putin’s subsequent war in Ukraine, including the illegal occupation of Crimea and the Donbas.
“The invasion of Georgia demonstrated that Vladimir Putin is ready and willing to use his military and intelligence services to redraw international borders and meddle in the internal affairs of a neighboring state,” Chairman Wicker said during his opening statement. “The Helsinki Commission is holding this hearing to make sure the American people and the international community do not lose sight of the continued illegal occupation of Georgia — as well as its costs and implications.”
Senator Wicker’s full opening statement is below.
Good morning and welcome to this hearing on “Russia’s Occupation of Georgia and the Erosion of the International Order.”
As you know, the Helsinki Commission monitors the compliance of OSCE participating states to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. In recent years, we have been compelled to pay particular attention to Russia’s clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of all ten principles of the OSCE’s founding document.
In August 2008, Russian armed forces invaded Georgia in direct violation of the territorial integrity and political independence of states. This initial invasion has sadly led to ten years of occupation, affecting a fifth of Georgia’s sovereign territory and causing incalculable political, economic, and humanitarian costs.
The invasion of Georgia demonstrated that Vladimir Putin is ready and willing to use his military and intelligence services to redraw international borders and meddle in the internal affairs of a neighboring state. Moreover, Mr. Putin clearly sought to sabotage Georgia’s progress toward membership in NATO, contravening the principle that sovereign states have the right to freely join security alliances of their choosing.
The response to the Kremlin’s aggression against Georgia was not enough to deter Mr. Putin from trying his hand again in Ukraine in 2014. In fact, Georgia and Ukraine are only the two most egregious examples of Russian challenges to the integrity of our borders, our alliances, and our institutions over the past decade.
The Helsinki Commission is holding this hearing to make sure the American people and the international community do not lose sight of the continued illegal occupation of Georgia — as well as its costs and implications. The experts before us will help assess if the United States is doing everything possible to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity and reverse Mr. Putin’s assault on the borders of a neighboring state and on the international order.
We also intend to ensure Georgia’s contributions to our common security are recognized and that we continue to help it advance along its path to Euro-Atlantic integration and full NATO membership.
Under my chairmanship, Ranking Member Cardin and I have worked across the aisle to demonstrate the firm, bipartisan resolve of the United States Congress to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity and see the alliance make good on its promise of membership.
To that end, in March of last year, we introduced Senate Resolution 106 condemning Russia’s continuing occupation and urging increased bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and Georgia.
More recently, ahead of last week’s NATO summit, Senator Cardin and I — along with Commissioners Tillis and Shaheen — introduced Senate Resolution 557, underscoring the strategic importance of NATO to the collective security of the United States and the entire transatlantic region. This resolution explicitly “encourages all NATO member states to clearly commit to further enlargement of the alliance, including extending invitations to any aspirant country which has met the conditions required to join NATO.” I am especially looking forward to hearing how our panelists assess the outcomes of the NATO Summit.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will hear testimony this morning from a distinguished panel who will provide valuable perspectives on the current state of the conflict in Georgia, prospects for its resolution, and recommendations for U.S. policy.
I am particularly pleased to welcome Georgia’s Ambassador David Bakradze to testify before us this morning. In addition to his firsthand experience managing Georgia’s strategic bilateral relationship with the United States, Ambassador Bakradze has worked at senior levels of Georgia’s government to deepen Tbilisi’s Euro-Atlantic partnerships. Prior to his appointment to Washington in 2016, the Ambassador served as the State Minister of Georgia for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.
Next, we will hear from Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council. Mr. Wilson’s areas of expertise include NATO, transatlantic relations, Central and Eastern Europe, and national security issues. At the time of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Mr. Wilson was serving as special assistant to President George W. Bush and senior director for European Affairs at the National Security Council. In that capacity, he played a leading role at a critical time in managing interagency policy on NATO, the European Union, Georgia, Ukraine, the Balkans, Eurasian energy security, and Turkey.
Finally, we will hear from Luke Coffey, Director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Coffey was named to his post in December 2015 and is responsible for directing policy research for the Middle East, Africa, Russia and the former Soviet Union, the Western Hemisphere, and the Arctic region. Before joining Heritage in 2012, he served at the UK Ministry of Defence as senior special adviser to the British Defence Secretary, helping shape British defense policy regarding transatlantic security, NATO, the European Union, and Afghanistan.