Adam Kinzinger: I Strongly Support Georgia's Immediate NATO Membership
22 July, 2020
Adam Kinzinger: I Strongly Support Georgia's Immediate NATO Membership
Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Chairman of the Georgian Caucus of Congress, is one of the main authors of critical letters received by the Georgian government in recent months. A member of the House of Representatives, based on his position, constantly responds to the developments in Georgia. This time, in an exclusive interview with InterpressNews, Kinzinger addresses a wide range of issues - the October parliamentary elections and the agreement reached on it, Georgia's possible membership in NATO, the relations between the United
States and Georgia, etc.

- How would you assess the process of electoral reform itself, which included a confrontation between the opposition and the government, and the agreement guaranteed by Ambassadors in Georgia - what does it mean that the political forces in the country need mediators to solve the problem?

- Well, look, it was messy, right? I mean it was a really difficult process and you know, we were happy to play the role in mediating that but the hope is that Georgia in the future can get to a point where no necessarily need the outside mediators, but that’s the part of growing as a democracy. You know, it’s a divided time, right? I know in the US even right now it’s very divided but we can kind of handle through that. So our hope in all of that is, like, the last 6 months has been pretty rough, I guess last year has been pretty rough, but now looking forward it’s an opportunity for the Georgian people to have their voice heard now, and the political system, and that we can move forward from there. That’s our hope is that people feel empowered to elect the government that they want and then we can do this all as democracy, it gets messy, but it’s true it’s better than not having a choice.

- You say that the bond between the United States and Georgia is stronger now than ever. How can you explain this statement given that, for example, despite the interest of congressmen, there is an opinion that Georgia is less on the US agenda than, for example, a few years ago?

- I think it’s important to put Georgian in perspective. If you look at all the countries that we have a relationship with, that we have a friendship with, one of them is Georgia. But Georgia, I think, actually has the biggest representation in the US Congress for its size. When you think about it as small country, everybody here knows about it, many people are very interested and everything about it, you kind of have a lot of congressmen come. So I think Georgia’s influence is way way bigger than the size of the country, because we recognize the importance of Georgia, we recognize how important that is to us. Are there going to be ups and downs in certain parts of the relationship? – absolutely! I have always said this: we don’t criticize our enemies, typically, if there is a concern, it’s among friends, because we are concerned by what we are seeing, we are concerned by what’s going to happen. So I think I know at any time anybody makes a statement out here, both sides, of any political debate can take it to mean that you support or you don’t support their side. The reality of this is we love Georgia, Georgia’s very important, we want to see Georgia get stronger and we’ll continue to be there in the future.

- What do you have to say about the termination of Anaklia Deep Sea Port Project and do you see some Russian interests there? You were saying, it should be implemented, but it hasn’t…

- Yeah, I mean that’s a concern. Especially because of my role as a Chairman of the Georgian Caucus, I don’t want to get in the middle of the politics of what’s going on, because I think right now our focus should be getting through this coming election. But I will tell you it’s a concern, because you know, Anaklia is a very important strategic location, there are some concerns about why this was canceled, but I have heard commitments going forward that there’s going to be a Western or US consortium to put this in, I think that’s important. The one thing we don’t want to do is ensure that nothing get built there to allow Russian to have more influence or that you have Russian money come in. I mean, you know this better than I do, because you live there, but if you look at the importance of the country of Georgia and if you look at who you have in South and North, and all those minerals to the East, there’s nothing more important than that relationship in the future of that region.

- But, some say that the termination of Anaklia Deep Sea Port Project is not the only case when we saw Russian interests. Also, when Facebook shut down some of the pages, groups, etc., a few of them were connected to Russian domains. So, how can you assess this part of the discussion?

- So, look, I was a target of that, and that’s nothing different for me, just the first time it was connected with my interest in Georgia, you know, the Russians do this information all the time, they have a story out there that I created ISIS actually myself, which makes me a lot more powerful than I am. But, you know, I think it’s important for Georgian people and American people to understand what the Russians are doing, if there are domestic players that are doing that, to understand it, and understand that that’s not democracy. It’s one thing to go out and talk about your platform and explain to people what it is you believe in the future that you see, but misinformation with foreign influence should always be rejected in the democracy, because that prevents a democracy from actually being such.

- About a month ago, the report signed by 13 congressmen said: ‘Bidzina Ivanishvili, the richest man in Georgia, is a close ally of Putin and involved in destabilising Georgia on Russia’s behalf.’ What can you say about this quote? You work there, so can you say that all of those congressmen and supposedly, others, agree with this statement?

- So, I don’t think that means that all the congressmen agree with that, I don’t think it means anything like that, because you know, we disagree on everything out here, and that’s what’s awesome about democracy, people can have their voice heard in a republic. Do I think that? No. But you know, I have always said this, that in the middle of domestic campaign, and especially in Georgia, it’s (?) felt like it’s been going on forever, every word is going to be taken out of the context for use to support a side. My interest is this: the Georgian people now know, they know who Ivanishvili is, they know who Georgian Dream is, they know who European Georgia is, they know who United National Movement is – they know everybody. And now they get a chance to pick. So our point is this, we are focused on a free and fair elections in October, my hope is to be able to come there in October, we’ll see what the pandemic is doing. But that is where the people are going to be heard. So I don’t think it does any good right now for any of my colleagues out here to make accusations of who’s supporting who, right now we have one focus and that’s October, and the Georgian people worked hard to get to the system that I think better represents them, and I hope that October is a good result just for having people their voice heard.

- So, basically, would you say that elections in October is a test for Georgian democracy?

- Yes, absolutely. Anytime you have a massive election, especially on the heels of some of the instability we’ve seen – it is a big test. I’ll tell you, every election has been a test for Georgia, and Georgia has passed! There have been some concerns in the past, but that’s the nature of representing yourself, especially in a nation like Georgia we don’t have a long history of that. So, we do things not perfectly in the US either, all you have to do is turn on the TV and see that, but that’s something that we continue to work past and get through. I think Georgia will pass this test and be stronger for it, and we are here as a strong ally to support you.

- According to your statement, "the fact that Georgia is occupied is enough for me to let Georgia join NATO." On the contrary, some consider the occupation to be the only, or one, though major problem for which we are not yet a member of NATO. How exactly would you support your opinion?

- I think the fact there were members who say that since Georgia is occupied, we can’t let them into NATO, is exactly what is encouraging Russia to continue to be destabilizing. If Russia knows all it has to do is to take over disputed areas of every country on its border and NATO will let them, I mean, I have a the playbook right there. I think the reality is this: Georgia has worked hard to be a member of NATO, Georgia has committed more per capita to the mission in Afghanistan than every country but the US, they have shown their partnership, they have shown their ability to fight – when I was in Georgia last time I saw wounded Georgian heroes that fought hard, both to defend Georgia against Russia and also, in Afghanistan. I think that the fact that you have worked so hard for this membership, and the fact that Russia is on your border, and occupying you, is essentially the reason to bring you in NATO. Because we will show that if you stand for freedom we will stand with you, not if you are under the thumb of Russia, we’ll abandon you – I think it would be a strong message for everyone around the world, for Ukraine also, and I don’t Putin would ever mess with the united NATO, I know that for a fact, and so, that’s why I strongly support immediate NATO membership.

- So, you don’t agree with the idea that it might make Russia angrier?

- Of course, it will make Russia angry. But I also know that Russia has no ability to actually defeat the US and NATO in war, if it would choose to do so. And I also know that Vladimir Putin understands that he will advance until he hits a brick wall, and when he hits a brick wall, he’ll back up. Two years ago, the US killed 200 Russian soldiers or more in the middle of Syria, and we didn’t hear a lot from Vladimir Putin after that. So that’s where we are at. Yeah, everything makes Putin mad nowadays, because he wants a failing country. But, the fact is, I think bringing Georgia into NATO would be so much better for peace and stability in the region, and would make conflict in that area far far less likely.

- You also said: "We should not be intimidated by such a weak country as Russia." However, foreign diplomats often point out that international policy towards Russia - of states or supranational organizations - is softer than it should be. Why do you consider Russia a weak country, and if that is true, why can’t we see that Russia is perceived as week, when it comes to relations with this country?

- I think it’s a couple of things. So, Russia is strong, when I say weak, I don’t mean weak in a sense of every other country, but weaker than we think they are. This is a former Soviet Union, it is a country that, its economy based completely on oil, oil prices are down. So you look at all these things, yes, there are strengths, but there are a lot of real weaknesses. And if you actually compare the militaries of two countries (not to deliver fight), Russia is a weak country. I think the part of the problem is, people just have a different view that standing up strong against Russia can provoke them, I think the reality is the opposite – if you stand up strong, they won’t be provoked. And I think the other thing is just, there’s a lot of people that feel like they don’t want conflict, they feel war-weary, and they don’t want to invest any more money in defense. So, in my mind, I think Syria is a perfect example – when Russia thought they could kick us out of an oil field. We killed 300 of them and didn’t hear a word for a while.

- A few days ago, Matthew Bryza spoke in an interview with InterPressNews about the amendments to the Law on Electronic Communications adopted by the Parliament of Georgia. He noted that the law might be entirely related to one company - Caucasus Online. Do you have any information about that and how do you see this law in general?

- The stuff I know about it, I can’t really talk about it in public, but I’ll say that there’s a lot I don’t know, so I think for me to make a comment about this at this point would be probably not wise, because there’s probably many things to it. Ultimately, I think this: fierce competition is important, I think, ensuring that Russian, Chinese influence in any telecommunication should be moderated or pushed away, but anything else on specifics, I just don’t know enough to comment on.

- You said about Georgia a while ago: "you have a lot to prove and you will do it" - can you specify and highlight the main things that we have to prove?

- I think the biggest thing you have to prove right now is just that you have to get through an election without violence, without people feeling like they didn’t have a chance to vote or they were intimidated or they were oppressed. You are going to watch the US election, and it’s going to be messy, too, so I’m not saying perfect. But I think that people should know that they had the opportunity to campaign freely, and to they have their voice heard. That’s what the proving thing is, but I also think, in the future, I don’t mean you have a lot to prove, like you have a lot to do, I mean also that Georgia’s going to show us a lot in the importance of our relationship with them and I think that’s going to be more more evident in the future. Like I said, I know that US is important to Georgia, but I also think it’s important to let Georgia know that you are important to the USA, it’s not a charity case with you, it’s we really need Georgia and Georgian people. And we love your wine – so all of that is really important.

- And maybe, black sea, its strategic location…

- Yes, I’ll say on the black sea side of things, we saw during the war against Georgia the importance of that, and the advances that the Russian made or they knew they have to make. Just so you know, the French Mistral ships they were going to buy for Black Sea, I got that program canceled, as well as we actually got sanctions in for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which Europe obviously or Germany specifically is looking out for energy. So there is a lot we are going to continue to do. But that Black Sea dominance is really important, and I think, understanding the role that NATO and the US has to Black Sea is going to be essential, not to mention that there are some beautiful resorts on the Black Sea as well.

- A month ago, a year passed after the events June 20th. Last year, there were a lot of critical letters from the congressmen, first of all, yours. What was the main factor that made you write those letters and, in your opinion, what changed in this 1 year and a month period?

- Obviously, what happened on June 20th was frightening. I think the Georgian people were frightened by it, they came on the streets, they demanded a change and they were promised a change. I came to Georgia in the fall, I was told that that change was going to happen, there was a deal and Georgian Dream was going to support it with the opposition, and that we go forward with a change to the system that would ameliorate and make good of the promises of June 20th. And that didn’t happen – I got back to the US, and those changes have failed. So that made me angry, and I think, the Georgian people angry. So I think we went through a number of months of difficulty, but I think what we are seeing now is that even though it’s not perfect (and I know there’s still some concern about whether it was fully implemented), the reality is, we are going forward with the proportional system, there has been a lot of positive changes, and it’s a real opportunity now for a fair and free elections. So, it was a really hard fight last year and a month, but I think what’s most important is that Georgian people made their voice heard and now it’s time to do it at the ballot box in October regardless of who you support.

- Do you know that the members of the Government sometimes, when they receive such letters, say that the Congressmen, or the MEP’s might not have the proper information, for instance. What do you think about this kind of statements?

- Look, I get the privilege of being able to read, including you guys have English news, getting to read everything said about me and everybody’s interpretation of it. I know a lot about what goes on and I have an opinion. You know, I think there are some cases, probably when people will make a comment or have a concern and then there is more information to come in. But the other part is we are well aware that everything we say feeds the domestic politics in Georgia, if it’s embarrassing to the government, they don’t want it to be, if it’s embarrassing to the opposition, they don’t want it to be. Full reality is, and I’m saying this in all truth, all that we want is for a democracy to thrive in Georgia and Georgian people to have their voice heard. We don’t have a dog in the fight in terms of who wins, we just want people to know that they are represented.

Author: Eka Abashidze

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