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Javier Colomina: I expect Allied leaders at the Washington Summit to reaffirm our support to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity

What message does NATO want to convey to Georgia and the Georgian people, who, based on recent surveys, overwhelmingly favor their country's membership in the alliance, before the alliance's anniversary summit? Europetime posed a pertinent query to the Alliance. Javier Colomina, Special Representative of the NATO Secretary General for the Caucasus and Central Asia states that he anticipates the leaders of the Allies reaffirming their support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity during the Washington summit. „I expect Allied leaders at the Washington Summit to reaffirm our support to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – within international recognised borders – and our commitment to a long-standing partnership with Georgia and to call on the government of Georgia to accelerate reforms to strengthen the country’s democratic institutions, in response to the Georgia’s people aspirations towards Euro-Atlantic integration,“ Javier Colomina said. NATO is a political and military alliance of 32 countries from Europe and North America. The United States will host the NATO Summit on July 9–11. At the Summit, thirty-two Allies will tackle an important agenda that includes: Affirming unwavering support for Ukraine; Strengthening deterrence and defense posture; Collaborating with industry on increasing production and growing our industrial base; Enhancing the Alliance’s partnerships; and Ensuring Allies meet their commitments to invest in their own defense, as well as our collective defense.  Javier Colomina: We are currently discussing what the tailored support should entail for Georgia and we expect them to be adopted at the Madrid Summit  

Georgia will become a NATO member, when allies assess that it is prepared to fulfill the obligations that come with membership, John Bass says

Ambassador John Bass, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, answered the question by Europetime. Q - „At the NATO summit held in Bucharest in 2008, allies decided that Georgia would join NATO. The decision was reaffirmed at the subsequent summits.  During your tenure as U.S. ambassador to Georgia, we have repeatedly heard your comments regarding the integration of Georgia into NATO.  How do your earlier assumptions and expectations align with the present dynamics and process of the country’s integration into the Alliance?”    A - „I would first say that for many of us who spent time in Georgia or working with Georgians, particularly in the aftermath of the conflict in 2008 in which, yet again, Russia was attempting to determine how a neighboring country should live, dictate whether or not that country should be free to choose its own security relationships with, in this case, NATO – having been there in that period, it’s been very disturbing to see the evolution in recent years and particularly in recent months of the Georgian Dream government.    And if someone were to ask straight up, as I think is implicit in the question, when will Georgia become a member of NATO, the answer is that Georgia will become a member, I think, when allies assess that it is prepared to fulfill the obligations that come with membership, including upholding principles – core principles of democratic governance, including the fundamental principle that people are free to choose their own leaders.  And unfortunately, since I was ambassador in Georgia, we have not seen Georgia progress to meeting those objectives. And unfortunately, we’ve seen quite a bit of work, quite a bit of retrograde, if you will.  And as the U.S. ambassador who worked quite hard to ensure that there were the conditions in place to allow Georgian Dream to compete fairly in the parliamentary elections of 2012, it is deeply disturbing to see that same group now eroding the foundations of democratic governance and society.    And as a final observation, I would say it is both deeply disturbing and saddening to see the aspirations and dreams of an entire society being held hostage to the grievances of one individual: Bidzina Ivanishvili.“ John Bass was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 17, 2021, as the Under Secretary for Management. The Secretary of State designated John Bass as Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs on March 23, 2024. A career Senior Foreign Service officer, he served as Senior Advisor at the Foreign Service Institute from 2020-2021, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan 2017-2020, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 2014 to 2017, Executive Secretary of the State Department from 2012 to 2014, and U.S. Ambassador to Georgia from 2009 to 2012. He began his diplomatic career in 1988 and has also served in positions in U.S. missions in Iraq, Italy, Belgium, and Chad.  

Investments in the development of ports in Georgia are needed, Mamuka Murjikneli, CEO of the Wondernet Investment Group, says at the Caspian Policy Center forum in Washington

Mamuka Murjiknel, CEO of the Wondernet Investment Group, spoke on a panel during the 8th Annual Trans-Caspian Forum held at the Cosmos Club in Washington. At the Caspian Policy Center meeting in Washington, Wondernet Investment Group CEO Mamuka Murjikneli says that investments in the development of Georgia's ports are imperative. Mamuka Murjikneli added that the growing importance of the Middle Corridor is demanding an increased capacity. While the traffic is there, upgrades to the route are lagging. “We see that Central Asia itself is growing and new facilities that would be built there would require increased capacity handling for key ports.” “Right now, the most important priority in the Middle Corridor is safety [of cargoes],” which enables smooth connectivity and transport of goods, Murjikneli added. “Investments in the development of ports in Georgia and Azerbaijan are needed. Especially in Georgia, the demand is growing, and the construction of a deep seaport is of high importance,” he emphasized. How to Maximize the Middle Corridor was the theme of the 8th Annual Trans-Caspian Forum at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC., hosted by the Caspian Policy Center (CPC) in partnership with the embassies of the Caspian Region.  The event brought together key stakeholders from the United States and the Caspian Region to discuss and strategize how to enhance connectivity and trade across the Middle Corridor, which connects countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia to Europe, China, and South Asia. The final panel, How to Do Business Better Along the Middle Corridor, highlighted successful business practices and opportunities in the region. Moderated by Dr. Eric Rudenshiold, Caspian Policy Center Board Member, the discussion featured Robert Scher, the Vice President of BP America; Mamuka Murjikneli, CEO of the Wondernet Investment Group; Laura Brank, Partner of Dechert LLP; and Eugene Seah, Chief Operating Officer of Baku International Sea Trade Port. Speakers from the final panel emphasized the importance of the Caspian region for international trade and transit, but they pointed out that there are still a few legal hurdles to overcome for new opportunities to open for the private sector.

EEAS Spokesperson: Together with our US colleagues, we have been working on how to address the impact of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine across the Black Sea region

Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for the foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union, said that the EU and US share common interests in the Black Sea region. According to him, they cooperate to support partners in the region to bolster their resilience to increasing hybrid and cyber challenges as well. „Together with our US colleagues, we have been working on how to address the impact of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine across the Black Sea region - both in the short and the long run. We have focused on supporting Ukraine, but also helping the region address the wider fallout of Russia’s war. We have done this in many fora, including the EU-US Security and Defence Dialogue, the UN, the G7, etc. The EU and US share common interests in the region to: (1) increase coordination with partners; (2) deepen economic ties; (3) strengthen energy security; (4) support efforts to bolster democratic resilience, including fighting false narratives and Russian state-controlled propaganda, in accordance with our shared values; (5) support partners in the region to bolster their resilience to increasing hybrid and cyber challenges. We cooperate to help accelerating Ukrainian grain exports, notably after Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from the UN-Türkiye-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative. The Leaders have been unequivocal in their Joint statement following the US-EU Summit on 20th October 2023 in Washington D.C. We continue to pursue the Solidarity Lanes objectives to increase efficiency and reduce transport costs. The US collaboration with the European partners in Constanta, Romania’s largest port city on the Black Sea coast, is a good example of that. The EU has deployed a Multipurpose Maritime Operation in the Black Sea, involving the EU Agencies with Coast Guard functions (Frontex, the European Maritime Safety Agency, European Fisheries Control Agency), riparian EU Member States, and also other EU Member States. Georgian officials were invited to observe various activities in this context. Furthermore, the EU has supported capacity building, including for Georgia, through the Black and Caspian Sea I project and its current successor Black and Caspian Seas II, implemented by the European Maritime Safety Agency. Looking ahead, the EU is working on the 4th implementation report of the EU Black Sea Synergy. This stock-tacking exercise will also help us identify key trends and findings, which could factor into future EU thinking on the Black Sea cooperation. At its core there are issues of connectivity, energy, digital transformation, blue economy, environment, fisheries and maritime security, resilience and the protection of critical infrastructure,“Stano told Europetime. The US sees Georgia as a critical security partner for the Black Sea, James O’Brien says  

Ombudsman Shares Negative Evaluation by ODIHR on ‘Foreign Agents’ Laws

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has produced a legal report concerning the “Foreign Agents” draft laws introduced in the Georgian Parliament in February 2023. The report was prepared in response to requests submitted by the Public Defender on February 24 and March 6. The assessment of these initiatives by ODIHR was negative, according to a statement from the Ombudsman issued on August 9. The Ombudsman’s statement notes that following large social protests, the deliberation of the aforementioned draft laws within the Georgian Parliament was halted. Specifically, one of the draft laws was withdrawn, while the other was discarded during the second reading. Despite these developments, and due to the significance of the matter at hand, OSCE/ODIHR continued to analyze the issue and presented an extensive overview of human rights standards along with associated recommendations. The document primarily concentrates on the adverse impacts of the draft laws on fundamental human rights. These rights include freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to privacy, participation in public affairs, and protection from discrimination. “The Note also reviews the US and Australian legislations. It is emphasized that they are fundamentally different cases, have an entirely different goal and scale, which is why they do not represent relevant comparative examples in the Georgian context,” – reads the statement by the Public Defender of Georgia. OSCE/ODIHR’s Legal Note on “Foreign Agents” Draft-Laws The “Note on Legislative Initiatives on Transparency and Regulation of Associations Funded from Abroad or so-called ‘Foreign Agents Laws’ and Similar Legislation and their Compliance with International Human Rights Standards” opens by highlighting that the fundamental right to freedom of association is integral to a vibrant and participatory democracy and is intertwined with various human rights. Essential to this right is access to diverse funding sources, including international and foreign funding. Nevertheless, it points out that certain nations regard foreign funding with suspicion. The Notes notes that “overall, the aim of so-called “foreign agents laws” or similar legislation is generally to seek to increase the scrutiny of such funding and of the activities of the recipient associations by introducing new obligations for such associations such as separate and generally burdensome registration, labelling, reporting, accounting and publication/disclosure requirements”, etc. The Note stresses that these regulations often fall short of meeting the rigorous criteria established by international human rights law. These criteria dictate that constraints on freedom of association must be lawful, pursue legitimate objectives, demonstrate proportionality and necessity within a democratic society, and refrain from discrimination. Additionally, the Note draws upon comparative viewpoints, regional legal precedents, and authoritative recommendations to offer supplementary insight on this issue. The assessment finds that the rationale for implementing legislative initiatives related to “foreign agents” laws often lacks evidence of a tangible, current, or serious threat to national interests or democracy. Adequate risk-based evaluations of the civil society sector, confirming NGO involvement in criminal activities, are frequently absent. Moreover, national justifications for such legislative initiatives typically fall short of being “relevant and sufficient.” They fail to demonstrate insufficiencies in existing legal frameworks and the appropriateness of proposed measures. “An abstract assumption that all funds originating from abroad constitute a potential threat to national interests is incompatible with international human rights standards,” – reads the Note. It is also noted that lack of proper reasoning for differential treatment based on funding’s foreign origin suggests potential discrimination. Regulations on associations are often stricter than those on business entities, without clear explanations. In addition, the report highlights that “the legal drafters usually fail to show that they have assessed the potential negative impact of a legislation on associations or considered other legal alternatives and selected the least intrusive measures with regard to the protection of fundamental rights,” adding that aiming for “transparency” or “publicity” of association funding isn’t inherently a legitimate aim, though it could be under specific circumstances related to public order or preventing crimes. The Note emphasizes that objectives like countering money laundering or terrorism financing don’t automatically justify new reporting obligations for all associations. References to foreign laws like the United States Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and Australian Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act (FITS) aren’t suitable comparisons for justifying initiatives targeting foreign-funded associations. The report also notes that “foreign agents” laws introduce control measures, such as unscheduled inspections without clear legal grounds or court authorization. In certain cases, these laws even impose fines, imprisonment, or association dissolution as consequences for violations that are seen as disproportionate. These laws frequently violate principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination, indirectly affecting associations that advocate minority viewpoints. In practical terms, “foreign agents” laws run the risk of discrediting valid organizations, fostering mistrust, fear, and hostility, thus complicating their operational activities.

Exclusive Interview: The United States has long been a strong supporter of the Anaklia deep-sea port, a US official says

US-Georgia's strategic partnership; U.S. efforts regarding democracy in Georgia; Euro-Atlantic aspirations; security of Georgia in the context of the Black Sea; NATO; economy of Georgia in the context of trade through the Anaklia port; Middle Corridor—a US State Department official discussed these and other subjects under the condition of anonymity in an exclusive interview for Europetime. US-Georgia's strategic partnership According to a US official, “the bilateral partnership between the United States and Georgia is good. The United States has been the strongest supporter of Georgia`s economic and democratic development and prosperity over the last 31 years.“ “So I think we are going to continue to partner with the people and the government of Georgia as they pursue a democratic, prosperous, peaceful, and Euro-Atlantic future. Congratulations to Georgia, the people of Georgia, and the government European Commission recommendations—that is a great sign and tremendous opportunity for all Georgians, and I think it is just another sign that this shows the path towards continuing partnership that the United States and Georgia have. We saw the excitement in the streets of Tbilisi over the EU decision that was shared here, in Washington, by those who love Georgia. I think it really shows that if we work together, if the political parties work together, and if the parliament and government work together, we really have exciting possibilities for our future,“ a US official told EuropeTime. U.S. efforts regarding democracy in Georgia As for the U.S. efforts regarding democracy in Georgia, elections are approaching, and very important information has been spread recently, according to which the U.S. government has and will continue to expose Russia’s efforts to undermine democratic elections around the world. How large-scale is this threat to Georgia, and how will the US support ensuring transparent elections in Georgia? This is a crucial question for the US, a US official says. „This is an incredibly important question for the US because, when we are talking about the EU commission's recommendation to grant Georgia candidate status, free and fair elections were one of the main requirements. We will continue to work with Georgia's Central Election Commission and international partners, including the OSCE and the Council of Europe, to ensure long-term observation needs. Russia is seeking to subvert democratic processes around the world, not only in Georgia but around the world. We are raising awareness that, as part of these efforts, Russia is pursuing operations to degrade public confidence in the integrity of elections themselves. To better understand this threat, the U.S. Intelligence Community undertook a review of Russian operations to undermine public confidence in democratic elections that took place between January 2020 and December 2022. The IC found that this Russian activity is global in scope. Russia is seeking to undermine democracies from within. In response, the U.S. State Department has briefed more than 100 democracies around the world on these Russian efforts and steps we can take together in response. We are also speaking openly about these findings. We have and will continue to expose Russia’s efforts to undermine democratic elections around the world. We will also continue to work with other democracies to further these efforts. We are seeking to increase public awareness of and resilience against these Russian activities. We had discussions with Georgia about the Russian efforts,“ a US official told EuropeTime. Regarding the following actions, according to a US official, the next most important step really is to start working on long- and short-term monitoring of the elections. “This is the right time for us to be working with the central election commission, working with the partners, civil society, and making sure that, in partnership with Georgia, we can do what we can to make sure that these are successful elections, because this will be especially important given the recommendation by the European Union. It is really important that these elections go forward in a proper way.“ Euro-Atlantic aspirations, NATO According to Washington, the declarations of the Bucharest summit in 2008 made it clear that Georgia would become a member of NATO. According to Washington, Georgia is a steadfast NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner, a category reserved for NATO’s closest partners. „Georgia has had NATO aspirations for a long time. In 2008, the Bucharest summit declarations revealed that one day Georgia would become a member of NATO. I think that Georgia is a steadfast NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner, a category reserved for NATO’s closest partners, and has served alongside American and other NATO troops. The United States is a strong supporter of Georgia’s NATO aspirations. The United States continues to work with Georgia on building its interoperability with NATO, and we urge Georgian officials to advance the vital democratic reforms that are essential for NATO admission because, even though NATO is a security organization, there are also, in many ways, political aspects,“ a US official told EuropeTime. Anaklia deep-sea port The United States has long supported Georgia’s economic development and recognizes the key role Georgia can play in the Middle Corridor with its access to the Black Sea. “The United States has long been a strong supporter of Anaklia's deep water port development because it is a very important contributor to Georgia's economy for the development of the Trans-Kaspian transportation corridor. What we have seen is the great importance of developing the middle corridor to allow goods to go from central Asia through the Caucasus to Europe and really help economic integration and development in all these regions. So, we think further developing the port will be a really important element in economic development. It is the sovereign decision of the Georgian government to develop the port, but what we, the United States, are looking for is a project that is transparent, in accordance with the rule of law, that really takes into account the long-term security and prosperity of Georgian citizens—the projects that are done in a transparent way and that pay attention to the interests of the Georgian citizens. Any of these types of projects are good. I would encourage Georgian people and the Georgian government to consider those types of projects.“ The security of Georgia in the context of the Black Sea and Russia`s war in Ukraine In the context of the security of the Black Sea region, what role and importance does Georgia have, and what should Georgia do in order to further increase and strengthen this importance and role? An important component in this war is the Black Sea. The Russians announced the creation of a new Black Sea Fleet base in the occupied territory of Georgia. Against the backdrop of Russia's actions, how does the US see the prospect of long-term security in the region in general and Europe as a whole, including Georgia? In response, a senior US State Department official emphasizes the importance of continuing to work with allies and partners. “We have Russia`s brutal war against Ukraine; 20 percent of Georgia`s territory is occupied by Russia. All these things really demonstrate the critical strategic importance of the Black Sea region. So, what we have done is continue to encourage deeper cooperation among Black Sea allies and partners to deter and defend against Russia`s ongoing aggression in the broader Black Sea region. This cooperation includes further efforts to increase information sharing to build common awareness in the maritime domain and beyond. So, we want to cooperate with the Georgian government as a close bilateral strategic partner in the region and as a NATO partner for peace because we are looking to help develop Georgia`s capacity and capability to deter and defend against any kind of aggression, including in the Black Sea.The United States remains a steadfast supporter of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized border. Russia's plans to establish a permanent naval base in occupied Abkhazia are deeply concerning. Such an act will be another clear violation of the commitment Russia made under the 2008 cease-fire agreement to withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions. So any such actions by Russia will further increase tensions and undermine stability in the region,“ a US official told EuropeTime. Armenia-Azerbaijan Washington admits that it is not satisfied with what happened in Nagorno-Karabakh. They stress how crucial it is to resume the peace talks. Washington believes that the statements of the assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, James O'Brien, reflect the best way to ensure security in the region. Washington supports O'Brien's position amid Baku protests. “We are not happy with what happened in Nagorno Kharabakh. It is important to get back to peace talks. James O’Brien, Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, reiterated this during a congressional hearing on Wednesday. His talks are the way to long-lasting security for both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and, frankly, to Georgia`s benefit as well. The best way to develop and expand is if we can actually have peace between these two countries. This is something we will continue to work on, and I am optimistic we will be able to get back to peace talks and hopefully will be able to start building a better south Caucasus for all countries because stability is good not only for Armenia and Azerbaijan but for Georgia as well, for security reasons, economic development reasons, democracy, and transparency reasons,“ a US official told Europetime.  

Batumi multimodal terminal - a new opportunity on the route connecting Europe and Asia

Well-known Kazakh media publications “Elitar.kz” and “Kazakh. Inform” published an interview with Mamuka Murjikneli, General Director of Batumi Multimodal Terminal, which refers to the development of the Middle Corridor. As the journalist notes, the Batumi Multimodal Terminal is one of the most important on the road connecting Asia and Europe and is considered a strategic factor, and the proof of this is cited by the visit of the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan to the Multimodal Terminal in Batumi, as well as the fact that the terminal was created and functions with the synergy of Asian-American-Georgian partnership and cooperation. The interview's translation is provided by Europetime. The new geopolitical conditions in the region have changed many things and made the role of transit countries even more prominent and important. In this context, the role of Kazakhstan is very important. During the visit of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Alikhan Ismailov to Georgia, one of the main topics was the importance and role of the Trans-Caspian international transport route. During a meeting with his colleague, the Prime Minister, the deepening of strategic cooperation between the two countries was emphasized, and especially the importance of the “Middle Corridor” initiative, which includes Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and which is aimed at increasing the attractiveness of this route for cargo transportation. The corridor will connect Central Asia, China and other Asian countries to Europe. A five-year road map has been developed outlining the responsibilities of each country until 2027. Considering all this, we think that our readers will be interested in an interview with Mr. Mamuka Murdzhiknel, General Director of the Batumi Multimodal Terminal in Georgia. Mr. Mamuka, if you can tell us a few words about the multimodal terminal, we know that the construction of the terminal did not stop even during the pandemic period and today it is already operating at full capacity. The necessity and purposefulness of these steps and the construction of the terminal as a whole, as can be seen from today’s point of view, was correctly seen, analyzed and assessed by your company. First of all, thank you for the interview and interest. Our company Wondernet Express Investment Group started the construction of the Batumi multimodal terminal in 2018, completed it in 2021, and today the terminal is operating at full capacity. The leading European design institutes and the world's largest suppliers of shipping and warehouse equipment took part in the development of the specified project. The terminal is fully automated and includes conveyor belt systems and a ship loader. It is equipped with modern equipment necessary for reloading mineral fertilizers, the latest filtration technology, and the terminal will be able to process up to 1,500,000 tons of fertilizers per year. Our partner is the American, largest trading corporation Trammo. We represent a symbiosis of Georgian-Uzbek-American investments and interests, which is very important and has strategic importance today. The main cargo we handle at this stage is urea, although our terminal's technical equipment and standards allow us to handle other mineral fertilizers as well. Receiving cargo at our terminal is carried out in a completely closed premises, as well as its storage and subsequent transfer to the vessel. We have a belt conveyor system, which means that we automatically transfer the cargo from the wagon to the warehouse and from there load it directly onto the ship in a closed premises. Mr. Mamuka, the importance of the Middle Corridor was emphasized in the interim report published by the EBRD, this factor and the importance of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route were once again emphasized during the visit of the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan, Mr. Alikham Ismailov, to Georgia. And a few months ago,  during the official visit of the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan to Georgia, he personally visited your multimodal terminal in Batumi. If possible, tell us a few words about this and your plans for the future. Thank you for this question, we are a private company, far from politics, but we think and understand our strategically important role and the role of companies like us. We feel and fully understand our function, so we constantly care and are focused on development. Here I mean everything, for example, infrastructure development, personnel training, as well as the idea of ​​expanding the terminal itself. The visit of the prime minister of Uzbekistan to our terminal was really important and honorable for our company. This means that our hard work, responsibility and transparency do not go unnoticed, and we will definitely be considered one of the flagships when it comes to the middle corridor. I think that today's situation in the region has shown even more the need for cooperation between our countries, this mutual cooperation is now strategically important, Kazakhstan is the most important country in this regard, as well as Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan. There is extraordinary mutual respect and love among our people, as a former diplomat, or rather an ambassador who worked in Central Asia, I know this attitude well and am pleased with my current status and new opportunities that I can still be in touch with countries and people that are important and interesting to me, my Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Azerbaijanis. And together with our friends we can implement and develop important projects and plans in terms of logistics. In this regard, the Batumi multimodal terminal is a new window at the Transcaucasian logistics crossroads, which begins in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan. As I already told you, I had the honor to work and represent my country as an ambassador to Central Asia. Over these years, I have had many good friends in these countries, which I am especially happy about. Also, one of the founders of our company, businessman Mr. Dmitry Abdushelishvili, comes from a family of diplomats, his father was the first ambassador of independent Georgia to the Republic of Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and later his brother. Thus, in addition to business activities, Central Asia is a bond of deep cultural, human relations and connections for us, and therefore, we are even more pleased with each step taken towards our mutual rapprochement and mutual cooperation.

Paul Goble: Georgia needs to focus on bilateral ties with the US and others to be able to stand up to Russia

Former Special Advisor to the Secretary of State Paul Goble said in an exclusive comment with Europe Time that Georgia needs to focus on bilateral ties with the US and others in order to stand up to Russia. On December 10, the first meeting in the 3+3 format took place in Moscow. Georgia, as is well known, has stated that it will not participate in this platform. Paul Goble said that Georgia is right not to rush into this. „What Moscow is doing is seeking to exclude the West from the Caucasus. It probably won’t succeed, and Georgia’s unwillingness to go along will make it more difficult for the Russians to achieve their ends“, - Paul Goble said. As for the Deterrence Enhancement Initiative (GDDEI), the former Special Advisor to the Secretary of State mentioned that this language is part of the broadening and deepening of Georgian cooperation with the West, something even more important now that Washington has signaled that NATO membership isn’t in the cards in the immediate future. „Georgia needs to focus on bilateral ties with the US and with others to be able to stand up to Russia“, - Paul Goble told Europetime.  

Allies demonstrate strengthened deterrence and defence during Polish-led Dragon 24 exercise

Troops from France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Türkiye, UK and the US conducted a crossing of the Vistula river near Korzeniewo, Poland, this week (4-5 March 2024). The river crossing was part of Exercise Dragon 24, a Polish-led operational and tactical level multinational exercise and a key element of Steadfast Defender 24, NATO’s largest military exercise in decades. The river crossing was attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda. A series of exercises are taking place under the umbrella of Steadfast Defender 24, which will include 90,000 troops in total from all NATO Allies and Sweden. Steadfast Defender 24 is based on NATO’s new defence plans, and demonstrates NATO’s ability to deploy forces rapidly from North America and other parts of the Alliance to reinforce the defence of Europe. A number of high-ranking NATO officials participated in Monday and Tuesday’s media and distinguished visitors’ days, including Major General Cezary Miśniewski, Deputy General Commander of the Polish Armed Forces; Major General Randolph Staudenraus, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at JFC Brunssum; Brigadier General Guy Foden, Commander of the NATO Very High Readiness Task Force (VJTF); Lieutenant General Piotr A. Błazeusz, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces; JFC Brunssum Commander General Guglielmo Luigi Miglietta and JFC Norfolk Commander Vice Admiral Douglas G. Perry.  

OSCE/ODIHR is already planning a pre-election assessment mission at the latest in May

OSCE/ODIHR is already planning a pre-election assessment mission at the latest in May. That`s according to Katya Andrusz, spokesperson of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, speaking with Europetime. „We have indeed received an invitation from the authorities to observe this year’s parliamentary elections, and are already planning a pre-election assessment mission at the latest in May. As you may know, ODIHR visits countries across the OSCE some months before an election is due to take place, at the invitation of the national authorities. During this needs assessment mission we speak to numerous people involved in the election, including government officials, the election administration, members of the judiciary, political parties, representatives of civil society, and the media. Only after this detailed assessment to evaluate the pre-election environment and preparations for voting day is a decision taken about the election observation and what format it will take, including the number of observers. In Georgia, we have consistently observed elections in the country, and our core team of experts regularly deploy 6-8 weeks ahead of election day,“ Katya Andrusz told Europetime.  

EBRD finances Tbilisi’s solid waste management system

Bank to support Tbilisi’s solid waste management and disposal system Funding will help to set up the first waste-treatment plant in Tbilisi Loan to be co-financed by the Green Climate Fund The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is extending a €22 million loan to Tbilservice Group to improve the solid waste management and disposal system in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. The funding will support the first waste-treatment plant in Tbilisi, as part of the city’s participation in the EBRD Green Cities programme. The loan is co-financed with concessional funding of up to €4 million by the Green Climate Fund. The project will prioritise the redirection of waste away from the sanitary landfill for comprehensive waste treatment, including mechanical-biological treatment and the recovery of recyclable materials. This will help to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (by 72 per cent compared to the baseline) and improve the overall environment in the city. The project will also address Tbilisi’s priority needs identified under its Green City Action Plan (GCAP) and will support the implementation of a GCAP action (“solid waste action 2”) on the construction of new waste treatment facilities, in line with the strategic objective of improving the city's solid waste management system. Alkis Vryenios Drakinos, EBRD Regional Director for the Caucasus, said: “Tbilisi is one of the first pilot cities under the EBRD’s innovative Green Cities programme that was launched eight years ago. Since then, we have been cooperating with the city and the Ministry of Finance to implement several important projects to help make Tbilisi greener. Today, we are delighted to be making another pivotal step towards improving the city’s infrastructure and its people’s wellbeing.” Kakha Kaladze, Mayor of Tbilisi, said: “For years, we have been partnering with the EBRD in our quest to transition to European standards that are up to date and safe for the environment. As a result, the EBRD is funding crucial projects in our city. One such project is the construction of the first waste-treatment plant in Tbilisi, for which €26 million has been allocated. This will lay the foundation for separation in waste collection and treatment in Georgia – a very important step forward for the city’s people and for the environment.” Lasha Khutsishvili, Minister of Finance of Georgia, said: “Active cooperation continues between Georgia and the EBRD, particularly in terms of advancing green-economy initiatives. Today’s signing of the loan agreement for the Tbilisi waste-treatment project, securing a total of €26 million, marks another milestone in this collaboration. This project aims to elevate Tbilisi to European standards, ensuring environmental protection and enhancing citizens’ health. I would like to express gratitude to our partners for their support in this endeavour.” The EBRD has participated in 290 projects in Georgia to date, with overall investments totalling around €5 billion, 83 per cent of which have been in the private sector. Overall, the EBRD’s green financing in Georgia accounted for 37 per cent of its total investment volume in the country in 2023.   

NATO: Any attempt to transfer land in the illegally occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia to Russia is unacceptable

According to NATO, any attempt to transfer land in the illegally occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia to Russia is unacceptable. „Any attempt to transfer land in the illegally occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia to Russia is unacceptable. We fully support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. NATO continues to stand in solidarity with our close partner Georgia," a NATO official told Europetime. Occupied Abkazia Transfers Bichvinta Dacha to Russia  

USEUCOM: Georgia actively contributes to regional stability

The United States Embassy in Bucharest and U.S. European Command (EUCOM) hosted senior U.S. policymakers in Bucharest, Romania, January 22-23, to discuss U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic efforts, and security interests in the Black Sea Region. Senior U.S. diplomats, military leaders, and ambassadors engaged on critical security topics including Russia’s war against Ukraine, increased maritime mobility in the Black Sea Region, and regional plans for deterrence and defense. According to EUCOM speaking with Europetime „Georgia actively contributes to regional stability through its involvement in NATO initiatives and exercises, leveraging its strategic location in the South Caucasus to safeguard energy routes and address security challenges.“ „The Department of Defense maintains strong security ties with Georgia's Ministry of Defense and the Georgian Defense Forces. Georgia actively contributes to regional stability through its involvement in NATO initiatives and exercises, leveraging its strategic location in the South Caucasus to safeguard energy routes and address security challenges. This partnership benefits NATO and Europe by providing a reliable partner that promotes security, stability and shared values in a complex geopolitical environment.  For all questions related to foreign policy and diplomatic efforts in the Black Sea region, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia, and Ambassador Dunnigan, we would kindly refer you to the Embassy's Public Affairs team,“ U.S. European Command's public affairs office told Europetime. According to USEUCOM, the discussion in Bucharest advanced efforts by U.S. Defense and State Department leaders to merge strategic initiatives and interagency coordination to counter threats and strengthen partnerships. Attendees included U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien, Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink, Ambassador to Georgia Robin Dunnigan, Ambassador to Türkiye Jeffrey Flake, Ambassador to Armenia Kristina Kvien, Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mark Libby, Ambassador to Moldova Kent Logsdon, Ambassador to the Russian Federation Lynne Tracy, and U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to Bulgaria Andrea Brouillette-Rodriguez. Chiefs-of-mission conferences facilitate strategic discussions among U.S. diplomatic and defense leaders to formulate strategic initiatives to further U.S. foreign policy and national security. “The Black Sea is crucial for global peace and stability, and its importance is only expected to increase in the coming years,” U.S. Ambassador to Romania Kathleen Kavalec said. “It is a vital export transit route, and its interconnectors facilitate trade and energy flows between Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East, making it a crucial economic hub.” “Russia’s war against Ukraine is the most significant conflict in Europe since World War II, and today’s biggest threat to international order,” Kavalec cautioned. “Such an attack on the international order anywhere affects peace and stability everywhere including in the Black Sea region.” “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine altered the security environment in the Black Sea Region,” said Cavoli. “The region is of critical geostrategic importance to USEUCOM, our Allies and our partners. This conference brought together America’s diplomatic and military leaders with a focus on advancing the collective territorial security of the Black Sea Region.” The conference gathered senior Department of State policymakers, U.S. ambassadors to countries in the Black Sea region, and EUCOM leadership to discuss strategies to support to U.S. allies and partners in the region. Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luminita Odobescu and Minister of Defense Angel Tilvar joined the group for an informative briefing and productive discussion.  

EU special representative denied entry into occupied Abkhazia

In his personal statement published by Jam News on January 26, the European Union Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia Toivo Klaar says that his request to visit Abkhazia scheduled for the end of January 2024 has been denied. According to him, this is the second refusal of his visit there in the past six months. “Abkhazia’s relative openness should not become a casualty of Russia’s war against Ukraine,” EU Representative Klaar writes, adding that “instead, now is a need for more, not less, direct personal contacts to exchange views and assessments of recent and current developments and to discuss possibilities for further mutual engagement.” The EU Special Representative notes that in recent years there have been “increasing restrictions being placed on our work and the work of UN agencies, international NGOs and local civil society organizations.” Toivo Klaar underlines the European Union “has been playing a key role in facilitating dialogue and conflict resolution efforts” in the South Caucasus in general, as well as between Tbilisi and the de-facto authorities in Sokhumi. “In this context and in the framework of our policy of non-recognition and engagement,” according to the Special Representative Klaar, “the EU has been facilitating or funding a considerable number of humanitarian programmes in Abkhazia over more than a decade now.” The EU Special Representative notes that despite fundamental political differences and disagreements on some core issues “we have always managed to keep channels of communication open and allow for space for engagement in all those areas that I have mentioned.” Citing various humanitarian projects supported by the EU in the occupied region, in areas such as education, small business support and health care, he notes that closing the space to international engagement or restricting the activities of international organizations, and thus the assistance coming to Abkhazia, “will only exacerbate” the challenges that have to be tackled. The Special Representative emphasizes that currently Abkhazia seems to be closing down. “I don’t see how these developments are in the interest of anyone, least of all the populations of Abkhazia,” – writes Klaar, expressing hope that the restrictions are temporary, and will soon be overcome. The de facto authorities of the occupied region have lashed out at international actors working in the region, in particular the US Agency for International Development (USAID), on several occasions over the past year. The de-facto top diplomat of occupied Abkhazia’s Inal Ardziba announced in November last year that international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that view Abkhazia as an occupied territory will soon be banned from entering the region, in accordance with a so-called “presidential decree” to be issued “soon” “that will introduce changes in the regulation of the activities of international non-governmental organizations” in the occupied region.  

The US sees Georgia as a critical security partner for the Black Sea, James O’Brien says

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, US Department of State James O’Brien, speaking at the German Marshall Fund event Europe Whole and Free: Priorities for 2024 on January 25. James O’Brien that the US sees Georgia as a “critical security partner for the Black Sea”. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, US Department of State, spoke about the importance of the upcoming 2024 parliamentary elections. He also praised the Georgian government for its efforts to prevent sanctions’ circumvention. “In Georgia, you have got these very important parliamentary elections this year and we strongly supported international election observer mission. We’re going to be working with that mission, and with really vibrant civil society in Georgia to see that election goes well, because what we know is [that] more than 85% of Georgians continually say what they want is reform and entry into the EU. That’s what we have to stand with.” He also noted that the Georgian government has “really put in an effort at reform measures, particularly over the last months and we appreciate what they’ve done,” James O’Brien said. O’Brien added: “We appreciate what they’ve done on avoiding sanctions’ circumvention by restricting a lot of measures. I think there’s room to have to have a lot of optimism that Georgia will be a key contributor in that environment.“ Speaking about Georgia’s role in the region and in the security context of the Black Sea, the Assistant Secretary of State stressed that the Black Sea “is managing even more of the global trade, critical minerals, grain, all kinds of items.” He predicted that the “Black Sea will end up with LNG connections between Geo and Romania, a number of undersea cables for electricity, communications and so on…” Stressing that the density of economic engagement is expected to increase in the Black Sea he added: “We need to make sure that’s protected and that the rules of engagement across that wide range of countries are pretty clear to everyone, including to Russia.” Assistant Secretary O’Brien spoke about global challenges, Euro-Atlantic relations, Russia’s war in Ukraine, technological development and other issues. He devoted a large part of his speech to developments regarding the EU membership prospects of the most recent candidate countries. In particular, he stressed that “over the last decade, there have been a number of states that may have been on a path to Europe but not a clear prospect of moving toward it, and there were other states that were sort of half between Russia and the US, and that goes from the shores of the Caspian and even Central Asia all the way through to the Adriatic.” Calling this state of affairs “a serious problem” he said that “this grey space allows politicians to flourish who love to be just outside of the rules.” O’Brien stressed that it is necessary to “change their political incentives” and welcomed in this context “the EU’s decision to begin accession talks with nine countries.” He said the US “strongly support this” and is “linking the instruments we have in support of reforms needed for all these states and to find the future as part of the single market and the EU.”

NATO marks the start of Exercise Steadfast Defender 2024

Exercise Steadfast Defender 24, NATO’s largest exercise in decades, began on Wednesday, January 24, 2024 as the dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) departed Norfolk, Virginia, United States and following a series of operations will commence her transit across the Atlantic. The departure of USS Gunston Hall marks the first tactical movement of Steadfast Defender 24. His Majesty’s Canadian Ship Charlottetown, will depart Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada for Europe later this month. “The Alliance will demonstrate its ability to reinforce the Euro-Atlantic area via trans-Atlantic movement of forces from North America“ Planned over the course of several years, Steadfast Defender 24 will highlight NATO’s ability to deploy forces rapidly from North America and other parts of the Alliance to reinforce the defence of Europe. “The Alliance will demonstrate its ability to reinforce the Euro-Atlantic area via trans-Atlantic movement of forces from North America,” said General Christopher Cavoli, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). “Steadfast Defender 2024 will be a clear demonstration of our unity, strength, and determination to protect each other, our values and the rules-based international order.” Steadfast Defender 24 will take place in several locations, with associated exercises running until May 31, 2024. It will be the first large scale NATO exercise where new defence plans will be put into action. It will show that NATO can conduct and sustain complex multi-domain operations over several months, across thousands of kilometres, from the High North to Central and Eastern Europe, and in any conditions.  

Georgia’s human rights record remained uneven in 2023, Human Rights Watch says

World Report 2024 Our annual review of human rights around the globe Georgia’s human rights record remained uneven in 2023. Tensions over the government’s implementation of the 12 priorities set by the European Union for Georgia’s EU candidacy—which include important human rights benchmarks—dominated political developments. Authorities attempted to adopt “foreign agent” legislation that would have undermined freedom of expression. Lack of accountability for law enforcement abuses, especially related to freedom of assembly, persisted. Other human rights concerns included restrictions and attacks on media freedom as well as unfair labor conditions. The National Human Rights Strategy failed to include the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In November, the European Commission recommended Georgia be granted EU candidate country status “on the understanding” that it would undertake further reforms. Freedoms of Association and Expression In February, a faction from the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) parliamentary majority initiated two versions of a controversial bill: one requiring nongovernmental groups and media that receive 20 percent or more of their annual revenue from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence”; the other imposing similar requirements on individuals. Failure to comply would have resulted in harsh penalties, including criminal prosecution. The bills drew widespread criticism from the Public Defender’s Office (PDO), Georgian civil society, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the EU, and others. While the authorities claimed that they intended the bills to boost funding transparency, their public statements suggested that they intended to stigmatize and penalize independent groups, media, and critical voices. On March 7, despite overwhelming public opposition, GD hastily passed one of the bills on the first reading. After two days of massive protests, GD withdrew the bill, citing their failure to explain it to the public. The government’s hostile rhetoric toward civil society organizations persisted throughout the year, particularly targeting watchdog groups. The UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders, after an official country visit, expressed concern about “systematic efforts to undermine human rights defenders,” including government smear campaigns against civil society members on social media. In September, the State Security Service launched an investigation into an alleged “plot” funded by the US development agency (USAID) to recruit activists to foment civil unrest and overthrow the Georgian government. The US embassy flatly denied the allegations. At time of writing, the Georgian security services had questioned a dozen activists, making them sign non-disclosure statements to prevent them from discussing the case publicly. Law Enforcement Abuses and Lack of Accountability The PDO and civil society organizations reported several instances of excessive use of police force and unlawful state interference with freedom of assembly in 2023. Riot police used water cannons and massive amounts of tear gas to disperse thousands of peaceful demonstrators who spontaneously gathered to protest the “foreign agents” bill. The PDO said these measures were disproportionate and unnecessary. The Special Investigation Service (SIS), which investigates instances of abuse of office, launched an investigation into police conduct during the protests after receiving 124 complaints about abuse. The investigation was pending at time of writing. Georgian rights groups criticized the persistent problem of police use of administrative charges to detain peaceful protest participants. Court rulings on administrative offenses are often based solely on the testimonies of police officers and disregard fair trial norms. In June, police detained several activists, including members of prominent human rights groups, on charges of petty hooliganism and disobeying police order for holding banners that intentionally distorted the first name of the prime minister, blank posters, and a copy of the constitution. After 48 hours, police released them. In September, courts fined them for petty hooliganism and disobeying police. In July, police detained about 20 participants of an anti-war protest against a Russian cruise ship in Batumi. In August, the SIS began investigating alleged physical and verbal abuse by the police during these detentions. The investigations were pending at time of writing. In October, the GD rushed through amendments to the law on rallies and demonstrations, granting police broad discretion to disband or detain protesters who try to erect non-permanent “structures,” such as tents and stages. Failure to comply would result in a 500 Georgian lari (GEL) (about US$190) fine or up to 15 days’ detention. From January to October, the SIS received 1,775 complaints of alleged abuses by law enforcement and launched criminal investigations into 178 cases. Over the same period, the PDO received 72 complaints of alleged ill-treatment by law enforcement. Attacks on Journalists and the Media Numerous threats and attacks targeted media professionals. By October, the SIS had received 37 complaints and launched 12 investigations into unlawful interference with journalistic activities. In June, an assailant beat Misha Mshvildadze, a Formula TV co-founder and host. The assailant later claimed in his social media post that the attack was in response to Mshvildadze’s criticism of the Georgian Patriarchate. Police arrested the perpetrator, and in September, the SIS closed any further investigation, referring the case to court. In October, a court sentenced the perpetrator to 6 months in prison. Mshvildadze raised concerns about the SIS investigation, saying it failed to properly examine CCTV video footage that allegedly placed a Security Service employee at the attack site, indicating potential state involvement. In February, the parliament passed new, restrictive regulations on media accreditation, which, among other things, allow the authorities to ban journalists from parliament for asking members of parliament (MPs) questions after they refuse to be interviewed. Officials cited alleged harassment of MPs by the media to justify the amendments. The PDO criticized the rules for restricting media freedom and lacking an effective appeals mechanism. After the rule’s adoption, parliament suspended the accreditation of nine journalists and cameramen from leading critical media outlets. The journalists claimed this was due to their critical questions. In June, the president of Georgia pardoned Nika Gvaramia, director of Mtavari Arkhi TV, a leading critical television channel. The pardon followed a June Supreme Court decision upholding Gvaramia’s highly contested criminal conviction for abuse of office charges over managerial decisions he made while leading another private TV company. In October, parliament rapidly adopted controversial amendments expanding the power of the Georgian National Communications Commission to penalize broadcast content allegedly containing obscenity, incitement to hatred, or terrorism. The amendments empowered the commission to impose sanctions, including hefty fines and suspension of an outlet’s broadcasting authorization. Previously, the commission could take such action only in response to complaints. Georgian rights groups condemned the amendments as posing serious risks of censorship and arbitrary interference with the work of broadcasters who criticize the authorities, due in part to the commission’s low level of independence. Labor Rights Despite some legislative improvements, labor rights remain a concern. Overtime regulations are weak, wage theft is common, social protections are minimal, and unions lack legal guarantees that would allow them to effectively bargain for systemic changes. There were numerous protests and strikes in 2023 by metro workers, app-based workers, video journalists, doctors, culture workers, factory workers, construction workers, and miners. They called for better pay, improved working conditions, and the enforcement of existing labor laws and collective bargaining agreements. Georgia’s Labor Inspectorate regained its full mandate to enforce both labor and safety rights in 2021, but its effectiveness has been hampered by a lack of resources, limited public trust, and a failure to conduct systemic preventative inspections. In April 2023, the inspectorate began redacting employers’ names from its public inspection reports, effectively shielding rights-abusing employers from public scrutiny. In August, it reverted to disclosing names after engaging with civil society. The government has largely abandoned wage regulation. The monthly minimum wage has been 20 GEL (about US$7) since 1999 and is 12 times lower than the subsistence minimum and 88.5 times lower than the estimated living wage of 1,770 GEL (about US$660). In a positive development, the government instituted an increased minimum wage for healthcare workers in clinics that participate in the state’s universal healthcare program. Workplace safety remains problematic. Construction remains the most dangerous sector for workers. Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Gender Equality The Tbilisi Pride Festival, planned for July 8, was abruptly canceled after far right-wing hate groups violently stormed the venue. They looted and vandalized festival property in the presence of police and journalists. Although hate groups had called for anti-LGBT protests at the festival ahead of time, authorities failed to stop violent groups from entering the venue. The authorities launched an investigation but did not arrest anyone in connection with the attack. Tbilisi Pride organizers’ request for victim’s status in the investigation was pending at time of writing. The 2023-2030 National Human Rights Strategy adopted in March does not mention the rights of LGBT people, in contrast to the previous strategy. Following criticism from Georgian groups and international partners, the government’s Human Rights Secretariat promised to cover missing topics in the strategy’s action plan. In December 2022, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Georgia for failing to allow transgender individuals to change the gender marker on their official documents without undergoing medical sex reassignment procedures. The State Concept on Gender Equality, adopted in December 2022, fails to embrace the concept of gender in all its diversity, thereby not recognizing the rights of all women. During parliamentary review, members dropped language addressing the needs and priorities of LGBT individuals. Georgia has not ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Violence and Harassment Convention (C190), which establishes international legal standards for preventing and responding to violence and harassment, including gender-based violence, at work. Key International Actors In November, the European Commission published its “Enlargement Report” on Georgia, marking as fulfilled 3 of 12 reform priorities: progress on gender equality and gender-based violence, Georgian courts’ proactive consideration of European Court of Human Rights judgments, and the nomination of an independent public defender. The Commission recommended Georgia be granted EU candidate country status “on the understanding” that Georgia would address the remaining priorities, including to guarantee a free and pluralistic media environment, strengthen rights protections for “vulnerable groups,” and involve civil society in decision-making processes at all levels. The European Commission also highlighted that Georgia is expected to considerably increase its alignment with EU foreign policy. At time of writing, the final decision by EU member states on whether to grant Georgia candidate status was pending and expected in December 2023. In a February 2023 resolution, the European Parliament expressed “grave concern” about the deteriorating health of imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili, calling for his release and access to “proper medical treatment” abroad. A number of embassies and international partners condemned the attack on Tbilisi Pride in July. In its March concluding observations, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women urged the government to ensure that all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls, including domestic and sexual violence, are effectively investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted. It also criticized the government for slow progress on amending legislation to adopt a definition of rape based on lack of consent in line with the Istanbul Convention, rather than on the use of violence or threat of violence. In its April concluding observations, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities welcomed legislative and policy progress made by Georgia but criticized the “prevalence of the medical approach to disability” in the country’s disability assessment system. It called on Georgia to adopt a comprehensive strategy and national action plan to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In October, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture visited Georgia. While noting “significant progress,” the subcommittee called, inter alia, for additional measures to reduce the prison population and strengthen rehabilitation programs. In April, the US State Department sanctioned four Georgian judges for “their involvement in significant corruption,” banning them and their immediate families from entering the United States.  

NATO-Ukraine Council meets, Allies pledge further air defences

The NATO-Ukraine Council met on Wednesday (10 January 2024) following recent waves of heavy Russian airstrikes against Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure. Allies strongly condemned the escalation in Russian air strikes on Ukraine, as well as Russia's use of ballistic missiles sourced from North Korea and drones from Iran. Allies have already delivered a vast array of air defence systems to Ukraine and today they reaffirmed their commitment to further bolster Ukraine’s defences. Through NATO, Allies are buying up to 1,000 Patriot air defence missiles to replenish their stockpiles as they continue to bolster Ukraine’s air defences. Germany recently delivered Patriot and Skynex air defence systems and additional missiles for IRIS-T air defences to Ukraine, and the United Kingdom is sending around 200 air defence missiles to Ukraine. Today, Allies made clear that they will continue to provide Ukraine with major military, economic, and humanitarian assistance, and many Allies outlined plans to provide billions of euros of further capabilities in 2024.   Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “NATO strongly condemns Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian civilians, including with weapons from North Korea and Iran. For a second year in a row, Putin is trying to wear down Ukraine with mass strikes, but he will not succeed. Russia’s campaign of cruelty only strengthens Ukraine’s resolve. As Moscow intensifies its strikes on Ukrainian cities and civilians, NATO Allies are boosting Ukraine’s air defences. We will continue to stand by the brave Ukrainians as they push back against Russia’s war of aggression.” Wednesday’s meeting was held at ambassadorial level and was convened at Ukraine’s request. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg chaired the Council. NATO ambassadors and invitee Sweden were briefed by videoconference by Lieutenant General Mykola Oleshchuk, the Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, and Deputy Interior Minister Oleksii Serhieiev. The NATO-Ukraine Council was created at the NATO Summit in July 2023 and serves as a forum for joint consultations, decision-making and activities between NATO and Ukraine.  

Sweden will provide nearly $6 million in defense aid to Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova

The Swedish government will provide 50 million krona ($4.86 million) in military aid to Ukraine and 5 million krona ($490,000) each to Moldova and Georgia. According to the information, the aid is provided through various NATO funds: "These funds will be used for demining, crisis management, cyber security, education, and other issues." Europetime was informed by the Swedish Embassy that „the decision was announced at the annual conference on national and international security issues, “Folk och Försvar.” The funds will be used for projects in areas such as crisis management, cybersecurity, and intelligence sharing. The aid is donated to Georgia within the framework of the NATO Fund Substantial NATO-Georgia Package.

Occupied Abkazia Transfers Bichvinta Dacha to Russia

Abkhazia's de facto parliament has ratified a controversial “agreement“ with Moscow under which a state resort in the breakaway Georgian territory will be transferred to Russia. The deal made in January 2022 calls for the Bichvinta country house to be handed over to Russia, leading to outcry from opposition groups who have been protesting in front of the parliament building and on December 27 called the ratification of the “agreement“ "shameful." The de -facto President of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania signed the ratification “document“ already, at 9 a.m. It was first decided in 1995 that Bichvinta would be transferred to Russia through a long-term lease, although no practical steps have been taken since then. Russia has stepped up its efforts to finalize the deal, with the text of a new “agreement“ to transfer the land for 49 years emerging on January 19, 2022, which was ratified today. The issue has been a hot topic of discussion in Abkhazia ever since, with both the public and officials divided on the matter. In May this year, young activists were arrested while protesting against the transfer.