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Policy Brief on Capitol Hill – “NATO’s Stance on Russia – Vision or Reaction?”

On April 19, 2016, the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) comprised of a number of diaspora organizations including the Georgian Association in the USA, hosted a Policy Brief on Capitol Hill entitled “NATO’s Stance on Russia – Vision or Reaction?”.  Speakers included Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter, Former Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker, Senior Staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Damian Murphy and, the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) of the Lithuanian Embassy in the US Mindaugas Zichkus. The meeting was opened by Marju Rink-Abel of the Estonian-American National Council and moderated by Mamuka Tsereteli, Georgian Association in the USA.

Key points raised by the speakers included:

  • NATO is not a threat to any country, it is a defensive security organization;
  • NATO members should push back on Russia to counter misinformation and propaganda about NATO’s intentions; NATO honors all agreements that it has with Russia;
  • The “Open Door Policy” should remain intact and qualified members should be invited to join;
  • European members of NATO need to increase their defense budgets to reach their NATO membership obligations;
  • NATO needs to support an international brigade committed to the defense of Poland and Baltic states;
  • NATO should focus more effort to ensure Russia honors Minsk agreements.
  • NATO should remain firm and resist Russian attempts to re-design the current security architecture in Europe that would position Russia to limit sovereignty of other countries in choosing their military or economic alliances and partnerships.

Discussions were followed by a reception, with brief comments provided by the Ambassadors of Ukraine and Montenegro, the Georgian DCM and, a representative of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Mr. Michael Sawkiw.

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Georgian Association welcomes Latvian Foreign Minister’s remarks

The Georgian Association in the United States welcomes the recent remarks by the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs who met with Tinatin Khidasheli, the Defence Minister of Georgia on April 16 in Bratislava. The Latvian Foreign Minister expressed full support for visa-free travel for Georgian citizens to the Schengen Area as well as Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO. He noted that no third country has a right to veto NATO’s open door policy. Both ministers pledged to continue active cooperation in the defense sector.

 

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Georgian Association calls for active support of draft House Resolution, supporting territorial integrity of Georgia!

Dear Friends,

The Georgian Association in the United States welcomes the draft House Resolution H.Res.660 – Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives to support the territorial integrity of Georgia, sponsored by the co-chairs of the Georgia Caucus Representatives Poe (R, Texas), and Connolly (D, Virginia).  The resolution condemns the military intervention and occupation of Georgia by the Russian Federation and its continuous illegal activities along the occupation line in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, and calls upon the Russian Federation to withdraw its recognition of Georgia’s territories of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia as independent countries, to refrain from acts and policies that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, and to take steps to fulfill all the terms and conditions of the August 12, 2008, Ceasefire Agreement between Georgia and the Russian Federation;

To pass the resolution, representatives Poe and Connolly  need the strong support of their colleagues from House of Representatives. Therefore, the Georgian Association is announcing the week of April 18 as a week of advocacy for Georgian territorial integrity, sovereignty and security.

If you wish to show support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and security of Georgia, and to support resolution H.Res.660, please contact your representatives and encourage them to back the resolution. Visiting the local offices of your representatives is highly recommended. The website of the House of Representatives http://www.house.gov/representatives/  can be helpful in finding your representative and their contact information. You can also call offices of members of Congress in Washington. Below are simple calling instructions for your reference:

  1. Dial the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. The directory for the members of the House of Representatives is the second option.
  2. A switchboard operator will connect you directly with the member’s office you request.
  3. When the person answers, simply say “Hello, my name is________, I live in_________(name your city), and I would like member of Congress ________ to support and co-sponsor the Poe-Connelly Resolution number H.Res.660 supporting territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.”
  4.    Often, the congressional office will ask for your name and address so the member may acknowledge your call by writing you a letter.  Do not worry that you will be asked to justify or explain the policy behind your phone call.
Eliso Kvitashvili

Miss Elisabeth “Elisso” Kvitashvili – newly elected President of Georgian Association in the USA!

The Georgian Association of America is pleased to announce the election of its new president, Miss Elisabeth “Elisso” Kvitashvili, effective immediately.

Ms. Kvitashvili follows long time president Mr. Mamuka Tsereteli who continues as an active member of the Board of Directors and Treasurer. Ms. Kvitashvili recently retired from United States Government service where she was a member of the Senior Foreign Service and served overseas including in Georgia. She is a first-generation Georgian American whose father, Merab Kvitashvili, is a revered Georgian patriot. She is married with two children.

Here is a more detailed biography:

Elisabeth Kvitashvili recently served as the Mission Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives before retiring with 36 years of service in Ocrober, 2016. Prior to Sri Lanka she served as Deputy Assistant Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Middle East with oversight of the Iraq, Jordan and Yemen portfolios. Before joining the Middle East Bureau, she was in Rome, where she served as Humanitarian Affairs Counselor to the U.S. Ambassador, USUN-Rome. Prior to her arrival in Rome, she served as USAID Acting Mission Director in Russia. From 2007-2009 she served as Deputy Assistant Administrator, in the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, United States Agency for International Development. She is a career Senior Foreign Service officer with tours in Afghanistan, Russia, Honduras and Italy (Rome) and shortened tours in Pakistan and Bosnia.

She served in Afghanistan, 2002-2003, where she was head of the USAID reconstruction program and Acting Mission Director. In the mid-1980’s she was based in Peshawar, Pakistan where she designed the USAID Cross Border Humanitarian Assistance Program for Afghanistan. During 1997-1998, she traveled for USAID throughout Afghanistan undertaking humanitarian assessments with the UN. She has also spent significant field time in the North and South Caucasus, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bosnia, Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, Ethiopia and Eritrea working primarily on humanitarian and conflict-related programs. She previously served 3 years as the director of the Disaster Response and Mitigation Division in the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance where she led a number of DARTs and one year in the Office of Transition Initiatives as a senior program officer.

In 2003, she launched USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) serving as director until 2007. While Director of CMM, she led the development of a conflict assessment framework now in use throughout the USG as well as the Fragile States Strategy. She worked with General Petraeus’ staff in the drafting of the US military’s Counterinsurgency Manual and frequently addressed audiences about the nexus of COIN and development. She has authored several pieces on the subject.

She holds a master’s degree in Near East Studies from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies and a diploma in international relations from Paris University School of Political Science. She is fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and Russian. She serves as adjunct professor at the Georgetown University where she teaches a graduate-level course on conflict and food security. She is married and has two children.

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CEEC statement on Ukraine

Below is a copy of the statement. View the original statement on the CEEC website.

Central and East European Coalition Statement on Ukraine and Call for Further Action

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) joins the United States government in condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its illegal annexation of Crimea. The CEEC, comprised of 18 national organizations representing more than 20 million Americans of Central and Eastern Europe heritage, fully supports Ukraine’s aspirations for a democratic society living in peace and security with its neighbors.

To date, the sanctions imposed by the United States have been insufficient to stop Russia’s further aggression into Ukraine. Indeed, it appears that the security and stability of the entire Central and East European region is at stake unless further immediate action is taken by the United States, NATO, and the European Union.

The CEEC therefore calls upon the United States government to do, and work with its allies to implement, the following:

  • Support a major OSCE and UN peacekeeping mission (both civilian and military) to Eastern and Southern Ukraine to monitor the situation on the ground and deter provocations that may lead to Russian military intervention;
  • Share relevant intelligence with the Ukrainian government in real time;
  • Hold immediate joint NATO exercises in Ukraine and in bordering NATO ally countries such as Poland and the Baltic states;
  • Support the establishment of permanent NATO bases in these front-line countries to assure their security. Bases currently used by NATO for training and supply purposes in Central Europe should be made permanent and re-focused to territorial defense;
  • Direct U.S. Navy ships to accept friendly invitations to visit Ukrainian ports;
  • Provide Ukraine with Major Non-NATO Ally Status, thus conferring a variety of military and financial advantages and privileges that are otherwise not available to non-NATO countries, including the delivery of vital weapons;
  • Extend immediate NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and other countries in the region to solidify Euro-Atlantic structures;
  • Increase U.S. assistance to Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, and Belarus to maintain their independence;
  • Provide assistance to Ukraine to facilitate its continuing transition to a democratic and tolerant society that fully respects fundamental freedoms and the rights of all minority communities, the latter thereby also dispelling a pretext for Russian aggression;
  • Support Ukraine’s full integration into Western structures by accelerating Ukraine’s accession into NATO and the European Union

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  • Take action on President Obama’s Executive Order expanding economic sanctions on Russia to include not only individuals within Putin’s inner circle, but major sectors of Russia’s economy; provide assistance to minimize the impact of economic sanctions on countries bordering Russia; work with major U.S. companies to curtail their business dealings with Russia;
  • Follow through to provide increased funding authorized by the Ukraine Support Act, signed by President Obama into law on April 3, for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Voice of America to expand their broadcasting in Russian, Ukrainian, and Tatar;
  • Increase funding for people to people programs with Russia and its neighboring countries in both student and professional sectors;

Bolster U.S. financial support for Ukraine by supporting a 21st century Marshall Plan aimed at stabilizing and strengthening trans-Atlantic and regional security.

By implementing the above recommendations, we will build on the laudable steps already taken by President Obama and help ensure the safety and security of not only Ukraine, but the entire Central and East European region.ges, and other content.

 

Discovering Georgian Cinema, Part I: A Family Affair

The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive joins forces with The Museum of Modern Art’s moma-imgDepartment of Film to present the largest-ever retrospective of Georgian cinema in the United States. This passion project, undertaken by successive curatorial staffs at the two organizations over more than 20 years, brings together 45 programs in prints sourced from multiple archives throughout Europe, the U.S., and the republics of Georgia and Russia encompassing the history of Georgian film production from 1907 to 2014. The exhibition traces the development of Georgian cinema from classics of the silent era to great achievements of the early sound and Soviet era, through the flourishing 1980s and the post-Soviet period to today.

Throughout the turbulent history of the last century, Georgian cinema has been an important wellspring for national identity, a celebration of the spirit, resilience, and humor of the Georgian people. These filmmakers, working across a broad range of styles and thematic concerns, have created everything from anti-bureaucratic satires of the Soviet system, to philosophical studies rooted in a humanist tradition, to lyrical, poetic depictions of the region’s spectacular landscape.

Part I of the retrospective focuses on one of the particularities of the Georgian cinema: the remarkable lines of familial relationships that weave through and connect its cinematic production from the 1920s to the present, where we find several third-generation filmmakers active. Part II, Blue Mountains and Beyond, runs November 22 though December 21, 2014.

Film notes are adapted from research and writing by the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Film titles are listed with English translations first, followed by Georgian and, where applicable, Russian.

Click here to view screening times and more information

Gavel, with defocussed law books behind.

The Georgian Association in the USA issues a statement concerning Russia’s Annexation of Crimea

Below is a transcription of the statement. View a copy of the actual statement here.

Statement of the Georgian Association in the United States of America

The Georgian Association in the United States of America, the oldest organization representing the Georgian-American community, condemns Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the strongest terms and fully supports the government of Ukraine in declaring the March 16th referendum on Crimea’s independence illegal. The Association calls on the US Government to undertake all possible steps to protect the fundamental principles of international law, based on sovereignty and the territorial integrity of nation-states.

The Association calls on the Obama administration to ensure security guarantees for Georgia and to advocate forcefully for Georgia’s accession into NATO. Granting Georgia the Membership Action Plan (MAP), which it has earned by meeting strict NATO requirements, is a more effective way to impose a real political cost on Moscow for its illegal and politically destabilizing activities, while demonstrating to Ukraine and other countries that the hard work of reform pays off.

Economic sanctions and a travel ban against individual members of the Russian political and military leadership alone are unlikely to convince Russia to withdraw its military from Crimea and to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine for several reasons.

First, it is highly unlikely that sanctions alone will persuade President Putin to relinquish Crimea or to allow Ukraine out of Russia’s political orbit. The Kremlin’s desire to keep its immediate neighbors within its sphere of influence trump any economic interests that may be damaged by sanctions.

Second, based on their experience in 2008, President Putin and his circle are convinced that Russia can wait out sanctions. They expect Europe to cave in due to its dependence on Russian gas and the damaging economic losses that will result from tit-for-tat sanctions. Whether this belief is accurate is immaterial; what matters is that Putin and his inner circle perceive it to be true and will base their actions on this perception. Relying on economic sanctions will not yield their intended political effect, especially given the autocratic nature of the Russian government and its insensitivity to domestic pressures.

Offering NATO membership to Georgia is a proper strategic response. NATO membership, in concert with the EU’s Eastern Partnership program, extends stability and prosperity to qualified countries, and serves the interests of the United States. The alternative is a Russian model of confrontation, dismemberment of neighboring states, instability and corrupt governance,

In order to extend NATO membership to Georgia, the US government should open immediate dialogue with its NATO partners, Germany and Turkey, as well as with the UK, which is the host nation of the next summit, to push Georgia’s MAP forward at an accelerated pace.

Given Georgia’s significant contributions to US-led military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, its strategic location and its success in becoming a stable and democratic state, the Association calls on the US government to immediately begin negotiations with its NATO allies to ensure the rapid promotion of Georgia’s NATO membership.

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The Georgian Association in the USA issues a statement concerning the mounting Russian government pressure on its neighbors

Below is a transcription of the statement. View a copy of the actual statement here.

Statement of the Georgian Association in the United States of America

The Georgian Association in the United States of America, the oldest organization representing the Georgian-American community, is deeply concerned about mounting Russian pressure on its neighbors, primarily on states which are trying to pursue an independent foreign policy and are aiming at European integration. In the last several weeks under Russian pressure, Armenia and Ukraine reversed their decision to sign documents with the European Union on Association, and on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements. Unfortunately, Russia prevailed over the EU.

On 17 September 2013, Russian occupation forces in the Tskhinvali region of Georgia (South Ossetia) began erecting barbed-wire fencing along administrative borders, separating the region from the rest of Georgia and dividing villages and their communities. The Georgian Association believes this not only undermines Georgia’s independence and sovereignty, but also runs counter to US foreign policy interests in the region.

Since achieving independence more than two decades ago, Georgia has shown its support for Western ideals and has pursued integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. On October 27, 2013, Georgia held its sixth presidential election, which was praised by all election observers as organized, fair, and transparent, and which finalized the peaceful transfer of power to the political opposition. At the end of November 2013, Georgia is expected to initial an Association Agreement with the European Union at the EU’s third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. This event will draw Georgia one step closer to integration into European structures.

The government of the Russian Federation sees Georgia’s attempts to integrate with the EU and NATO as a threat, and is placing many obstacles in Georgia’s path. Russian strategy is to destabilize Georgia through the occupation of the two break-away regions of Abkhazeti (Abkhazia) and Tskhinvali Region (South Ossetia).

Russia’s aggressive behavior toward Georgia flies in the face of accepted norms of international behavior, and runs counter to US strategic interests for a number of reasons. First, Georgia is a firm ally of the United States, contributing, per capita, one of the highest troop levels to US-led military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, Georgia is a key transit country and indispensable element of the energy and transportation corridor that connects Europe with Central Asia and China. Finally, as one of only a handful of countries in the region with truly competitive democratic processes, Georgia preserves and promotes Western values in a volatile region of geostrategic importance.

Given the importance of Georgia’s territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty to US strategic interests in the region, we urge your administration to undertake the following steps:

  • – The White House should issue a statement on the occasion of the EU’s third Eastern Partnership Summit, which reaffirms US support for Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, and its right to pursue independent foreign policy decisions.
  • – The United States should redouble its efforts through diplomatic channels to end the Russian military occupation of internationally recognized Georgian territory, to stop the construction of physical barriers and demolish already constructed ones to allow free movement of Abkhazian, Ossetian, Georgian and other citizens of Georgia through the administrative borders between Georgia and the occupied territories.
  • – The United States should start diplomatic efforts in preparation for the NATO summit of 2014 to recognize Georgia’s progress in military reforms, as well as Georgia’s military contribution to the international security forces, and to issue NATO’s membership action plan for Georgia.
  • – The United States Government should plan multiple visits of high level delegations from the US government throughout 2014 to send a strong signal of high level engagement with Georgia and its partner countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Georgian Association is open for collaboration with the United States Government in its effort to support all the above mentioned efforts.

Board of Directors of the Georgian Association in the USA

 

Svaneti

Open Letter from the Central and East European Coalition to the President of the United States

The CEEC expresses concern over the Russian Government’s pressure on its neighbors on the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit of the EU to be held in Vilnius on November 27-28, 2013. Below is a transcription of the letter.

Dear Mr. President:

The Central and East European Coalition (CEEC), a coalition of diaspora groups representing more than twenty million Armenian, Belarusan, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Georgian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak and Ukrainian Americans, is gravely concerned over Russian government pressure on its neighbors on the eve of the Eastern Partnership Summit of the European Union, to be held in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on November 27-28, 2013. At stake is the country of Ukraine, which will be afforded an opportunity to sign an Association Agreement (AA) on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, while it is anticipated that other countries such as Georgia, Armenia, and Moldova are planning to initial the agreement, in anticipation of final approval by next year.

Unfortunately, the Russian Federation sees the process of Euro-integration of these countries as a threat to its national interests. Russian officials are on record expressing their discontent and have threatened economic ramifications should such agreements be reached. As an alternative to the European Union, the Russian government has initiated the Eurasian Customs Union and is trying to persuade countries on its borders to become members. The current membership in the Customs Union includes Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. More recently, it was announced that Armenia would join the Customs Union.

As the date of the Vilnius Summit approaches, pressure continues to mount from the Russian Federation upon those countries vying for European integration. Such pressure has evolved in many forms, in particular: a ban on certain Moldovan and Ukrainian imports into the Russian market; the borderization and creeping annexation of the territories of Georgia occupied by Russian military forces since 2008, among other actions. Russia recently concluded a very aggressive Zapad-13 military exercise in the Kaliningrad region, continuing a pattern of war games simulating threats to NATO members in the region, in this case Poland and the Baltic states. The Russian Federation is advancing its tactics on other states, particularly on Ukraine, a strategic partner of the United States and a keystone to stability and security in Europe.

While the United States is not a member of the European Union, U.S. diplomatic efforts to reinforce democratic processes and defend our national interests cannot be underestimated. In December 2012, Secretary Clinton mentioned, in her final speech as Secretary of State, the imminent threat of Russia’s undue influence in the region. “There is a move to re-Sovietize the region,” she stated. “It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called a customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that. But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.” Several European leaders and officials within the European Commission have also expressed their concern over these recent developments.

Mr. President, efforts by the United States should help to relieve the strain being placed on Russia’s western-oriented neighbors. To do so, we propose several policy recommendations that would strengthen democratic institutions in the region:

1) Issue a White House statement emphasizing the importance of U.S. strategic interests in Central and Eastern Europe and independent nations making their own future decisions;
2) Utilize diplomatic channels by the U.S. government to raise concerns about the encroachment of Russian territorial interests in the region, especially with respect to Georgia;
3) Strengthen our resolve with nations within NATO who have been threatened by Russia — e.g., Estonia with cyber intrusions — and thus may experience similar Russian manipulation after the Eastern Partnership Summit in November; and, 4) Meet with CEEC members at the White House to show a public sign of support for the region.
We hope that you agree on the importance of these issues and will take steps to underscore U.S. support for the countries wishing to align themselves with the EU. We look forward to the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss these issues.

View a copy of the actual letter here.

Svaneti 2

The Georgian Association expresses concern over Georgia-related statement in H.R. 1960: NDAA

On June 14, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 1960 National Defense Authorization Act, which contains a statement in Section 1244 related to Georgia. The section expresses general support to Georgia, and then heavily focuses on internal political developments in Georgia. Part (b) (3) of the statement reads: “The measures taken by the Georgian Government against former officials and political opponents, apparently in part motivated by political considerations, may have a significant negative impact on cooperation between the United States and Georgia, including efforts to build a stronger relationship in political, economic, and security matters, as well as progress on integrating Georgia into international organizations.” The statement ends with condolences to the Georgian people for the death in Afghanistan of ten Georgian soldiers, serving in ISAF operations, as a result of two separate bombings.

The Georgian Association expresses deep concern over this statement in the NDAA. Attaching this language to the NDAA is damaging to the US-Georgia strategic partnership, which is built upon trust, respect and institutional integrity. The timing of this statement against the backdrop of the significant losses of Georgian troops in Afghanistan is particularly insensitive.

The United States Congress should express its position towards internal developments in Georgia, using appropriate committees in both chambers of Congress, as well as the bipartisan Helsinki Committee. This particular position, however, should be based on a thorough investigation of the realities on the ground.

Linking Georgia’s internal politics to the issue of US-Georgian strategic and military cooperation only strengthens Russian hegemony in the region, while simultaneously undermining US influence. We encourage members of the US Congress to use strong language on enhancing defense cooperation with Georgia previously included in the draft NDAA bill, adopted by House Armed Service Committee on June 7 in a 59-2 vote.

The Georgian Association in the United States calls on its members to contact members of Congress to advocate for a bill that serves both the US-Georgia partnership and the interests of the United States in a geopolitically important region.

The Board of Directors Georgian Association in the USA