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Mass Protests Erupt in Response to Draft Law as Georgian PM Condemns U.S. Criticism

Georgian protesters (Credits: WVNS)

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze has launched a scathing attack on one of his nation’s biggest backers, the United States, accusing it of making “false” statements over the controversial “foreign agent” law being pushed through parliament.

In a tweet on May 3, Kobakhidze also accused the former U.S. ambassador to Georgia, Kelly Degnan, and foreign-funded NGOs of supporting two attempted revolutions. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kobakhidze’s outburst comes as the United States has stood up for Georgian independence and territorial integrity since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, allocating over $6 billion in aid to support small businesses, diversify the economy, strengthen the rule of law, and democracy. The U.S. has also fervently backed Georgia’s integration into Western institutions, including the EU.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze (Credits: TVC News)

However, William Courtney, the U.S. ambassador to Georgia from 1995-97, believes that the ruling party, Georgian Dream, founded by a billionaire who made his money in Russia, is straining Tbilisi’s relations with the United States and the West.

“Georgian Dream is trying to make Georgia a Russian satellite like Belarus,” he said. Kobakhidze has been and seems to remain one of the most ardent Georgian proponents of an autocratic future for the country.”

Courtney views Kobakhidze’s accusation against Degnan and NGOs as a tactic employed by authoritarian leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Kobakhidze’s tweet followed talks with Derek Chollet, the State Department’s policy adviser, on May 2.

The United States and the EU have been calling on Georgia to withdraw its “foreign agent” law, which mimics repressive legislation pushed through by Putin.

The law requires civil-society organizations and media outlets receiving foreign funding to report to local authorities and submit to oversight that could encompass sanctions for undefined criminal offenses. The debate over the bill comes ahead of elections in October, and its passage could stall further progress on EU accession.

Irakli Kobakhidze (Credits: Reuters)

Nicholas Lokker, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, believes the introduction of the bill is a sign that the Georgian Dream government is trying to maintain good ties with the Kremlin.

“I’m sure there’s some element of not wanting to antagonize Moscow very much at the moment. They are worried about the potential security implications” of integrating with the EU, he said.

Russia maintains thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian regions that Moscow recognized as independent states following a five-day war with Georgia in 2008.

The EU granted candidate status to Georgia in December, and there had been hope that the bloc would agree to the next stage of accession talks as early as this year. However, Lokker says the passage of the bill could jeopardize further progress on EU accession.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze (Credits: VOA News)

Courtney warns that the passage of the bill could lead to a cut in U.S. aid, potentially shutting down civil society organizations currently supported by Washington. USAID, which funds about three dozen programs in Georgia, rejected accusations that it was involved in supporting revolutions in the country.

“All of our assistance throughout these 32 years has been to advance our mutually shared goals of advancing Georgia’s security, stability, prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic integration,” it said in a statement to RFE/RL.

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