The Hopes of a US Senator: 21st Century Georgians Standing Together

In an exclusive interview with the Voice of America Georgian Service, US Senator James Risch expressed hope that in the aftermath of the upcoming parliamentary elections, Georgian political forces will accept the results and find ways to make Georgia a more democratic country. Among the many committees in the US Senate of which Senator Risch is a member is the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Following the invasion of Georgia in 2008, we saw no punitive measures against Russia from the West. Some experts claim the ongoing aggression in Ukraine and the Russian military operation in Syria is a result of this. What is your take on this assessment?

It’s common sense that if a naughty kid does something bad and no-one does anything about it, he is going to continue to misbehave. Unless somebody does something, you can expect the same thing to happen over and over again. That is what history teaches us and that is exactly what happened here. Particularly with the administration that we have – which will soon change. There were no sanctions for what Russia did. As a result, why would they hesitate when they look at Crimea, Ukraine or anywhere else?

Do you think it is America’s role to act in such instances?

I think the US cannot be involved in every activity in the world, nor should we be or want to be. Having said that, obviously, the United States is a counterbalance to a country that has substantial assets and is able to bully smaller countries. In that regard, I think the United States cannot turn a blind eye to this. By doing nothing, or doing very little, in essence, the United States is condoning it.

The NATO summit is coming up in Warsaw. Do you expect any bold steps towards expansion, perhaps with US support? Should there be talk of further enlargement?

We already have the “Open Poor” policy which allows any country that can meet the standards for admission to be admitted. I think in and of itself, it’s a pretty bold thing.

I do not expect that there will be a large newsworthy event from the Summit. However, there is the question of Georgia, which has quite a way to go due to its internal concerns.

Georgia is the largest contributor to the NATO mission in Afghanistan [after the United States]. Some experts believe Georgia is ready militarily to join the Alliance. Do you think Georgia’s internal politics concern NATO?

I think it is a concern– maybe not for all the countries of the Alliance, but certainly for some. From a personal standpoint, I have some reservations. It’s not the hallmark of a first world country to, in the 21st-century, carry out political prosecutions. You can argue about how widespread or how strong it was in Georgia, but it happened, and it was very disappointing to me personally. I was there for the elections in 2012 and was very impressed with what I saw. I thought it was handled very well, but I was disappointed after the fact because of those prosecutions.

There is another parliamentary election coming up. Do you have any expectations, recommendations, or hopes for the elections in October?

I wouldn’t make recommendations, because, obviously, that is for the Georgian people. My hopes are that they will continue to make progress. They have the 25th anniversary [of Independence] coming up and they should be very proud of the progress that has been made. The last election was a robust election and was free and fair. I look forward to seeing that again.

My hope is that after the election all the political parties and the citizens of Georgia will do what other people do in the 21st century; that is to accept the election results and not begrudge the winners. If they don’t like the way it comes out, they should start making plans for the next election. But in the meantime, live together and live together peacefully. Georgians are like other people around the world - they want what is best for Georgia. The best way they can do that is, after the elections are over, have everybody come together and say, “OK, what are we going to do to make Georgia a better place us, for our children and grandchildren?”

Ia Meurmishvili

18 April 2016 20:25