• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Updated May 14, 2024, 4:16pm EDT
icon

Semafor Signals

Supported by

Microsoft logo

US threatens sanctions on Georgia after ‘foreign agent law’ passes parliament

Insights from the Atlantic Council, Just Security, and Carnegie Politika

Arrow Down
Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

US officials warned Tuesday that Washington could hit Georgian politicians with sanctions in response to a contentious “foreign agent law,” which passed in Georgia’s parliament after weeks of mass protests in Tbilisi and strong international condemnation.

“If the law goes forward out of conformity with EU norms and there is undermining of democracy here and there is violence against peaceful protesters then we will see restrictions coming from the United States,” US assistant secretary of state James O’Brien told a press conference in Tbilisi, mentioning potential financial and travel restrictions on individuals.

He also said the US could reconsider the $390 million in assistance it plans to send to Georgia “if we are now regarded as an adversary and not a partner.”

If enacted, the bill would require advocacy organizations, NGOs, and media outlets that receive more than 20% of funding from overseas to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” Critics say the Russian-style law could be used to muffle critical voices.

After passing through parliament on Tuesday, the bill now goes to Georgia’s president, who has vowed to veto it. But Georgia’s parliament — where the bill passed 84-30 — can override that veto with a simple majority. The ruling Georgian Dream politicians have said they expect the bill to be law by the end of May.

icon

SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Georgia’s European future in peril as party’s intentions questioned

Source icon
Sources:  
Strategic Europe, The Economist

Few countries have expressed so strong a desire to join the EU as Georgia, which has enshrined its goal to join Europe and NATO in its constitution. For Georgia’s strongly pro-Europe youth, EU membership has come to represent a new political direction embracing equality, human rights, and shedding the country’s post-Soviet identity, one political scientist wrote for Carnegie’s blog Strategic Europe. But European officials have said the planned legislation could scupper Georgia’s EU candidacy, arguing that its restrictions on civil society are incompatible with European values. While Georgian Dream continues to say it aims to take the country into Europe, protesters believe the party is “carrying out orders from the Kremlin and see the law as a deliberate attempt to spoil Georgia’s bid to join Europe,” The Economist reported.

Georgia’s ruling party turns to Russia

Source icon
Sources:  
National Democratic Institute, Atlantic Council, Just Security

Experts argued the legislation moves Georgia further from Europe and deeper into Russia’s orbit. European officials have repeatedly warned the bill is not compatible with Georgia’s ambitions to join the EU; more than 80% of Georgians support membership. Yet Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, has gradually moved the country closer to Moscow, opting out of Western sanctions on Russia, supporting the relocation of Russian companies to Georgia, and resuming direct flights from Moscow to Tbilisi, one expert at the Atlantic Council wrote. With elections due in October, weakening an independent civil society and building ties with Russia may ultimately forge a path for Georgian Dream to retain power indefinitely, two former US officials wrote in Just Security.

Human rights organizations unanimous in condemnation

Source icon
Sources:  
Human Rights Watch, Carnegie Politika

Human rights groups have been united and clear in their strong opposition to the legislation. “They intend to marginalize and stifle critical voices in the country that are fundamental for any functioning democracy,” Hugh Williamson of Human Rights Watch said in a statement. While the bill’s supporters say it is modeled on the United States’ Foreign Agent Registration Act, the US law is designed to regulate lobbyists and does not suggest any group that receives foreign funding is under the control of a foreign state, Human Rights Watch noted. “All similar initiatives in the post-Soviet space — first in Russia, and then in Kyrgyzstan — have only had a detrimental impact on rights and freedoms,” an expert wrote in Carnegie Politika.

Semafor Logo
AD