Colonel Chad Koenig, Commander, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) visited Georgia

Published in military
Wednesday, 15 December 2021 11:21

Mission Tbilisi welcomed Colonel Chad Koenig, Commander, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), who led a team from Washington to evaluate WRAIR’s efforts in Georgia.  WRAIR staff work closely with their Georgian counterparts at Lugar Center to monitor circulating and emerging infectious disease threats across Georgia and the region. The work this combined team does was integral in helping Georgia’s @NCDC respond to COVID-19.

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    Ambassador Degnan: This conference is an important opportunity to bring together international and Georgian experts to talk about NATO’s comprehensive defense concept and Georgia’s approach to implementing that concept. Women play a central role in the comprehensive defense concept, and we will be discussing that more in the course of today’s conference. There are many examples in Georgia’s history when women have demonstrated the important role that they play in supporting the defense of their country.

    That goes all the way back to King Tamar and many battles throughout this country where women have been essential in supporting the defense effort. This is just a modern version of that to ensure that the whole of society is prepared, whether it’s for a natural disaster like a flood or an earthquake or some kind of attack or malicious event. So there are many different aspects to NATO’s comprehensive defense concept, and we’ll be exploring those today.

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    Ambassador Degnan: The United States is not part of the European Parliament. I can say that we weren’t involved in drafting this resolution. I can say that we also regret the continuing polarization of the political environment here in Georgia, and we would certainly agree with the call for the political stakeholders here to come together and implement ambitious democratic judicial and anti-corruption reforms. This is work that is underway, and it needs to be done in an inclusive fashion. I think Georgia has a very good track record of submitting draft legislation like this to the Venice Commission and other European expert bodies for their feedback on whether it does indeed meet European Union standards. At a time when the next very important step on Georgia’s path to its European future is at hand, candidate status, it seems particularly important and worthwhile to submit draft legislation to the Venice Commission to get their assessment of whether the legislation that’s been prepared is compatible and meets European standards. The United States will continue, as we have for the past 30 years, to support the clear will of the Georgian people to live in a secure, stable, prosperous democracy. That is why we are such strong supporters of the people of Georgia’s aspiration for European Union membership and a Euro-Atlantic future. I would hope that all of Georgia’s political leaders, including the ruling party and the opposition, would come together now and make sure that the work that is being done for candidate status is going to meet European Union standards. This is the moment, and I sincerely hope that Georgia’s leaders will accomplish this goal for the people of Georgia.

    Question about a news report on European Business Association 

    Ambassador Degnan: I don’t know Mr. Lee, and I’m not familiar with the European Business Association, so I really don’t have a comment on this.

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    Question about the event

    Ambassador Degnan: Today was a great opportunity to come to Parliament with our new USAID Mission Director, John Pennell. We had a chance to talk about the many different areas of cooperation and partnership that USAID has throughout Georgia, from economic growth to energy independence, basic education, vocational education, industry-driven skills development, and of course, democracy and governance. We’ve done a lot of good work over the decades with Parliament on developing its oversight capabilities and helping to draft legislation in a number of different important ways that also protect the human rights of Georgian citizens. So, this was a wonderful opportunity to introduce our new USAID Mission Director. As the Speaker himself pointed out, much of his career has been spent in the development sector, in civil society, and so it was useful for us to exchange views on just how important of a role civil society and development organizations play in any government, especially here in Georgia where we’ve had such a long partnership over the last 30 years. I would say in that respect, some of the attacks against civil society have been particularly surprising. As many of the Members of Parliament who have worked in civil society before coming into government know, civil society plays a critical role in a healthy democracy. It’s sometimes uncomfortable to hear feedback from civil society, but that is their role. Their role is to protect the interests of the citizens and to hold the government accountable. Sometimes that feedback is uncomfortable, but they’re not there to work for the government. They’re not there to work for particular political parties. They’re there to work for the public and the rights of the citizens and to hold the government accountable. I think Georgia is fortunate to have a number of very professional, strong civil society organizations that are doing exactly that, whether it’s helping to clean the air, address climate change, or to help develop regulations that protect workers that improve communities. Civil society works across so many different sectors, and I think we should appreciate the good work that they do every day. 

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    Ambassador Degnan: I’m not going to comment on the political developments in Georgia. I think the Georgian public can see very well what’s going on here. There is a confusing message coming from the government between aligning with those who seem to be moving to undermine the partnership between Georgia and the United States, and the statements from the Prime Minister and others about the importance of the partnership between the United States and Georgia and other strategic partners. I prefer to deal with facts. There’s plenty of disinformation and conspiracy theories out there. The facts are that for 30 years the United States has been committed to helping Georgia strengthen its security and supporting Georgia’s sovereignty. For 30 years, the United States has been supporting Georgia in developing its economy, in creating better jobs. I would say some of the good economic figures that we’re seeing in Georgia right now in part relate to the support that the United States, the EU, and other friends of Georgia provided to help cushion the outcome of the Covid pandemic and to help Georgia be in a good economic position coming out of this unprecedented situation, on top of the impact of the war or Russia’s war against Ukraine. For 30 years, the United States has also been trying to help Georgia build its democratic institutions so that the people of Georgia can have greater confidence that this country is moving toward a stronger, healthier democracy. That is what the people of Georgia have said they wanted for decades. The United States has been very proud and pleased to be able to help Georgia with all of those goals: stronger security, a stronger economy, and stronger democratic institutions. We look forward to continuing that partnership. Our meeting today with this speaker and his cabinet was a good chance to renew that partnership and to talk about the ways going forward that USAID and the US Embassy can continue to support Georgia on its path toward a Euro-Atlantic future. That’s what we all want to see: Georgia more fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family.

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    Ambassador Degnan: The issue behind de-oligarchization in any country is how to address undue influence by anyone in the political or the economic processes of a country, anyone who’s trying to influence the operation of government and society through excess money or influence. It’s an issue that many countries grapple with, including my own. There are different ways that countries address undue influence in the political sector, and I think each country needs to debate that and come up with its own solution. I personally don’t think it’s always helpful to just borrow somebody else’s without tailoring it to the specifics of your country’s situation. There are many good examples out there that can be examined and crafted into something that is appropriate for Georgia, and the underlying problem, which is undue influence that affects the political will of the people. For instance, instead of having an election that reflects what the voters have voted, you have a distorted view because there’s been an undue influence on the process. What any law like this is meant to do is to try to ensure that there is transparency, accountability, and a level playing field so that the people’s voice is heard.

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