GOP lawmaker proposes sanctions against Georgian officials over Russian-inspired law

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) is readying legislation to sanction government officials in the country of Georgia over their pursuit of a Russian-inspired bill that has triggered unprecedented protests and drawn condemnation from U.S. and European Union officials.

The bill would require the administration to identify for sanctions and visa bans Georgian government officials responsible for passing the so-called “foreign agents” law, which critics say is designed to silence civil society, non government organizations (NGOs) and opposition groups.

Georgian Dream, the ruling party, passed the law in Parliament last week, and has vowed to overrule a veto that was signed by the president on Saturday.

Wilson’s legislation and similar efforts being drafted in the Senate are aimed at putting Georgian Dream on notice to abandon the foreign agents law or risk consequences from the U.S.

“The situation in Georgia is heartbreaking. The Georgian people are an embodiment of freedom and continue to inspire Americans,” Wilson said in a statement to The Hill.

“Sadly, the pro-Russian [Georgian Dream] government is going against patriotic Georgians who reject life in the Kremlin’s dark ages. The repression of freedom-loving Georgians must stop, and the U.S. stands firm in calling for a return of democratic norms and values.”

Georgians have taken to the streets in Tbilisi and around the country for weeks in protest against the foreign agents law. The bill, if enacted, requires individuals or organizations that receive 20 percent of their funding from a foreign government to register with the internal security services as a “foreign agent” and as promoting the interests of a foreign power.

Some groups that would fall under the category of “foreign agent” have declared they will refuse to register, but fear being a target of the police and courts that could ransack and shut down their operations and possibly jail individuals.

The legislation mirrors a 2012 Russian law that has been used to criminalize pro-democracy groups, opposition figures, journalists and news outlets.

EU officials have spoken out against Georgian Dream’s pursuit of the law as incompatible with Georgia’s aspirations to join the bloc, warning its candidate status is in jeopardy.

And lawmakers in Washington had warned that passing the foreign agents law would require a fundamental shift in U.S. relations with Georgia.

Wilson’s draft is a first step in telegraphing those consequences.

The bill is likely to be introduced Monday, and could relatively easily pass through the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The panel’s chair, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), wrote earlier to Georgia’s prime minister warning against advancing the foreign agents bill.

Wilson’s bill, while scrutinizing individuals for visa bans and sanctions, also calls for the Biden administration to report on Russian intelligence assets in Georgia and the extent of Chinese influence, and any malign, Sino-Russian collaboration in Georgia.

It also calls for the executive branch to report to Congress on “nodes of improper political influence, kleptocracy, and elite corruption in Georgia,” in particular if it serves to support Russia. The measure also requires information on whether individuals in Georgian have evaded international sanctions on Russia, imposed after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in Feb 2022.

Additionally, it calls for sanctions on individuals working on behalf of the government that are found to have engaged in human rights violations.

And the draft bill seeks to lend support to Georgia’s opposition movement if the foreign agent law is put into effect. Georgian protesters have said October elections in the country are the best chance to oust Georgian Dream. Wilson’s bill calls for the establishment of a “democracy monitoring task force” to monitor the “pre-election democratic environment.”

But Wilson’s draft text also offers carrots if the foreign agents law is revoked. The bill offers elevated trade ties with Georgia; allows for more Georgians to visit the U.S. for travel and study; and economic assistance, among other benefits.

The bill calls for the president to provide training, support and “defense equipment ideally suited for territorial defense against Russian aggression.” Russian forces occupy about 20 percent of Georgian territory, having invaded the country in 2008, backing separatist movements in the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The benefits Wilson outlines can only be enacted if the executive branch can verify that Georgia is making “significant and sustained progress towards reinvigorating its democracy, evidenced at minimum by substantially fair and free elections and a balanced preelection environment.”

“The progress made by the Georgian people and civil society in forging an innovative and productive society, imbued with democratic spirit, should be acknowledged,” Wilson’s bill text reads.

“The United States interest in protecting and securing democracy is borne by a close friendship and support for the Georgian people’s continued democratic and Euro-Atlantic choice.”

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