March 3, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
Last October, Russia targeted Georgia with a brazen cyberattack seeking to undermine our sovereignty. Georgia, with the help of the United States and the United Kingdom, recently concluded that the attack originated from Russia’s military intelligence wing, the GRU, which is the same unit responsible for the highly disruptive cyberattacks on Ukraine in 2015-2017. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo condemned the attack, asserting that “it demonstrates a continuing pattern of reckless Russian GRU cyber operations.”
Russia’s cyberattack against my country targeted web service providers and sought to cripple government and private websites, media outlets, even our court system. It continues a familiar pattern of aggression against Georgia. Russia has occupied 20 percent of my nation’s territory illegally since it invaded Georgia twice in the last 30 years – 1992 and 2008.
A Russian spokeswoman recently remarked uncharacteristically that Georgia is a sovereign state. If her comments are not empty words, Russia should return our occupied territories, withdraw their soldiers from our regions immediately, cease cyberattacks, and stop undermining Georgia’s progress.
Last fall, the House of Representative passed the Georgia Support Act; this legislation is now making its way through the Senate. The bill calls for an assessment of threats to Georgia’s sovereignty, specifically cyber interference, and enhanced measures the United States can take to counter them. Georgians have embraced successive waves of democratic reform since 2012, and they deeply appreciate the bipartisan support for Georgia shown by Congress and the Trump administration. Strong international support is the key to restoring our territorial integrity peacefully.
Russia’s ongoing occupation of our land remains a threat to our democracy, and this is particularly true during election years like 2020. Georgia, like many maturing democracies, is experiencing a robust debate on the character of its political processes. These debates are the hallmark of free societies. Georgia claims the good fortune of having friends in the United States who share our vision of Georgia as a free, independent, sovereign, and democratic state.
Georgia’s commitment to hold another free, transparent and democratic election this fall was central in my discussions with congressional leaders and Trump administration officials during my recent visit to Washington. I made it clear that we have security concerns for anticipated Russian meddling in our political process. Russia’s opportunities for election-related mischief are high, including agitating in our democratic process against the values we are committed to that we share with our Western partners.
A strong debate over the timing of inaugurating full electoral proportionality is in full swing in Georgia. Governments before 2012 never made a move toward full proportionality and none, prior to our government, conveyed and kept its promise to enact 100 percent proportional representation. The governing Georgian Dream party promised full proportionality, and it promoted constitutional change to make it happen. We delivered and according to the constitutional amendments we adopted, full proportional representation will be enacted in 2024.
As a result of continued discussion, we tried our best to schedule the full proportional elections earlier than 2024, though our attempt to do so fell short of the required votes. The ruling party offered a compromise for the 2020 election that was intended as a reasonable transitional move toward 2024. Additional electoral reforms undertaken by the government, including those recommended by the OSCE, will ensure that free and fair elections will be held this fall.
If some opposition parties choose to reject the compromise offer in hopes of advancing their competitive positions, this will signal clearly that they prefer to disrupt the political process and seek to delegitimize the 2020 election. Activities targeted to achieve change outside the ballot-box are not democratic. It will also support Russia’s interests, as Russia is the ultimate beneficiary of instability in Georgia, which it promotes continuously.
We in Georgia have been working hard to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, gain membership to the European Union, and negotiate free trade agreements from Asia to America to address this threat. Our people embrace the West as their civilizational choice. Georgians understand that the fight for democracy and against terrorism and extremism, wherever it is found, must be confronted. This is why our warriors stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America in places like Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world.
Last fall’s cyberattack underscores the constant threat we face in Georgia, but it did not alter our plans to forge closer ties with NATO and the United States. With strong support from friends like the United States, Georgia will continue to move forward as a nation — safe, stable, and secure, with a thriving democracy.
Archil Talakvadze is the chairman of the Parliament of Georgia.
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