The recent Russian cyberattacks against the U.S. are a stark reminder to Americans that aggressive provocations are an essential component of the Vladimir Putin playbook, designed to inflict severe harm. In Ukraine, Russia continues its relentless aggression, using its military as a blunt instrument of Putin’s power. In my country of Georgia, we are still witnessing an ongoing Russian military presence since August 2008. Thirteen years ago this August, Russia invaded our country and never left. The illegal Russian occupation of 20 percent of our sovereign territory continues. In a proportional land comparison between the U.S. and Georgia, it would amount to the occupation of the whole Eastern coast of the Unites States as well as parts of the Midwest.
Thankfully, Washington and our European allies have remained steadfast in their support since the Russian invasion. The Biden administration’s renewed commitment to reengaging with multilateral systems is welcome as the U.S. continues to articulate a Russia policy that includes robust defense and economic measures, agile enough to seamlessly transition between deterring and/or punishing Russia. The aims of these policies are noble and notable. However, as frontline nations such as Georgia continue to face down Russian aggression, now is the time for the U.S. to do even more.
Georgia and the U.S. enjoy a remarkably strong bilateral relationship, forged in the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq where more than 20,000 Georgian soldiers served shoulder to shoulder with their American compatriots during the past two decades with over 30 of them making the ultimate sacrifice. Numerous NATO-led Black Sea security exercises and successful regional diplomatic cooperation are other examples of our close partnership. Most recently, the U.S. demonstrated its enormous capacity of caring for the people of Georgia by providing 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines.
Yet, Russia continues to torment Georgia. The Russian government pours hundreds of millions of dollars into the occupied Georgian territories in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali to entice these hard-pressed Georgian citizens to relinquish their citizenships and language, erase our cultural heritage and rewrite history. In addition, Russia provides for nearly 9,000 of its military personnel stationed in both regions.
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Servicemen take part in joint exercise
Servicemen take part in the joint multinational military exercise “Noble Partner 2018” at Vaziani training center, outside Tbilisi, on August 1, 2018.VANO SHLAMOV/AFP via Getty Images
By offering economic largesse to corrupt local power groups, Russia manipulates and coerces economically vulnerable populations in the occupied territories. Malign Russian activities must be countered and matched with positive, confidence building measures aimed at restoring peace and facilitating the return of Georgian sovereign territories.
Today, the Biden administration and Congress can take immediate action to level the playing field with Russia by increasing direct financial assistance to my nation, enhancing Georgian deterrence capabilities through Black Sea cooperation, negotiating a free trade deal and establishing a regional office for the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.
On the security front, Georgia is hosting Agile Spirit 2021, an annual security exercise that brings together over 2,500 military personnel from 15 allied forces to strengthen partner readiness and interoperability. And last month, Georgia participated in the NATO-led “Sea Breeze” training drills to improve security within the Black Sea region. These exercises are absolutely critical to U.S. national security interests since the Black Sea serves as a buffer along Europe’s southern flank, helping to protect Europe, NATO and vital U.S. interests from hostile forces.
Georgia figures prominently in the geography of critical energy pipelines to Europe and world markets. The Black Sea is also becoming the crossroads of high value commerce seeking the fastest route from Europe to Asia and Asia to Europe, including significant amounts of American exports.
Diplomatically, my Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili recently worked in lockstep with the State Department to guarantee the release of 15 Armenian detainees in exchange for landmine maps in the aftermath of the Azeri-Armenian conflict. As the most reliable U.S. ally in the region, Georgia continues to be a vital provider of peace and stability. Georgia is also committed to continuing its democratic path in a way that aligns with our NATO and EU membership aspirations.
Thirteen years ago this August, the world watched in horror as Russian forces and tanks invaded my country, where they remain to this day. We are grateful the U.S. has stood by our side to neutralize their destabilizing impact. Now, we must work together to strengthen our cooperation and remove Russia from my nation once and for all.
Author: David Bakradze , Georgia’s Ambassador to the U.S.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.
Published on Newsweek.com