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23 May, 2024 01:28

US threatens to punish NATO applicant

Western officials claim that Georgia’s crackdown on foreign influence “undermines democracy”
US threatens to punish NATO applicant

The US is looking into how it could punish Georgia over a ‘foreign agents’ bill which was recently passed in the country's parliament, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

Georgia’s Transparency of Foreign Influence Act would require non-profit organizations, media outlets, and individuals which derive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as entities “promoting the interests of a foreign power” and disclose their income and sponsors or face fines of up to $9,500.

The legislation ignited weeks of violent protests and clashes across the country, which is an applicant to both the EU and NATO.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed the bill on Friday, but the gesture is considered to be largely symbolic, as the Georgian Dream party has a majority in parliament and is expected to overrule it.

“We are looking very hard at what we can do in response to that, and I anticipate we will take actions, the EU is looking at the impact on the accession process for Georgia, so I would anticipate that there will be things to come because of the impact this law may have,” Blinken told US lawmakers in Congress.

Blinken said the US is “very concerned” about the legislation, which he described as “right out of Moscow’s playbook,” and which “clearly counters” the Georgian public’s desire for “EU integration.”

Despite criticism that the legislation could be used to target the political opposition, the bill does not provide for criminal prosecutions, unlike the US’ Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which has been in effect since the 1930s.

The bill was described as “undermining of democracy” by US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien on a visit to Tbilisi last week. He warned Georgia of “restrictions coming from the US,” and potential sanctions on lawmakers that were involved with the legislation.