How Biden Can Show Putin that America is Back—and Has Ally Georgia's Back | Opinion

This week my country of Georgia marks its 30th anniversary of regaining independence from the Soviet Union. Few of us could have imagined that just three decades later our country of 3.7 million people is now a key U.S. and European Union ally and linchpin of democratic stability in the strategically important and ever-unpredictable Black Sea region.

Next month, President Joe Biden will be meeting with NATO leaders and conducting a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken should raise the issue of Russian aggression against Georgia to send an unambiguous message to Russia that the U.S. is fully allied with Georgia and invested in the Black Sea region's future.

A Georgian flag flies in Tbilisi
A Georgian flag flies in the capital city of Tbilisi. VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP via Getty Images

There is ample reason for Georgia to be on the agenda with NATO and Putin. Georgia continues to confront daily Russian efforts to dominate and intimidate but we will not be bullied. Since 2008, Russia has illegally occupied over 20 percent of our territory, underscoring Russia's unrelenting aggressive behavior toward its neighbors. Russia and their proxy "governments" create turmoil at the occupation line—making mischief, denying rights of Georgian citizens with their creeping annexation, refusing to accede to the international community's demands that they withdraw and return the land they illegally seized. America's support to make Georgia whole again is critical.

Russian meddling does not stop with occupation of our sovereign territory. Cyberattacks, hacking and economic subterfuge remain part of Russia's bag of tricks. Russian military presence is ever-increasing not just to our north in Ukraine and in Georgian occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali region), but to our south as well. Russian "peacekeeping" troops are now on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh as part of the recent military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Yet despite these challenges, the Georgian people embrace free and fair elections, strong democratic institutions and a free-market economy that lifts all of our people.

Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili with Joe Biden
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili speaks with then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2015. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili's Office

We are on the cusp of EU membership and NATO as our people demand closer ties with the West. Every public opinion survey shows support for the West, NATO and EU membership running close to 85 percent. Most recently, with strong mediation from the EU and the U.S., the governing party negotiated with the political opposition to get responsible actors back into Parliament after many months of stalemate and political wrangling.

Georgia is recognized as one of the best places to do business with its streamlined regulatory system, pro-business tax system and a well-educated workforce. We have negotiated 19 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with more in the works, including first and foremost with the U.S. We are taking full advantage of our geographic location as a crossroad where East meets West, and have become a regional economic hub at the center of 2.3 billion consumers.

The friendship and guidance of the U.S. has been with Georgia from day one of our independence. Today, in the aftermath of the worst health disaster in a century, we need America and our allies to provide even more friendship and support—through a mutually beneficial trade deal, increased Black Sea security cooperation, support in dealing with the post-pandemic economic downturn, vocal support for Georgia's ascension into NATO and assistance to prepare Georgia for entry into the EU.

We look to the West on the 30th anniversary of our independence. We are determined to stay the course and lead the way as the eastern boundary of a united Europe. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. to fight for freedom of all people in all parts of the world. The greatest gift we could receive on this anniversary of ours is a renewed American focus on Georgia, the Black Sea and our collective freedom and opportunity.

David Bakradze is Georgia's ambassador to the United States.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.