U.S. targets Georgia with punitive measures over foreign influence law


May 24 (UPI) -- The Biden administration said it will impose visa restrictions and review the United States' relationship with Georgia in response to the former Soviet republic last week passing a controversial foreign influence bill.

The bill, which is labeled as a national security law, requires non-government organizations, media outlets and other entities to register as foreign agents if they receive more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources.

It was passed May 14 by Georgia's Parliament, which is controlled by the ruling Georgia Dream Party, despite staunch opposition at home and abroad.

President Salome Zourabichvili, an independent, on Saturday vetoed the bill, which she described as "fundamentally Russian" and in contradiction to Georgia's Constitution and the European Union's standards. However, lawmakers appear to have the votes to override her.

The United States has criticized the bill as has the European Union, which said it runs counter to the EU's "core norms and values."

Georgia in November was granted candidate country status to the EU, and the 27-member bloc said the law "negatively impacts" its progress to inclusion.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they have seen "clear indications of a campaign of intimidation and the use of violence" to suppress protests against the bill. He continued that those tactics as well as the so-called nationals security law undermine Georgia's democracy and fundamental freedoms.

"In response to these actions, the Department of State is implementing a new visa-restriction policy for Georgia that will apply to individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members," he said in a statement.

"I am also launching today a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation between the United States and Georgia."

Blinken stated that anyone "who undermines democratic processes or institutions in Georgia -- including in the lead-up to, during and following Georgia's October 2024 elections -- may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under this policy."

The United States' top diplomat said U.S. support for Georgia's democracy is foundational to their bilateral relationship, and that they hope its leaders will reconsider the bill.

"As we review the relationship between our two countries, we will take into account Georgia's actions in deciding our own," he said.

The announcement comes a day after Blinken testified before the House Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, during which he was asked what the United States was doing to address the bill.

He said the Biden administration was "very concerned" about the law, stating he thinks it's "right out of Moscow's playbook."

"I think it clearly counters the desire of the overwhelming majority of Georgians to move toward EU integration," he said.

"We are looking very hard at what we can do in response to that. I anticipate we will take action."