WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today submitted the following opening remarks to the record on assessing U.S. policy in the Caucasus. The committee heard witness testimony from the Honorable Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs and the Honorable Philip Reeker, senior advisor for Caucasus negotiations at State.
Ranking Member Risch submitted the following remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you to Assistant Secretary Donfried and Ambassador Reeker for appearing before us today.
“The emerging instability in Europe and Eurasia has made clear the need for a strong U.S. policy for the Caucasus, a region that lies between Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Democratic backsliding in Georgia, war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the malign ambitions of Russia and Iran are all critical challenges we must face with clear goals and strategies.
“Perhaps most importantly, Russia’s war on Ukraine has distracted Putin and prevented him from maintaining his brand of chaos in the Caucasus. As its military power falters, Russia has proved unwilling and unable to continue flexing its military muscles in the region.
“This new environment means there is an opportunity to help foster a stable and democratic future in the Caucasus. Our policy towards the region must look to fill that leadership void and help the Caucasian nations achieve lasting peace by building strong democracies, societies, and economies.
“Russia’s current inaction in helping to find a solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and absence from the Minsk Process, has provided a chance for a new approach to negotiations. The EU, France, and the U.S., have all recently made good-faith efforts to help Armenia and Azerbaijan end this long-standing conflict. I look forward to hearing from Ambassador Reeker about what solutions might be possible. Ending this conflict would both bring peace to a fractured region and remove one of Russia’s key levers of influence in the region.
“In Georgia, the political situation has unfortunately deteriorated. Georgia was once a leader in democratic reform, but years of political polarization and failure to resist Russian malign influence have reversed its trajectory. It is extremely troubling that parties are unable to simply communicate with each other, much less compromise on basic issues, especially as Georgia faces serious challenges and 20% of its territory remains occupied by Russia.
“I am also very worried by the unacceptable and slanderous attacks on the U.S. ambassador, our diplomats, and on Georgia’s civil society. The State Department must take a firm stand and push back against this inflammatory behavior. I look forward to hearing from you how State will respond specifically to these attacks and how the U.S. plans to help Georgia break through its political gridlock, implement reforms, and recommit to its European path.
“The Caucasus is tremendously important as a crossroads between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. While we help these nations confront the issues they have both internally and with one another, we must also look at ways to promote productive international partnerships. Trade agreements, energy deals, infrastructure, and investment all have the potential to better integrate the region within the transatlantic community.
“A more peaceful and settled Caucasus can also help open Central Asia to the world and better balance Russian and Chinese influence there. However, if we fail to form and implement an effective policy, we could see a return of Russian influence, or even see China establishing a stronger foothold in the region.”
Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.