U.S. sounds alarm as thousands in Georgia's capital protest 'Kremlin-style' foreign influence bill

Police Force attend a protest against the foreign agents law as two Americans and one Russian citizen are among 20 detained on May 13, 2024 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Daro Sulakauri | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Thousands of people took to the streets of Georgia’s capital on Monday as part of a last-ditch attempt to prevent the country’s government from passing a controversial “Kremlin-style” law on foreign influence.

In fresh scenes of violence over the proposed bill, hundreds of masked police officers clashed with protesters outside Georgia’s Parliament in Tbilisi as some demonstrators sought to block off lawmaker access to the building.

Georgia’s Interior Ministry said Monday that two American citizens and one Russian national were among 20 people detained at the rally.

Separately, Georgia’s Special Investigation Service said it had launched a probe into the alleged used of “excessive force” by law enforcement officers against protesters. Security officers have since pulled out of the main square.

The foreign influence bill calls for media outlets, nonprofits and other nongovernmental organizations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

Russia, which occupies about 20% of Georgia’s internationally recognized territory, has used similar legislation to crack down on independent news media and activists critical of the Kremlin.

A person is detained as two Americans and one Russian citizen are among 20 detained during a protest against the foreign agents law on May 13, 2024 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Daro Sulakauri | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The country’s opposition lawmakers have denounced the legislation, which critics say could undermine Georgia’s chances of joining the European Union.

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said over the weekend that the U.S. was “deeply alarmed” about democratic backsliding in Georgia.

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“Parliamentarians face a critical choice — whether to support the Georgian people’s EuroAtlantic aspirations or pass a Kremlin-style foreign agents’ law that runs counter to democratic values,” Sullivan said Saturday via a post on social media platform X.

Demonstrators protest the controversial “foreign influence” bill near the parliament in Tbilisi on May 13, 2024. Several thousand Georgians gathered outside parliament in Tbilisi on May 12, in a fresh protest against a Russian-styled “foreign agent” bill, despite government officials warning of arrests.

Giorgi Arjevanidze | Afp | Getty Images

Georgia’s ruling government has insisted it will push ahead with the bill despite some of the largest demonstrations the country has seen since declaring independence from the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago.

Protesters on Monday, some of whom had been demonstrating from late Sunday evening, were seen clashing with riot police over the proposed legislation.

Some protesters waved Georgian and European Union flags, while others held signs that read “Take your hands off my future.”

Final voting on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday.

A demonstrator with a placard protests against the ” Foreign Agent Bill” in front of the Georgian Parliament Building on May 12, 2024 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Nicolo Vincenzo Malvestuto | Getty Images News | Getty Images

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