The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

36 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL into Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the first half of 2008, and the United States and the E.U. worked hard to support a negotiated solution. Most saw Abkhazia as the likely potential flash point. In the end, the conflict was set off in South Ossetia. When war broke out, it quickly became clear that Russia wanted to oust Georgia’s democratically elected government. The U.S. rallied to the support of Georgia. Our $1 billion assistance package after the war ended helped the Georgians deal with their humanitarian crisis, stabilize their economy, and rebuild their country. Our American and Georgian staff did a tremendous job during the very tense days of the war and in implementing the assistance package. There was a lot of fear in the first few days. It peaked the night Russian forces broke through Georgian lines and advanced on Tbilisi. We offered our American dependents voluntary departure to Yerevan, where Ambassador Masha Yovanovitch and her staff hosted them until the fighting ended. Many of our Georgian staff had loved ones and friends caught up in the fighting. I tried to share with them every day what I knew and tried to console them as the fighting raged. FSJ: Before that crisis, what opportunities and challenges did you face in Georgia? JFT: People often forget about the substantial progress Georgia made in reforming its economy and fighting corruption in the years before the war. A Russian expert on economic reform once told me that Georgia did more than any other post-Soviet nation to reform itself. Through our USAID programs, we contributed financing and expertise to help the Georgians design and implement the reform programs. FSJ: You were ambassador to Ukraine during another time of tension with Russia (2009-2013). Can you tell us what that was like, and what were the primary achievements in the U.S.-Ukraine relationship? JFT: Early in my assignment, Viktor Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine. We tried to work with his government, and we had some success. Ukraine, for example, gave up more than 100 kilos of highly enriched uraJohn and Mariella Tefft make a winter visit to the Yasnaya Polyana Estate of Leo Tolstoy (with his grave in the background) in 2016. From left: Ambassador Tefft; Dr. Galina Alekseeva, director of research at the estate; and Mariella Tefft. COURTESY OF JOHN TEFFT September. Lithuania is a success story, an advertisement for what democracy and a market economy can achieve. I am proud that the United States has supported Lithuania every step of the way. FSJ: You were ambassador to Georgia in 2008 when Russia invaded over the disputed areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Did the embassy see that coming? JFT: It was clear to us that Russia was intent on trying to bring Georgia to heel and block membership in NATO and, more broadly, Western integration. The Russians sent more troops