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Georgia opposition leader hired top US lobbyist days before arrest; ex-aide to Sen. King ends Saudi lobbying; Ukraine lobby targets eight companies for sanctions over Russian pipeline: Thursday’s Daily Digest

Georgia opposition leader hired top US lobbyist days before arrest

United National Movement leader Nika Melia addresses an electoral protest in Tbilisi, Georgia on Nov. 14, 2020 / Photo by K. Samurkas via Shutterstock

The opposition leader in Georgia hired a top US lobbyist just days before his arrest this week.

Nikanor “Nika” Melia signed a six-month, $150,000 contract with Washington lobbying firm Cogent Strategies on behalf of his United National Movement (UNM) on Feb. 16. Police dragged Melia out of his party’s headquarters and detained him on Tuesday, sparking bipartisan blowback in Washington.

Cogent Strategies is led by Kimberley Fritts, the former longtime CEO of the Podesta Group who took many of the firm’s top lobbyists and more than a dozen of its clients to start her own firm when the Podesta Group imploded in 2017.

The lobbying hire comes as Georgia has been rocked with protests following disputed parliamentary elections in October 2020. The protesters accuse the pro-Russian Georgian Dream party founded by former oligarch-turned-politician Bidzina Ivanishvili of electoral fraud and increased authoritarianism since it first came to power in 2012.

Georgian Dream has launched its own lobbying defense.

The party hired two firms in February 2020: Hogan Lovells for $75,00 per month and DCI Group AZ for $33,333 per month. Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) signed the contract with Georgian Dream and is among the lobbyists on the account.

Read the story here.

Podcast: Are lobbyists upending US sanctions?

The US has seen an explosion in sanctions-related lobbying in recent years as new laws empower advocacy groups to press for government action against alleged “bad actors” while policymakers score political points over who’s toughest.

In the latest episode of The Influencers podcast, we get the other side of the story from a sanctions compliance lawyer who has been in the trenches for more than a decade. In a wide-ranging interview with co-hosts Julian Pecquet of Foreign Lobby Report and Richard Levick of the LEVICK communications agency, the founder and lead attorney at Ferrari & Associates describes a sanctions regime that has become increasingly convoluted and ineffective as advocacy groups and politicians focus on punishment rather than redemption.

“If you really want compliance with US sanctions, it’s just not about naming and shaming people — it’s about identifying what does the US government really need to see to have them removed,” Erich Ferrari argues. “And if [US officials] do that, folks like myself are able to convince [our clients] much more easily to engage in that change in behavior.”

Read the story here and listen to the podcast here:

New in lobbying


Canada: The Canadian Embassy in Washington paid LGND of Bethesda $45,800 in branding and website maintenance in the six months through January. The firm registered associate producer Bridie O’Connell as a foreign agent on the account on Feb. 19.


China: The US office of China’s international chamber of Commerce disclosed spending $439,000 in the six months through January. The Arlington, Va.-based office of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade — also known as the China Chamber of International Commerce — acts as the trade liaison to US businesses and trade associations in both countries to facilitate bilateral trade, investment and economic cooperation. The council is also tasked with organizing trade fairs and events promoting China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The US office terminated the foreign agent registration for deputy representative Minghong Xu on Dec. 31.

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Trade Development Council spent $2.2 million on its US offices in New York. Chicago and Los Angeles in the six months through January, according to a new lobbying filing. The council participated in or helped organize two dozen virtual events in the past six months including on agricultural exports to China, Hong Kong’s role as a global aviation hub and the business outlook for China, the United States and Mexico in 2021.

Hong Kong’s US trade envoy moves to calm business jitters

Kazakhstan: Mercury Public Affairs has registered Senior Vice President Katherine Lewis Patala on its account with the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan. The firm serves as a subcontractor to Los Angeles law firm Latham & Watkins as part of a team of law and public relations firms helping the Central Asian nation in a $500 million legal fight with Moldovan businessman Anatolie Stati. The two parties have been battling in US and European courts for years over Kazakhstan’s seizure of Stati’s petroleum operations in 2010.


Serbia: Lobbyists for Serbia are highlighting international support for the country amid reports that the US development agency is thinking of closing its office in Belgrade. Yorktown Solutions, which lobbies for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia, distributed a Feb. 22 news report from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty that indicates that the pro-Greek Hellenic American Leadership Council sent a letter to the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the Joe Biden administration last week saying closing the office would hurt the US. “This is not the time to create confusion with regards to the US’s commitment to the [Balkan] region,” the council’s executive director Endy Zemenides wrote. “Russia and China will be the only beneficiaries of a reduced DFC presence.” Zemenides added: “We are eager to hear the DFC’s new leadership make a public commitment to continued support of the Aegean and Western Balkans, including a pledge to maintain its Belgrade office.” The bank’s COO David Marchick told the news outlet that DFC would continue investing in infrastructure and renewable energy in the region.

Ukraine: Ukraine’s gas industry is doubling down on its lobbying for more US sanctions on companies working on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany. Washington lobby firm Yorktown Solutions distributed tracking information to policymakers that accuses eight companies of violating US sanctions:

Progressive Marine Technology LLC
Owner of VENIE supply ship and Katun fire-fighting vessel
Koksokhimtrans LLC
PJSC Gazprom
Owner of offshore supply ship IVAN SIDORENKO
Owner of offshore supply ship DP GEZINA
JSC Gazprombank Leasing
Owner of offshore supply ship Finval
Federal Agency for Sea and River Transport of the Ministry of Transport
of the Russian Federation
Manager of offshore supply ships Finval and Baltiyskiy Issledovatel;
Owner of Baltiyskiy Issledovatel, Artemis Offshore, Murman, Umka
Owner of Baltiskiy Issledovatel
Owner of offshore tug and supply ship ERRIE
Source: Yorktown Solutions / Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

Yorktown President Daniel Vajdich, a former Republican aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and adviser to the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), distributed the information via email after the Joe Biden administration did not target any of the companies in a report to Congress last week.

“By failing to implement U.S. laws and sanction companies that continue to conduct work related to deep-sea pipe-laying for Nord Stream 2,” he wrote, “the executive branch is making a conscious decision to allow the Kremlin to finish Nord Stream 2.”

Yorktown also distributed an op-ed written by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniev Rau. The article argues that Nord Stream 2 undercuts Ukraine, Poland and other Central European countries while boosting Russia’s influence in Western Europe. The pair call on President Biden to do whatever he can to prevent the pipeline’s completion despite its strong support in Germany. Yorktown lobbies against Nord Stream 2 on behalf of the Federation of Employees of the Oil and Gas Industry of Ukraine, which recently renewed its year-long, $960,000 contract with the firm through 2021.

Middle East

Qatar: Mercury Public Affairs has registered Senior Vice President Katherine Lewis Patala on its account with the Embassy of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia: The former communications director for Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has stopped representing Saudi Arabia as of Feb. 22, according to a new lobbying filing. Crystal Canney, the CEO of the Knight Canney Group in Portland, Maine, had been registered as a foreign agent for the Saudi Embassy since June 2020 as a consultant for the Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group). Iowa-based LS2 has disclosed paying Canney $3,000 through last November to help promote Saudi Arabia with local media, businesses and officials including former Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine). On the final day of working for the Saudis Canney reached out to local media to share the kingdom’s offer of assistance for Texas following last week’s snow storm. Maine senators King and Susan Collins, a Republican, both sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leading to speculation that part of the reason for the Saudi outreach to their home state is to get the committee to hold its fire over the 2018 murder of dissident Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

Canney is the third person to deregister as a foreign agent for the LS2 Group in recent weeks. Fellow Mainer Kathleen Summers-Grice stopped consulting with the firm on Dec. 31. Summers-Grice’s involvement with Riyadh caused a political kerfuffle in a congressional race in which her firm, Eaton River Strategies, worked on the campaign of Republican Dale Crafts (Crafts lost to incumbent Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat). LS2 subcontractor Hathaway Strategies of Indiana also stopped representing the Saudi Embassy on Dec. 31. That firm is led by Anne Hathaway, a former Republican National Committee chief of staff and campaign manager for Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who served as director of National Intelligence under President Donald Trump.

Saudis reach out directly to US states amid bipartisan blowback in Washington