Kemp’s office says Georgia will ‘fully divest’ from Russian funds

February 1, 2022 Atlanta - Governor Brian Kemp speaks during a press conference to announce plans to spend millions of dollars on expanding internet throughout Georgia, especially in rural areas that lack access at the State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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February 1, 2022 Atlanta - Governor Brian Kemp speaks during a press conference to announce plans to spend millions of dollars on expanding internet throughout Georgia, especially in rural areas that lack access at the State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration said Monday that the state will “fully divest” from Russian firms after the invasion of Ukraine, setting the stage for Georgia to join other U.S. states that have taken similar steps since Vladimir Putin ordered the attack.

Kemp spokeswoman Katie Byrd said the governor’s office last week began “reviewing and taking actions to ensure Georgia taxpayer dollars are not being used to subsidize Russia.”

“So far, there has been one instance, and we will be fully divested from that agreement by midweek,” she added.

The investment is an exchange-traded fund that includes a variety of Russian companies, mostly in the energy, basic materials and financial sectors. The fund, iShares MSCI Russia ETF (ERUS), is part of the portfolio of the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia. It was down 28% on Monday afternoon.

Bipartisan lawmakers have pressured the state to divest from Russia and take other steps to distance Georgia from Putin’s regime.

When House Speaker David Ralston said Monday that the state wants to distance itself from Russia amid its “barbaric” invasion of Ukraine, lawmakers responded with a standing ovation.

“I don’t want one penny of a Georgian’s money going to subsidize Vladimir Putin,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “While our role in international affairs is limited, we make clear that our people stand with those who want to live in peace.”

And in the state Senate, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan condemned members of the far right who have cheered Putin.

It was a reference to U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who appeared at a white nationalist rally on Friday where participants applauded Russia’s invasion and chanted Putin’s name before she was introduced.

“Vladimir Putin is a selfish, brutal dictator, and anybody who would tell you otherwise is lying,” Duncan said. “I call on this country, I call on this state, I call on this chamber to stand in support of the Ukrainian country as they fight for freedom.”

Governors in several other U.S. states, including Colorado and New York, have taken steps to divest from Russian-backed entities after the invasion. And Pennsylvania lawmakers are drafting legislation to require the state treasury and three public pension funds to divest holdings connected to Russia.

The federal government, along with worldwide allies, has backed crippling sanctions to punish Putin for ordering the invasion.

It’s unclear how much of Georgia’s investment funds are invested in Russian-held equities or assets. Ralston said the House Budget and Research Office asked for more information Monday from the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia and the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.

“We pray for the people of the Ukraine,” Ralston said. “They continue courageously defending their nation against an unwarranted and unprovoked invasion by the Russian Federation.”