First Russian passenger plane landed in Georgia since 2019


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Status: 05/19/2023 7:12 p.m

For four years there was no direct flight connection between the neighbors Russia and Georgia. Now another plane from Moscow has landed in Tbilisi. This is causing controversy in Georgia.

Departure Moscow-Vnukovo, flight time a good three hours, landing in Tbilisi at 1:17 p.m. As of today, Russia and Georgia are directly connected to each other again on a daily basis. The flight is operated by the southern Russian airline Azimuth, which is not on international sanctions lists and uses Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft.

For four years there was no direct connection between the neighbors. President Putin imposed the flight ban in June 2019. This was preceded by a visit by a Russian delegation to the parliament in Tbilisi, which triggered mass protests against Moscow’s growing influence.

On May 10, Putin reversed the decision. “We are talking about a decision of a humanitarian nature,” said presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “For some time now, the Russian authorities have been receiving requests from citizens of both countries, businessmen, associations, academics and cultural figures for this decision to be made, which is now being done for humanitarian reasons.”

People in Russia’s neighboring countries are looking at Ukraine with fear. Fear of Putin is great.

“Another Russian provocation”

President Putin may also have calculated that the lifting of the flight ban would lead to controversy in Georgian society. And so it happened. The pro-European President of Georgia tweeted: “No to flights from Russia”. These flights would resume “despite the protests of the Georgian people”. According to Salome Zurabishvili, this is “another Russian provocation”.

The same applies to the lifting of the visa ban, which was also ordered by Putin’s decree. Both “unacceptable as long as Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine and occupies our territory,” said President Zurabishvili.

Since the 2008 war, Russian soldiers have been in South Ossetia and Abkhazia – both regions have split from Georgia and are not internationally recognized as independent. It’s about 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.

And so today, in addition to people picking people up, a few dozen protesters came to Tbilisi airport and were not allowed to enter it. There was also a small number of protests in the city center.

Russia is said to have allowed torture and looting in Georgia after the 2008 war.

Majority of Georgians want to join the EU

80 percent of the Georgian population supports the country’s constitutional goal of becoming a member of the European Union. The country could be granted candidate country status before the end of this year.

However, the Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and the governing party Georgian Dream are accused of a pro-Moscow course. In March, for example, tens of thousands protested in front of the parliament in Tbilisi against a hastily introduced bill that would have classified the media and NGOs as “foreign agents” who receive part of their funds from abroad – with a similar law Russia suppresses independent organizations and media . The ruling party withdrew the project after the protests.

In the Georgian region of South Ossetia there will be no referendum on annexation to Russia for the time being.

Georgian opposition sees closeness to Russia

The opposition sees the approval of the flight connection to Russia as further evidence of the close proximity of the government to its neighbor in the north. Prime Minister Garibashvili defended himself today: “All of this corresponds to our national interests, which we defend with our policies. And it is consistent with international sanctions.”

According to Garibashvili, his country is adhering to these sanctions, but it has not imposed its own sanctions. Georgia borders on Russia and he assures his European counterparts that the flight connection to Russia is only about economic relations.

They are indeed narrow, even beyond the so important tourism. A large Georgian diaspora lives and works in Russia, and the number of Russian citizens increased following the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine and partial mobilization last fall.

So far, the resumption of flights has not triggered any mass protests. Tomorrow the national Georgian airline will also resume flight operations between Tbilisi and Moscow.

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