Russia rewards Georgia with the lifting of visa requirements and renewal of direct flights
Russia has restored visa-free travel for Georgians while lifting a ban on direct flights between the two countries. The moves are widely seen as a Kremlin reward for the Georgian government’s restrained approach to the war in Ukraine while also serving as a tacit recognition that Georgia is an essential node of sanctions-busting trade for Russia, writes Eurasianet.org.
According to a May 10 decree issued by Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Georgians will be allowed to visit Russia for up to 90 days without a visa. The new rules were set to go into effect on May 15. The 90-day limit set by Russia is the same timeframe that Georgians can spend in the European Union without a visa.
Meanwhile, the Transport Ministry in Moscow announced that Russian airlines would operate seven direct flights a week flying between the Russian and Georgian capitals, restoring the connection after a four-year hiatus. In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry lifted an advisory against Russian citizens travelling to Georgia.
The Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, commented on May 11 regarding the cancellation of the visa regime with Georgia and the restoration of direct flights with Russia, “From a humanitarian point of view, everything and every decision that will make life, movement, and doing business easier for our citizens are, of course, positive and welcome.”
Gharibashvili repeated that 1 million ethnic Georgians live in Russia, with family members, relatives, and relatives in Georgia, and that “it is very important to facilitate movement, their movement, the arrival of their relatives, etc.” He also added that in addition to the fact that the restoration of direct flights with Russia will remove “huge inconvenience” and expense for Georgian citizens in terms of movement, it is also a constituent part of trade and economic relations, “one small component, a detail, not the main one.” “We have trade and economic relations with Russia, it is the merit of our government that trade with Russia has also been restored, and the previous government strived for this, for which they did everything,” he emphasised, adding that many other countries, including China, Israel, have direct air connection with Russia.
A joint statement by the Georgian opposition has been published in response to restoring direct flights between Russia and Georgia. The statement, which six opposition parties signed, says that “Georgia is on the verge of international isolation and being left without allies and with the enemy — Russia.”
The statement’s authors called on Georgian society to “say together again, clearly and loudly: no cooperation with the enemy, no to the Russian government, together with Europe!” “We, the democratic, pro-Western political parties of Georgia, will do everything to democratically change this regime (“Georgian Dream”), to protect Georgia from international isolation and Russian encroachments on freedom and state sovereignty, so that our country, which is at the crossroads of history, irreversibly embarked on the path of de-occupation, integration into the EU and NATO,” the statement reads.
The statement was signed by the United National Movement, European Georgia, Elene Khoshtaria – Droa, Girchi – More Freedom, Lelo and Strategy Aghmashenebeli. Moreover, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili characterised Russia’s actions as a provocation designed to frustrate Georgia’s EU integration ambitions. “Resuming direct flights and lifting the visa ban with Georgia is unacceptable as long as Russia continues its aggression on Ukraine and occupies our territory!”, Zourabichvili wrote in a Twitter post.
Four protests have taken place in Georgia’s capital in the week following the Kremlin’s decision, with those speaking out expressing concerns over Georgia’s prospects of EU integration and the country growing closer to Russia. The first was organised by the youth wing of the opposition United National Movement, a second “performance protest” by the European Georgia party, and a third, which attracted the largest number of attendees, was organised by a mix of liberal and opposition groups.
On May 19, the Georgian police detained a reported six activists near Tbilisi International Airport as around 200 people protested the arrival of the first passenger flight from Russia to Georgia.