Georgia’s decision to resume direct flights to Russia has also drawn criticism from Ukraine and EU countries.
In Georgia, a large group of protesters met at Tbilisi airport on Friday after the first direct flight from Russia since the start of the war of aggression in Ukraine landed at the airport.
According to the BBC, clashes broke out between protesters and police when police prevented people from entering the airport’s arrival hall. Signs carried by the protesters read, among other things, “You are not welcome” and “Russia is a terrorist state”.
Georgian Aviation Authority announced on Tuesday that Georgian Airways will resume direct flights from Russia from Saturday. The announcement immediately sparked criticism in Ukraine and in EU countries.
Last week, Russia lifted a ban on flights to Georgia, which was seen as a sign of a significant warming of relations between the two countries, according to Reuters. Russia and Georgia have had no formal diplomatic relations since a brief war in 2008.
The first direct flight to land in Tbilisi on Friday afternoon was operated by the Russian company Azimuth Airlines. According to Russian media, a delegation, which included representatives of pro-Russia Georgian organizations and companies, toured the country aboard it.
The beneficiaries of this are our citizens, who have to use a detour to triple the cost, said Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the Georgian Dream ruling party, referring to Georgian citizens living in Russia, according to the BBC.
However, most Georgians are against the return of flights. More than 100 organizations called it “direct sabotage” aimed at the country’s EU membership aspirations.
– The latest decision by Georgian authorities raises concerns about Georgia’s path to the European Union, EU foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said, according to Reuters earlier.
Georgia’s pro-Western president, Salome Zurabishvili, also described the start of air traffic as “another Russian provocation”. According to the Georgian opposition, it is a Russian award for the ruling party which has shown “good behaviour”.
Georgia has not joined the sanctions imposed on Russia by other countries, and it has allowed thousands of Russians to settle in the country since the start of the war in Ukraine. Some of them have run away from mobilization.
Violent protests were last seen in Georgia in March. At the time, the country’s administration tried to push through a law change based on the Russian model, which would define NGOs receiving more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad as “foreign agents”. .
However, violent protests prompted the Georgian government to withdraw the bill.
Read more: Video: Woman who challenges riot police’s water cannon becomes symbol of protest in Georgia
Levan Habishvili, leader of the United National Movement opposition party, told the BBC on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to turn Georgia into a “province of Russia”.
– The will of the Georgian people is inexhaustible! We choose Europe, not Russia! Habishvili said.
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