President Salome Zurabishvili said that lifting the visa ban and resuming flights is meaningless as long as Russia occupies Georgian and Ukrainian lands.
Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled entry visas for Georgian citizens and lifted a 2019 ban on direct flights to the South Caucasian country, a move that comes amid strained relations between the two countries and was quickly denounced by Georgia’s president as a “provocation”.
Announced on the Russian government’s website, the move is offering a 90-day visa-free period from May 15.
The Russian Ministry of Transport said in a statement that Russian airlines will operate seven flights per week between Moscow and the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
She said that Russia wants to “facilitate the conditions for communication and contacts between the residents of Russia and Georgia.”
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili refused via Twitter, saying: “Another Russian provocation! Resumption of direct flights and lift [the] The visa ban with Georgia is unacceptable as long as Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine and occupies our lands.
Zurabishvili has repeatedly accused Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili of the ruling Georgian Dream party of maintaining questionable relations with Moscow since his election with Moscow’s support in 2018.
Moscow and Tbilisi have one of the most tense relations between the countries of the former Soviet Union and have not had formal diplomatic relations since 2008, when a brief war broke out over South Ossetia, a breakaway region backed by Russia.
Much of Georgian society remains deeply anti-Russian, with thousands living as internal refugees after fleeing South Ossetia and the other Russian-backed breakaway region of Abkhazia.
In March, Georgia abandoned efforts to pass a “foreign agents” bill after mass protests, with critics denouncing the bill modeled after a Russian law they say has been used to undermine civil society.
While Russia allows visa-free travel to most countries of the former Soviet Union, it imposed a visa requirement on Georgia in 2000, citing security risks.
Moscow also banned direct flights to Georgia in 2019 after anti-Russian protests.
Tbilisi allows Russians visa-free access and work rights for up to a year, which made the country become a haven for Russians fleeing conscription during the invasion of Ukraine.
Despite a strong pro-Ukrainian stance among senior politicians and the public, Georgia has refused to impose sanctions on Russia, causing friction with the European Union.
Russia praised Tbilisi’s decision and said its position on the war was “balanced”.
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