After Russia overturned a restriction on direct flights between the two nations imposed in 2019 and reinstated visa-free travel for Georgian citizens, numerous Georgians protested this reconciliation.
The first direct flight in four years from Moscow to Tbilisi will take place on Friday, and opposition groups have threatened to hold demonstrations at the airport.
Russia and Georgia have a complicated past together. After years of hostilities over the tiny South Caucasus nation’s attempts to build closer connections with the West, Moscow engaged Georgia in a brief but brutal war in 2008. Moscow established military posts in two separatist areas in the country’s north after the war and recognized them as autonomous.
In response to protests against Moscow in Tbilisi, Russia prohibited plane travel to Georgia in 2019. However, Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly removed a flight ban with Georgia last week. Additionally, he has instituted a 90-day visa-free period for Georgian nationals.
In the country on the Black Sea, where tensions have been high for years, Putin’s decision has provoked a range of reactions from those who support it to those who oppose it. To protest the start of flights this week, hundreds of Georgians have already taken to the streets.
The opposition party Droa, whose leader Elene Khoshtaria issued the call for the protest, claimed that if necessary, the demonstrators would resort to physical action. She said of the flights: “We won’t let them operate in Georgia.”
According to her, the Georgian Dream party, which is currently in power, has committed “treason,” and would “receive an appropriate reaction from Georgian citizens.”
Salome Zurabishvili, the pro-EU president of Georgia, immediately denounced Moscow’s move to resume aviation traffic and referred to it as “another Russian provocation.”
The resumption of air travel comes as Russia’s isolation from the West grows and Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine enters its second year. Gela Vasadze, an analyst, referred to Putin’s action as “part of a hybrid war aimed at spoiling Georgia’s relationship with the West.”
But Putin’s decision to allow flights to resume has been hailed by Georgia’s prime minister as “very positive from a humanitarian point of view.” Only Russian planes and aircraft that are not subject to Western sanctions will be permitted to fly in Georgia, he claimed.
“This is simply about business and trade partnerships, I want to reassure our friends in the European Union and abroad,” he said. He added that Russia made almost $300 billion in commerce with the EU last year.
Garibashvili’s administration has come under fire for allegedly flirting with the Kremlin and failing to secure Georgia’s bid for EU membership. After Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbor in February 2022, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova submitted applications for membership in the EU.
Kyiv and Chisinau were given official candidate status by EU leaders in June of last year, but Tbilisi was advised to modernize the legal and electoral institutions, enhance press freedom, and lessen the influence of oligarchs.
“The Georgian government’s behavior has been schizophrenic since the start of the war in Ukraine. They claim to favor European integration, yet their attitude toward Europe is antagonistic”, said Political analyst Ghia Nodia.
“The leaders of the Georgian Dream have a harsh tone when speaking about the West, but they never criticize Russia. They are essentially impeding Georgia’s integration into the EU”, he continued.
Such charges have been refuted by Garibashvili, who referred to them as “an insult to the Georgian people.” Speaking last week, he said that “strategic patience and pragmatic policy” had influenced his government’s approach to Russia.
According to opinion polls, 85 percent of the public supports Georgia’s applications to join the EU and NATO, which are established in the constitution. The ruling party maintains that it is committed to those applications.
“The EU wants a democratic Georgia, and in democracies, one can be voted out of power. The ruling party, which is only concerned with maintaining power, views the West as a natural opponent and the Russian ruler as a cozy partner.” expert Nodia stated.