Dozens of Georgians on Wednesday, May 10, staged a protest outside their country’s foreign ministry building to protest against Russia’s decision to restore visa-free travel for citizens of Georgia and lift a ban on direct flights between the two countries imposed in 2019.
In a statement, Russia’s Transport Ministry said Russian airlines would operate seven flights weekly between Moscow and Georgia’s capital Tbilisi. Russia wanted “to facilitate the conditions for communication and contacts between the residents of Russia and Georgia,” it said.
The move represents a warming in relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, which have been among the most strained in the former Soviet Union, but which have improved in recent years as Georgia’s ruling party has avoided offending Moscow.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili, whose position is largely ceremonial and who has repeatedly accused the ruling Georgian Dream party of having ties to Moscow since being elected with its backing in 2018, wrote on Twitter that Russia’s move was “a provocation.”
Visa liberalization was “unacceptable” while Moscow’s ‘invasion’ of Ukraine continued, she said.
But Georgian foreign minister Ilia Darchiashvili welcomed Russia’s decision, saying it “will simplify the daily living conditions of our citizens, and it will give them the chance to communicate and travel freely and easily.”
Russia allows citizens of most former Soviet republics visa-free access but imposed a visa regime on Georgians in 2000, citing the risk of terrorism in the North Caucasus region. Moscow banned direct flights to Georgia in 2019, after anti-Russian protests.
Georgia allows Russians visa-free access and full work rights for up to a year, which has made the country one of the main destinations for Russians who have left their country since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Moscow and Tbilisi have had no formal diplomatic relations since 2008, when they had fought a brief war over South Ossetia, a Russian-backed breakaway region of Georgia.
Source : TVP World