TBILISI, Georgia — President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday ordered the restoration of direct flights from Russia to the mountainous former Soviet republic of Georgia beginning Could 15 and abolished visa necessities for Georgian nationals, within the newest signal of continued rapprochement between the 2 nations.
The Russian International Ministry stated in an announcement that the selections introduced Wednesday had been made in step with the “principled method to steadily enhancing situations for communication and contacts between the residents of Russia and Georgia.”
Mr. Putin’s choices highlighted the extremely complicated relationship between Russia and Georgia, the place many members of civil society, pro-Western opposition activists and lawmakers see the Kremlin as the principle menace to the nation’s stability and safety. The nation’s ruling celebration, nonetheless, tacitly helps nearer ties with Moscow.
In 2008, Georgia fought a painful five-day warfare with Russia that resulted in Moscow’s army taking management of the 2 secessionist areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, or about one-fifth of Georgia’s territory. Since then, Russia and Georgia have had no formal diplomatic relations.
Mr. Putin banned flights between Russia and Georgia in 2019, after anti-Kremlin protests erupted in central Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Russia started requiring visas of arriving Georgian nationals in 2000, citing a danger of terrorism within the North Caucasus, the place it was combating a warfare in Chechnya on the time.
Mr. Putin’s announcement on Wednesday was met with criticism from pro-Western officers and lawmakers in Georgia. President Salome Zourabichvili, who serves because the nation’s ceremonial head of state, referred to as Mr. Putin’s strikes a “provocation” and “unacceptable” whereas Russia continues waging its warfare in Ukraine, one other former Soviet republic.
She additionally referred to as on the nation’s authorities to convene a gathering of its safety council and focus on introducing visa necessities for Russian nationals, who can at the moment keep and work within the nation with out a visa for as much as a yr.
Ms. Zourabichvili has typically made sharp statements criticizing the Georgian authorities as being too subservient to Russia, however it’s the nation’s ruling celebration, Georgian Dream, that has actual energy over authorities coverage. The celebration formally says that it pursues pro-Western insurance policies, but it surely has additionally argued for a realistic method in growing ties with the Kremlin.
The connection with Russia has been a topic of a heated and polarizing debate in Georgia, the place many members of the pro-Western opposition argue that the nation should impose sanctions on Moscow and be extra energetic in supporting Ukraine.
Nonetheless, since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Georgia has elevated its commerce with Russia. It additionally emerged as one of many key transit hubs for items shipped between Turkey and Russia, together with some from the West. Georgia’s opposition asserts that the commerce helps Russia evade some Western sanctions, which the Georgian authorities denies.
A whole lot of hundreds of Russians fled their nation within the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and Mr. Putin’s order months later to mobilize troops for the warfare. Many have settled in Georgia, giving the nation’s financial system a lift by relocating their property there.
Georgia’s pragmatic method to its relationship with Russia has earned reward from Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s international minister, who stated in January that the choice to chorus from imposing sanctions “instructions respect” from Russia.
Based on Mr. Putin’s order, Georgian residents may have the appropriate to enter Russia with out a visa and keep there for 90 days.
The Russian Transportation Ministry stated in an announcement that seven flights would function between Moscow and Tbilisi per week, and that the planes used would all be Russian-made. The Georgian authorities stated that it will solely permit flights by airways that had not been positioned below Western sanctions, based on RIA Novosti, a Russian information company. Most of Russia’s main airways, together with Aeroflot, are below these sanctions.
Roman Gotsiridze, a Georgian opposition lawmaker, stated in an announcement on his Fb account that Mr. Putin’s choices on journey and visas had “put Georgia on the identical rank” as Belarus, “a pleasant state for Russia.”