Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled entry visas for Georgian citizens and lifted the ban on direct flights to the South Caucasian country in 2019, a move that comes amid strained relations between the two countries and was quickly denounced by the Georgian president as a “provocation”. “.
The move was announced on the Russian government’s website and offers a 90-day visa-free period starting 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 dismissed 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 having dubious relations with Moscow since his election with Moscow’s backing 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, Abkhazia.
In March, Georgia abandoned efforts to pass a “foreign agent” law after mass protests, with critics slamming the bill as inspired by 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 gives Russians visa-free access and work rights for up to a year, making the country a safe 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 welcomed Tbilisi’s decision and said its position on the war was “balanced”.