TBILISI/July 8 (The Bulletin) — Russia’s suspension of direct air-links with Georgia, designed to starve the Georgian tourism industry of essential Russian tourists and knock its economy, came into force.
The suspension of air-links between the two neighbours ramps up Georgia-Russia tension to its highest levels since a war in 2008. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he was reacting to anti-Russia protests in Tbilisi, triggered by the visit of a Russian Communist Party MP to Georgia’s parliament, when he ordered the suspension of air-links between Russia and Georgia last month.
In Moscow, Russia’s parliament called for tougher sanctions on Georgia, including targeting its profitable wine shipments to Russia, while in Tbilisi a popular news TV host swore at Mr Putin during a live broadcast, telling him to rot in hell and praising the death of his mother.
Despite the Russian parliamentary vote, Mr Putin, apparently wanting to show his reasonable, conciliatory side, said that he was against tougher sanctions on Georgia.
“I would not do it (impose sanctions) out of respect for the Georgian people,” he told reporters on a visit to Yekaterinburg. “For the sake of restoring full-fledged relations between Russia and Georgia, I would not do anything that would complicate our relations.”
Georgian politicians welcomed Mr Putin’s statement as they have been trying to patch-up relations while also trying not to look soft on Russia in the face of sustained anti-Russia feelings in Georgia.
The issue of bilateral relations between Russia and Georgia, though, is complicated because, since the 2008 war, the neighbours have not officially had direct diplomatic ties.
In an interview with the German magazine Deutsche Welle, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili said: “We count on our partners to be . . . advocates for Georgia, so that Russia understands that it has to have a relationship with its neighbours based on mutual respect, on respect of principles of the international law.”
Georgia’s Central Bank has estimated that the flight suspension will wipe 1.8% off Georgian GDP this year.
>> This story was first published in issue 416 of the weekly Central Asia & South Caucasus Bulletin on July 16 2019