Georgian Airways Announces Controversial Plan For Transit Flights For Russians Via Tbilisi

UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

[ rfe/rl banner ]

Georgian Airways Announces Controversial Plan For Transit Flights For Russians Via Tbilisi

By RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus May 25, 2023

Georgian Airways plans to launch transit flights for Russians via Tbilisi to several destinations in Europe, a move likely to raise the ire of Washington and Brussels, which have banned Russian airlines from entering their airspace as they look to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The airline's founder, Tamaz Gaiashvili, told Russian media outlet RTVI television on May 25 that flights from Moscow to five European destinations -- Milan, Paris, Vienna, Larnaca, and Thessaloniki -- via Tbilisi will start in mid-June.

Flights between the Georgian capital and Russia resumed earlier this month after Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted a ban on air travel between the two countries implemented four years ago after a wave of anti-Kremlin protests in the Caucasus nation. Russians have looked to skirt the sanctions by flying through cities such as Istanbul, Dubai, Yerevan, and Belgrade to destinations they can no longer reach directly from home.

Putin also signed a decree also allowing Georgian nationals to enter Russia without visas starting from May 15, unless they are coming to work in Russia for more than 90 days.

The two countries have had no formal diplomatic ties since Russia routed Tbilisi's forces in a brief war in 2008 that ended with Tbilisi losing control over its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgia's government has not joined international sanctions against Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but the country also has voted in favor of all international resolutions condemning Russia's aggression. It has also provided Ukraine with humanitarian aid and taken in thousands of war refugees.

At the same time, the Black Sea country of 3.7 million has been a top destination for Russians fleeing the partial mobilization that Putin announced in September 2022 and the worsening general crackdown in Russia.

The allowance of flights from Russia has sparked protests in Tbilisi, led by President Salome Zurabishvili, who has criticized the government for its warming relations with Moscow.

Georgian Airways, based in Tbilisi, earlier this week said it had banned Zurabishvili from using its services because of her calls for a boycott of the airline.

The EU has said it "regrets" the resumption of flights to Georgia, which "raises concerns in terms of Georgia's EU path."

Gaiashvili admitted there are still issues to be ironed out over the transit of passengers through the airport given it has no proper facilities to monitor and process such an operation.

He said that the number of passengers coming from Russia to Tbilisi remains small and that flights are only about 40 percent capacity.

"Our expectations were different," Gaiashvili said.

With reporting by RTVI

Source: russia-transit-flights/32427876.html

Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

Join the mailing list