Kremlin axes flights from Georgia

Kremlin axes flights from Georgia

After banning Russian airlines from flying to Georgia, the Kremlin has stopped Georgian airlines from landing at Russian airports.

The move, which will be imposed on July 8, follows an outbreak of anti-Russia protests at the Tbilisi parliament last week triggered by a parliamentary address by an expansionist Moscow MP.

The decision to allow the Russian Duma’s Sergei Gavrilov to speak to Georgia’s assembly of legislators from Orthodox Christian countries sparked instant anger.

Gavrilov, who was born in the Russian Central Federal District, said he considered Georgia his “homeland”. He took the seat of Georgian Speaker, sparking an instant protest.

Russia said the flight ban would “ensure Russia’s national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities”.

Russian travel companies have been told to stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and Russian tourists have been told to come home.

A giant stone memorial in front of parliament commemorates the 21 Georgians who died on April 9, 1989, when Soviet troops suppressed a pro-independence rally in Tbilisi.

In 2006 Russia stopped flights and imports of Georgian wine and bottled water as tensions rose with Tbilisi, culminating in the August 8, 2008, war over South Ossetia.

More than 240 people were hurt around the Georgian parliament on Thursday when police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets at protesters.

Georgia has lost about 20 per cent of its territory, which are now in effect “independent” states controlled by Moscow. Russia has caved out similar enclaves in western Ukraine.

Gavrilov has spoken out in favour of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Moscow has recognised both regions as independent states and built permanent military bases in each, boosting anti-Russian sentiment in Georgia, the home of Josef Stalin.

Georgia is a popular destination for Russian tourists, attracted by the Caucasian state’s dramatic mountain scenery, benign climate and its wine.

Pro-western Georgian parties advocate proactively seeking closer ties with the European Union and Nato.

Georgia’s powerful Orthodox Church has long been uncomfortable with some parties’ pro-western ambitions. It regards the west as decadent and has the backing of Russia’s sister church.

Russia has used its state-controlled media and cultural organisations to influence former Soviet satellites and the Orthodox Church has operated in parallel.

Several Russian tourists said the decisions had little to do with safety.

“Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry,” said Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of the Pink Elephant travel agency chain.

Georgian demonstrators have denounced the government as too pro-Russian and called for an early general election.

Beautiful Georgia has long attracted Russian visitors. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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