President banned from flying, EU Path Looks Uncertain
Georgia’s biggest airline, Georgian Airways imposed a ban on the country’s president, Salome Zourabichvili from using its services. This move comes after Russia’s announcement lifting its air travel ban on Georgia, leading Georgian Airways to resume direct flights with Russia. This move led to President Zourabichvili remarking that she would boycott the airline.
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The Flight Ban
Moscow announced this month that it was lifting a four-year flight ban on Georgia, also removing a decade-old visa requirement for Georgians travelling to Russia. While Russia was the initiator of the move, Georgian authorities do not signal many restrictions.
Founder of the privately owned Georgian Airlines, Tamaz Gaiashvili, on Sunday, said that Zourabichvili would be banned from the airline and its services until she apologized before the Georgian people. She was labelled a ‘persona non grata’ ie, a person unwelcome to their airline.
President Zourabichivilli, who did not immediately comment on the ban, urged Georgian authorities to curb the Russian action. She stated on Twitter that “(Georgians) do not need gifts from Russia, masked as some kind of a concession”. She further added “In today’s situation, we are on the same side as all our European friends”, expressing her commitment to the EU, whose flag was seen to be in her video addressing Moscow lifting air travel restrictions.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the airport on Friday as well as earlier this week at the parliament and Georgian Airways’ office to voice their disagreement with the decision made by the Georgian government.
The move also drew international disapproval, with Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson for the Ukraine foreign ministry attacking the action on Twitter, stating, “The world is isolating Russia to force it to stop the war, but Georgia is welcoming Russian airlines and sending its own to Moscow. All while 20% of Georgian territory remains occupied by Russia with impunity,”.
Peter Stano, EU foreign affairs spokesperson stated “The EU regrets the decision by Georgia to resume flights to and from Russia,”, also adding “(it) raises concerns about Georgia’s EU path.”
Salome Zourabichvili, who is the last Georgian President to be elected directly by the citizens, holds a largely ceremonial position and has strained ties with the government. President Zourabichvili warned the country that deepening ties with Russia could jeopardize the country’s chances to join the EU one day.
Diplomatic relations between the two neighbours have been almost non-existent ever since the Russian invasion of the Georgian separatist areas in 2008, now known as the Russo-Georgian war, a situation somewhat identical to the contemporary Ukraine invasion. The two cut all formal diplomatic relations since the Russo-Georgian war in 2008.
Tensions continue to be high, with Georgia looking for a move to join the EU. Recently, the country has attempted to strike a balance between improving relations with Moscow and its ambitions to join the EU.
In March. the parliament tried to adopt a “Russian-style” law mandating non-governmental organizations receiving more than 20% of their financing from abroad to register as “agents of foreign influence,” the nation was shaken by protests.
The EU had called this law incompatible with EU membership, thus leading to the Tbilisi withdrawing the bill.
Conflicts between Georgia and Russia go back as far as the first half of the 19th century. The most prominent recent battle took place in 2008 over the separatist areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, when they fought in a brief but fierce military conflict.
However, in the last few years, the Georgian government has looked to be more affable with Russia as exemplified by their decision to repudiate sanctioning Russia over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.