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5 Feb, 2023 19:24

EU and US threaten ex-Soviet republic with sanctions

Georgia will be punished if it resumes flights to Russia, Western officials warned
EU and US threaten ex-Soviet republic with sanctions

American and EU officials have threatened Georgia with economic sanctions if Tbilisi resumes air travel with Russia. No planes have flown between Russia and the former Soviet republic since 2019.

“The European Union calls on Georgia to join the sanctions…against Russia in the aviation sector and to remain vigilant against any possible attempts to circumvent the sanctions,” a spokesman for the bloc’s External Action Service told Georgia’s Netgazeti news site on Saturday. He added that the EU is “considering imposing sanctions” on countries attempting to circumvent its sanctions on Russia – including by allowing air travel.

The US State Department has taken a similar line, with a spokesperson telling Voice of America on Thursday that companies servicing Russian aircraft at Georgian airports would be hit with import and export controls.

“Now is not the time to increase engagement with Russia,” the spokesperson said.  

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov raised the prospect of resuming air routes between the two countries last month, when he praised Georgia for declining to impose sanctions on Russia in the wake of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine.

"The fact that a small country and its government has the courage to say that they will be guided by their own interests…that inspires respect," he said. Hailing the deepening trade ties between Russia and Georgia, he added that “I hope we will soon be able to resume direct air links as well.”

The ruling Georgian Dream party in Tbilisi welcomed Lavrov’s statement, with party chairman Irakli Kobakhidze calling the resumption of flights a “welcome” move that would be “important for our fellow citizens.” However, Georgia’s pro-Western president, Salome Zurabishvili, called the idea “incomprehensible,” and accused Moscow of attempting to drive a wedge between her country and the West.

Brussels in particular has some leverage over Georgia, given that the former Soviet republic applied for EU membership last year and is awaiting a decision on receiving formal candidate status.

Russia unilaterally suspended air links with Georgia in 2019, after a mob of nationalists and pro-Westerners attempted to storm the country’s parliament building during a speech by Russian lawmaker Sergey Gavrilov.