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16 May, 2023 20:38

EU blasts Georgia over Russia flights

Brussels has criticized Tbilisi’s “regrettable” choice to ignore its sanctions on Moscow
EU blasts Georgia over Russia flights

The decision by Georgian officials to allow the resumption of flights to and from Russia may reflect negatively on their EU integration, the bloc’s spokesman, Peter Stano, told reporters on Tuesday.

“This latest decision by Georgian authorities raises concerns in terms of Georgia’s EU path and Georgia’s commitment to align with the EU decisions in foreign policy as foreseen in the EU-Georgia association agreement,” said Stano, answering a question about the flights at the very end of his daily briefing.

The US and the EU closed off their airspace to all Russian aircraft last March, citing the Ukraine conflict.

Stano also claimed they do not allow “flights over Russia,” though that ban only applies to Western carriers and was actually applied by Moscow, in retaliation.

“Regrettably, Georgia’s alignment with EU’s foreign and security policy declarations has go [sic] down from already a low 44% last year to only 31% so far this year,” Stano added. Though the EU sided with Ukraine by arguing any country is free to make its own sovereign choices, it expects countries seeking membership in the bloc – such as Georgia, or Serbia – to fully submit to policy dictates from Brussels.

Stano also cited concerns “regarding the overall security” of Russian carriers and aircraft, voiced recently by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It was unclear whether the UN agency was referring to possible maintenance issues resulting from Western sanctions, or something else. 

Last week, Russia introduced visa-free travel for Georgian citizens and lifted the 2019 ban on Russian carriers serving the Caucasus country. At least five airlines have since applied for the necessary permits to fly between Moscow and Tbilisi, the head of the Georgian Civil Aviation Agency, Givi Davitashvili, said on Monday.

Russia’s Azimuth Airlines has already been approved for charter flights, which are scheduled to start on Wednesday. Georgian Airways announced on Tuesday that it will launch direct flights to Russia by May 20, “if all the necessary permits are approved.”

In response, several dozen activists gathered in protest outside the company’s offices in Tbilisi, chanting pro-Ukrainian slogans, cursing out the Georgian PM and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and demanding a boycott. The organizers said they planned three more protests this week, including one at the Tbilisi airport.

Thousands of activists besieged the Georgian parliament in March, protesting against the proposed foreign agents registration law that the US embassy, the EU and the opposition denounced as “Russian.” The government eventually withdrew the bill.