US threatens NATO aspirant with sanctions
The US State Department has warned Georgia that “now is not the time to increase engagement with Russia” and has threatened the NATO hopeful with sanctions over resuming direct flights with its northern neighbor.
During a press briefing on Monday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated Washington’s concerns over the resumption of air traffic between Georgia and Russia, noting that “many Western countries, including the United States, prohibit Russian aircraft from entering [their] airspace.”
Miller suggested that the resumption of such flights “could mean that companies in Georgian airports could be at risk of sanctions” but did not give any specific timetable for when such measures might be imposed.
“We – the entire Western community has distanced itself from this regime, and now is not the time to increase engagement with Russia,” he said.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted Moscow’s air travel ban and visa regime with Georgia, both of which were imposed in 2019 in the wake of violent anti-Russia protests in Tbilisi. Direct flights between Tbilisi and Moscow have now resumed, despite protests by some of the nations participating in sanctions against Russia.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, whose role is mainly ceremonial under the country’s constitution, blasted the resumption of air traffic with Russia, calling it “another provocation” and “unacceptable as long as Russia continues its aggression on Ukraine and occupies our territory.”
The Georgian government, however, welcomed the move. “There is nothing wrong with being able to travel without a visa and flying [to other countries],” said Tbilisi Mayor Kaha Kaladze, who also noted that Georgia has refrained from supporting Western sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict.
“We won’t take a decision that will harm our country. We won’t join the sanctions,” Kaladze reiterated.
Meanwhile, despite Western efforts to further isolate Moscow and sanction those cooperating with it, Russia’s international flight connections have been on a steady rebound. Aside from resumed air links with Georgia, the government of Indonesia also announced plans last week to launch direct flights to the city of Vladivostok in the Russia’s Far East, with transit routes on to other major Russian cities.
“Russia is now looking to the East, so we are also looking towards Russia,” explained Berlian Hemli, the deputy mission chief at Indonesia’s embassy in Russia.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko has also said that air traffic between Russia and Cuba would resume starting July 1.