On May 10, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on the abolition of the visa regime for citizens of Georgia and on the resumption of air traffic with this country, which was terminated in 2019.
Speaker of the Georgian Parliament Shalva Papuashvili from the Georgian Dream party Bidzina Ivanishvili said that Georgia will not impose sanctions against Russia "based on the national interests of our population, so as not to aggravate relations [between the two countries]."
Salome Zurabishvili, the president of Georgia, wrote on her Twitter account that these decisions are a provocation and are unacceptable “as long as Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine” and occupies the territory of her country. After that, she called for the convening of the Georgian Security Council and the introduction of three-month visas for Russian citizens, "based on our internal challenges."
According to her, Georgia is a hospitable country, and has been accepting “everyone” for a year now, but there are things “that should not happen.” “It is impossible that Russian-language kindergartens should be opened, in which teaching the Georgian language to children who live in Georgia today will not be equally mandatory,” she emphasized in particular.
The fact that Georgia will not join the anti-Russian sanctions has been repeatedly stated in the country. Thus, in November 2022, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said that his country "is not going to follow anyone's directives" and will do "what [it] needs".
Fly while you can
A Russian aviation expert, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Insider that politics and economics were intertwined in the decision to resume flights to Georgia. The economic component of the problem, in his opinion, is that this country is a popular destination for Russian tourists and those who want to immigrate from Russia, which will allow Russian airlines to receive another source of income.
At the same time, the aviation expert noted that Georgia would not allow foreign-made aircraft, which Russia was supposed to return to Western lessors in accordance with the sanctions imposed on the country, into its airspace.
Therefore, flights will only be possible on Russian SuperJet aircraft, “which will soon stop flying” because they are equipped with SaM146 engines that require repair and maintenance. They were produced by the joint Russian-French venture PowerJet. They don't know how to repair their hot part on their own in Russia.
However, as the expert states, "as long as there is an opportunity to fly there, and at least some money will be earned by the airlines." In addition, he recalls that in this way it will be more convenient for “cops and FSB officers from Center “E” to travel to Georgia, where many of the Russian opposition activists and politicians have moved.
David Khadzhishvili, a member of the Georgian Parliament from the United National Movement party, in turn, points out that Russian airlines are under sanctions, which “even the corrupt Georgian government” recognized. Therefore, in his opinion, which he voiced to The Insider, in theory only planes of Georgian airlines can do this. At the same time, he noted that his party will do everything to ensure that such companies fall under sanctions.
According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, from January to the end of September 2022, 112.7 thousand Russians remained to live in the country, which is about 3% of its total population. At the same time, in general, more than one million people crossed the border from Russia.
The ways of the special services
Khadzhishvili says that despite the fact that the opening of air communication between Russia and Georgia is a plus for Georgian business, this is unacceptable in wartime.
If [in Georgia] there was a normal pro-Georgian and pro-Western government, and we would be sure that spies and agents of the FSB or GRU would not come to us, then we would only be happy to see Russians and other tourists
In addition to doubts about the Georgian security service, which, in his opinion, works “together with the Russians, and over these 10 years has not revealed a single Russian spy in Georgia, although there are many of them,” he points out that thanks to the opening of air traffic, bypass routes can be established anti-Russian sanctions imposed by Western countries.
Khadzhishvili regards Putin's introduction of a visa-free regime for Georgian citizens as a pretext for Georgia to open air communication with Russia. “If they [simply] allowed their companies to fly, then Georgia would not be able to open direct flights, because this is not a reason, but the abolition of the visa regime with Georgians is already a reason,” he comments.
A Russian political strategist close to Ivanishvili's Georgian business clan confirms to The Insider that this decision is beneficial to both the Russian intelligence services and the current Georgian authorities:
This “liberal rubbish” from the Russian Federation is very annoying for Georgians, and they are unhappy. Everyone will get what they want. The fugitive Russians will be expelled - some will return. The FSB officers will help the Georgian authorities to restore order, take control of the flows, further strengthen the Armenians, in general, the criminals will begin to move back there. Everyone will be a plus [for both].
In addition, Armenia and Georgia, the political strategist believes, are “perfectly integrated” into the North-South trade corridor, which India proposed to create. It should link Mumbai with Russia and Europe, bypassing Azerbaijan and the Suez Canal. In this case, "parity of forces" will occur, and it will not be so easy for Azerbaijan to take Karabakh.
Gela Vasadze, a Georgian political analyst and author of the Novosti s Kavkaza YouTube channel, recalls that for 22 years it was Putin and his government that did everything to tear Georgia away from Russia.
He recalls that the visa regime was introduced by Russia in 2001, when Georgia refused to allow Russian troops to enter the Pankisi Gorge, where Georgian Chechens live compactly.
And now, when Georgia already has a visa-free regime with the EU, when a generation has changed in 22 years, and young people simply don’t speak Russian, because the Russian language was not needed, because you won’t go to study or work in Russia, they say that the visa regime is cancelled!
At the same time, he emphasizes that Russian influence in Georgia is influence on one person - Bidzina Ivanishvili. According to him, sociology confirms that only 5% of the country's inhabitants do not consider Russia a hostile country. “So Putin can keep all these obscene proposals in his purse,” Vasadze sums up.
He is echoed by David Khadzhishvili, who believes that if direct air communication between Russia and Georgia is resumed, then the Georgian people will have an answer to this.
“I think that people will take to the streets, as they went out against this Russian law on foreign agents. The Georgian people will once again stand up for their interests, the side of the civilized world, and once again show that this should not happen in Georgia,” he says.