Vladimir Putin has banned Russia’s airlines from flying to Georgia, a day after a Russian lawmaker’s visit to the country prompted violent clashes between protesters and police.
The ban is a serious escalation in tensions between the neighbouring countries, which fought a war in 2008. The suspension of flights is designed to put pressure on Georgia’s tourism industry, which accounted for 7.6% of the country’s GDP in 2018. More than 1.4 million Russians visited Georgia last year.
Georgians call for snap elections in second night of protests
Putin signed the decree on Friday evening, saying the suspension of flights was necessary to protect “the national security of the Russian Federation”.
According to the decree, Russian airlines will be banned from bringing Russian citizens to Georgia beginning on 8 July. The decree also ordered parliament to provide for the return of Russian citizens currently in Georgia and recommended tour agencies not to send Russian clients to Georgia.
Putin’s decree will also hurt Russian airlines like Aeroflot, S7, Ural Airlines and Pobeda, which carry thousands of passengers each week to Georgia.
The suspension of flights came after Georgians protested against a visit by a Russian MP who was allowed to chair a session of parliament on Thursday. More than 200 people were injured in clashes outside of the parliament building in central Tbilisi.
Dozens injured after Georgia police fire rubber bullets at demonstrators
Russia has reacted angrily to the protests, calling the events “an anti-Russian provocation”.
Police in Georgia used tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to stop protesters from storming the country’s parliament.
The outcry began after Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov took the chair’s seat during an assembly of legislators from Orthodox Christian countries being held in Tbilisi. As news of Gavrilov’s appearance began to circulate, a crowd gathered outside parliament. By late evening about 10,000 people were massed outside the building, waving Georgian flags, chanting and later on, attempted to breach the lines of riot police and storm the building.
Protesters gathered outside Georgia’s parliament for a second successive night of protests on Friday evening, demanding snap elections and the resignation of the country’s interior minister.
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