Georgian FM calls for resumption of direct flights to and from Russia

Georgia’s foreign minister, Davit Zalkaliani (pictured above), has said that direct flights to and from Russia, which were halted by the Russian president Vladimir Putin on July 8 over protests in Tbilisi against Russia’s occupation of Georgia’s Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) and Abkhazia regions, should be resumed, has reported.

“The development of tourism, humanitarian and people-to-people relations are beneficial both for Georgia and Russia and I think that the barrier [of not having direct flights] should be removed,” Mr Zalkaliani said, adding that “no Russian citizen” has faced any abuse while visiting Georgia.

The Georgian economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, has been affected by Mr Putin’s decision to block Russians from directly entering the country. While overall tourist numbers continued to grow in both July and August, the industry’s revenues fell by 13 per cent in July to 375 million US dollars and by 10 per cent in August.

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov previously said that they would consider resuming direct air connections if the Georgian government takes steps against what he described as Russophobia in the country.

Speaking in an interview with Russian news agency TASS on October 10, Russian deputy FM Andrey Rudenko said that his government was “waiting for clearer signals from Tbilisi that would indicate its readiness to move in this direction [of normalising relations].”

Responding to Georgian media reports saying that preparations are now underway to host Georgian prime minister Giorgi Gakharia in Moscow, Mr Rudenko added that no visits were planned at this time.