Russian President Vladimir Putin has lifted visa and travel restrictions on Georgian citizens that have been in place for a number of years. He signed a decree on Wednesday easing travel restrictions, meaning that, from May 15, citizens of Georgia will be able to visit Russia for up to 90 days without a visa, as long as they’re not in the country for work.
Putin also lifted a ban on Russian airlines carrying out direct flights between the countries, as well as a ban on the sale of tours to Georgia, that had been in force since 2019.
Russia’s visa regime for Georgia was introduced in 2000, due to “the risk of terrorism,” with Russia claiming that thousands of refugees and fighters had fled from Chechnya to Georgia.
Then, in 2008, diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed by Tbilisi following Russia’s recognition of the pro-Russian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Still, Georgia lifted visa restrictions on Russian citizens in 2012, allowing them to stay in the country for up to 90 days with then-President Mikheil Saakashvili seeing the move as a way to improve relations between the countries.
Russia’s relationship with Georgia has become more nuanced in recent years. Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party has been accused of pro-Kremlin sympathies and has been keen to appear neutral when it comes to the war between Russia and Ukraine.
But Georgia’s President Salome Zurabishvili said on Wednesday that Russia’s restoration of visa-free travel and the lifting of a ban on direct flights was “unacceptable” as long as Moscow continued its invasion of Ukraine.
The reaction of the President of Georgia
“Another Russian provocation!” is how the President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili responded to the resumption of direct flights to Georgia by Russia and the cancellation of the visa regime.
“Resuming direct flights and lifting the visa ban with Georgia is unacceptable as long as Russia continues its aggression on Ukraine and occupies our territory!” she tweeted.
“It is inappropriate, untimely, we do not need to cancel visas, nor restore flights, since Russia is an aggressor for the whole world and since it is the occupier of our territories,” she added.
She called on the government to make their position clear.
“It is time, as I have repeatedly said, for the Security Council to meet in public and discuss a three-month visa requirement for Russians, a necessity given our domestic challenges. More control is needed from the state over those Russians who enter the country, who stay in the country, and it is necessary to take some measures so that all this falls into a normal, civilized framework,” Zurabishvili said.
“Reward for anti-Western policy” — Opposition on the cancellation of the visa regime with Russia
Part of the Georgian opposition parties state that they consider Russia’s cancellation of the visa regime for Georgian citizens as a “reward” for the Georgian government’s anti-Western policy.
“Putin’s decision is a reward for the Georgian government for the policy that Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream, the Georgian government has been pursuing in the country in recent months, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is an anti-Western, anti-Ukrainian policy,” MP Khatia Dekanoidze claimed Wednesday.
Meanwhile, MP Tinatin Bokuchava, a member of the UNM, noted that there is a pro-Russian force in the government of Georgia, and as such, Putin’s decision is logical:
“The occupant country does not consider Georgia as a hostile state because it is clear to everyone that today there is a pro-Russian force in the government of Georgia, and this is confirmed by a number of facts,” she stated, highlighting not only the cancellation of the visa regime for Georgian citizens, but also the anti-Ukrainian policy of the Georgian government, anti-Western messages, etc.
“The loyalty of the Georgian Dream was appreciated by Putin’s regime. This is direct evidence that there is a connection between them. They are doing this in order to inspire us for membership of the Eurasian Union rather than the European Union,” said Giorgi Vashadze, the leader of the Strategy Agmashenebeli party.
Gigi Tsereteli, Chairman of the Political Council of “European Georgia”, said he considers Putin’s decision “complete hypocrisy” and part of a “hybrid war.”
According to him, Russia’s move looks to all intents and purposes to be a signal that Georgia is moving westwards and needs to be encouraged back. In reality, on the contrary, it makes Georgia’s communication with the West even more difficult.
“He is harming the Western perspective of our country and is fighting for us to stand alone against him. Russia should not cancel visas, it should withdraw its troops from Georgia and end the occupation.
“This is both a request and an obligation that Russia has taken, and it is very unfortunate that the Georgian authorities practically do not remind it of this obligation and may even welcome the restoration of flights and the cancellation of visas”, Tsereteli said.
Kobakhidze: Georgia’s pragmatic policy has results, and the result is that in Georgia today we do not have a second front
Irakli Kobakhidze, the Chairman of Georgian Dream, stated on Imedi TV that he remembers the time when Russia removed Georgia from the list of hostile states and this too was followed by indignation from the radicals.
“In fact, it was an expression of the fact that Georgia’s pragmatic policy has results, and the result is that in Georgia today we do not have that second front which the radical opposition wants so much. This is actually the essence and result of it all. As for foreign political issues, including integration into the European Union, there have already been speculations. This speculation will continue. I can tell you directly, and you will probably see the evidence of this the day after tomorrow, the radical opposition will try their best to use this issue for their campaign against candidate status. There is no connection. We did not become a member of the CIS. A punishment was imposed on the Russian side, and the punishment imposed on the citizens of Georgia was lifted,” he said.
Russian MFA cancels recommendation for Russian citizens advising them to refrain from traveling to Georgia
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia is withdrawing its recommendation for Russian citizens, according to which the agency advised them to refrain from traveling to Georgia, said Maria Zakharova, the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.
Zakharova mentioned comments regarding the restoration of direct flights to Georgia will be made by the Ministry of Transport of Russia in the near future.
“The decisions taken by the President of the Russian Federation regarding the restoration of flights and the introduction of a visa-free regime for short-term travel of Georgian citizens to Russia are in accordance with our principled approach to consistently simplify communication and contacts between the citizens of Russia and Georgia despite the absence of diplomatic relations,” she noted.
Compiled by Ketevan Skhirtladze