Russia – Georgia air traffic not to be restored within a year

The flow of tourists from Russia to Georgia decreased by 70%, Yuri Barzykin, vice-president of the Russian Union of Travel Industry, informed Izvestia.

According to him, citizens of the Russian Federation continue to come to Georgia by land transport and through third countries. There are still no preconditions for the restoration of air traffic between the states and this is not expected in the near future, he added. Meanwhile, speakers in diplomatic circles told Izvestia that Russia – Georgia flights will be banned at least until the parliamentary elections in Georgia in October 2020, if the situation does not change dramatically.

A temporary ban on Russia – Georgia air traffic, imposed on July 8 by a decree of Russian President Vladimir Putin due to a surge in anti-Russian sentiment, sharply collapsed the flow of tourists to Georgia. Mr. Barzykin told Izvestia that there are no reasons to resume these flights, which means that the Georgian tourism industry will continue to feel an acute shortage of guests from Russia. According to the Prime Minister of Georgia Mamuki Bakhtadze the tourism sector lost up to US $ 60 million in just July 2019 due to the cessation of direct flights.

“By the end of the year, I think there will be specific figures: but at least 70% of the tourist flow from Russia to Georgia has decreased. Almost everyone who flew there by air stopped visiting this country. In addition, package tours are not for sale. Naturally, those who independently organized their trips can get to Georgia through land checkpoints (Upper Lars. – Izvestia) or through third countries. “But it is much more complicated, troublesome, not to mention the risks,” the vice president told Izvestia.

According to him, it’s too early to talk about restoring air service, since everything depends on Tbilisi in this matter.

“It was clearly said that everything was in the hands of the host country. And in the situation that is now being observed there, the risks for the Russians are, of course, increased. There are no prerequisites to restore air traffic,” Mr. Barzykin added.

It is likely that Georgia will have to wait for airplanes from Russia for more than a year, a source in diplomatic circles emphasized in an interview with Izvestia. According to him, the current authorities in Tbilisi have virtually ignored Moscow’s demands for security for travelers from Russia, and the surge of anti-Russian sentiment has not been extinguished.

“The situation in the country does not favour the fact that Russian tourists are now there. Russia outlined the conditions for the resumption of flights – the cessation of Russo phobic policies and rhetoric, including by the Georgian authorities. There has been no progress in this matter, therefore, at least during the year, air service will not be restored. And most likely, this will not happen before the parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2020. At the state level, anti-Russian policy should be stopped. Without this, we cannot recommend that Russians visit Georgia, and most importantly, be calm for our citizens in this country,” the source assured Izvestia.

According to another speaker in diplomatic circles, after the incident with a speech in the Georgian parliament, State Duma deputy Sergei Gavrilov, invited to the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy in Tbilisi, the Georgia’s leadership “only added fuel to the fire”.

“The President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, in her own words about that incident, not only stop the conflict that nobody needed, but, in fact, gave a new reason for the confrontation,” a source told Izvestia.

In addition, the story of the speech of the journalist of the Rustavi 2 television channel, Georgy Gabunia, who spoke abusively on Russian President Vladimir Putin on air, made the situation even worse. Then the authorities in Tbilisi only pretended to condemn the presenter, deciding not to apologize personally.

“The President of Georgia unconditionally condemns the incitement to hatred, verbal aggression, insults and provocative statements made today at Rustavi 2. They go against all Georgian traditions, serve only to divide and increase tension in the country, with Russia and the region,” was written in a statement by Salome Zurabishvili on her Twitter page.

Thus, although official Tbilisi condemned the trick on Rustavi 2, the authorities so far decided not to deal with the problem of anti-Russian sentiments in the country. The President of Georgia, expressing the hope that tourists from the Russian Federation “will return one day,” admitted that the leadership of the republic is not going to force events. According to her, it’s worth the “wait and see what reality is.”

Georgy Lomia, member of the Georgian parliament from the Alliance of Patriots of Georgia Party, told Izvestia earlier, as soon as official Tbilisi takes measures to reduce the manifestation of Russo phobia in the streets, positive steps on the part of Moscow will not take long. In his opinion, a dialogue between the leadership of the two countries, which the Georgian authorities have not yet made, should help in normalizing relations.

The government of Georgia cannot quickly solve the problem of Russo phobia in society, since it itself contributed to the growth of tension, Leonid Kalashnikov, head of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, explained to Izvestia.

“On the one hand, the opposition was led by the opposition, led by Mikheil Saakashvili, and on the other, the ruling elite, instead of immediately stopping what was happening, only fueled the situation. Society is warmed up, and only a sense of loss can calm it. It is painful to realize this, but only when they feel that what happened has reflected in their pocket, they hopefully force the country’s leadership to take concrete measures that will allow Russia to draw conclusions and lift the moratorium on air traffic. While they do not want to do this. “Apparently, they still struck slightly, they didn’t realize it,” the Russian parliamentarian said.

The surge of anti-Russian sentiment that began in Georgia on June 20 after the visit of deputies from the Russian Federation to the country resulted in mass protests. This forced Moscow to take measures in the interests of the security of Russians. As Izvestiya previously wrote, flights from Russia to Georgia after the suspension of direct flights went up by 31-55%. And although there is still the opportunity to fly to Georgia through other countries, Georgia has already dropped from third to 20th place in the list of most popular destinations for independent tourists from the Russian Federation.

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