Putin halts Russian flights to Georgia

Flights carrying Russians to nearby Georgia will be halted after anti-Russian protests flared in the former Soviet republic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a temporary flight ban to begin next month, state news agency TASS reported on Friday. It added that Putin has also ordered the repatriation of Russian citizens temporarily living in Georgia.

“Starting on July 8, 2019, Russian airlines are temporarily prohibited from carrying out air transportation (including commercial) of citizens from the territory of the Russian Federation to the territory of Georgia,” TASS said.

The announcement comes after Thursday’s large-scale demonstrations by Georgian protestors against a visit by Russian MP Sergey Gavrilov to the Georgian parliament in the capital city Tblisi. Georgia’s president has since accused Russia of meddling in its internal affairs and stirring anger.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili wrote on Facebook late Thursday: “Russia is our enemy and occupier. Today, the Fifth Column orchestrated by Russia might become more dangerous than open aggression.”

On Friday, Moscow responded and expressed “extreme disapproval” of the protests, which it labeled a “Russophobic provocation.”

“One certainly can’t help being extremely concerned over the fact that there were aggressive outpourings directed at Russian citizens,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call.

Georgia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and in recent years has struggled with tensions with Russia over Moscow’s support for the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Gavrilov told the RIA-Novosti news agency that he believed Georgian protesters demanded his removal because of his alleged participation in the separatist conflict in Abkhazia in the early 1990s. A member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gavrilov has said he never participated in any armed conflicts.

Tensions flared between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 over a Russian-backed separatist movement in the province of South Ossetia, when then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili sent troops to regain control over the self-proclaimed autonomous region. Russia responded at that time by moving tanks and soldiers farther into Georgian territory.

Reporting contributed by Nathan Hodge, Milena Veselinovic, Bianca Britton and Luka Gviniashvili