Russia Blasts US Threats To Sanction Georgia As Direct Flights Resume

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, May 25, 2023 - 12:30 AM

Both the United States and European Union are mulling sanctions on the Republic of Georgia due to ongoing trade ties and Georgia's newly receiving direct commercial flights from Russia.

Russia, which is Georgia's second largest trading partner, has recently moved to thaw relations, given in part its ongoing isolation from the West, with President Putin this month signing a decree (on May 10) ending a Russian ban on direct flights which had been in effect since 2019 (following large anti-Russian protests). 

Additionally, for the first time in two decades Georgian citizens can now enter Russia without a visa (for up to 90 days).

The governing Georgian Dream party has welcomed the moves, saying "The beneficiaries are our citizens who have to take a detour at triple the cost" - in reference to the estimated hundreds of thousands of ethnic Georgians living in Russia.  

Tbilisi has this week responded to Moscow by issuing formal approval of the first Georgian operators to conduct regular flights to and from Moscow.

While Georgia has not joined in on Western sanctions against Russia, it has long pledged to not allow its territory to be used to circumvent the sanctions. But this has presented issues over aircraft maintenance and parts. The US and EU reactions to resumption of air travel is seen in the following

Earlier, US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel also warned of sanctions risks for companies at Georgian airports if they "service aircraft subject to import and export controls." EU Spokesperson Peter Stano, too, warned of safety concerns on May 11, saying that due to the sanctions, 95% of the Russian fleet is unable to "update or upgrade" their aircraft. 

"The European Union encourages Georgia, which is aspiring to become EU candidate country, to align with the existing EU sanctions … against Russia also in the area of aviation and to remain vigilant regarding any possible attempts to circumvent the existing sanctions," Stano said. In another statement on May 16, the EU spokesperson said the EU "regrets" the decision to resume Georgia-Russia flights which "raises concerns in terms of Georgia's EU path."

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvil has pushed back, saying Wednesday, "What the EU trades with Russia in four days, we trade with Russia in one year," in an interview at the Qatar Economic Forum.

"When it comes to economic sanctions [...] Georgia’s trade turnover with Russia is less than $1 billion" a year, he underscored. "This is ridiculous, isn't it? That $1 billion could not affect Russian economy."

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also blasted threats against Georgia coming from Washington. 

"There’s no other way to call [the statements by the State Department] than interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states," she told a press briefing. "We regard such mentoring statements from Washington as interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and in their relations with third countries and overt pressure."

The EU is now as part of a 11th round sanctions package on Russia mulling adding in punitive measures against third parties caught facilitating Russian sanctions-busting activities. Ironically Georgia is widely seen as pro-Western and US-friendly, but if the West goes after Tbilisi with aggressive economic measures this could quickly change.