Irakli Kobakhidze, the Chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, on Thursday rejected the calls of the Lelo for Georgia opposition party for imposing visa requirements for Russian and Belarusian citizens to prevent security threats in Georgia on the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine by calling it a “deliberate, xenophobic campaign that is absolutely disgraceful”.
In his comments over the matter Kobakhidze stressed that there was no place for “xenophobia” in Georgia.
[I] will remind that after the August war [the 2008 war with Russia], the previous [United National Movement] Government introduced a visa-free travel for Russian citizens, and today the same people call on us to impose restrictions, sanctions, and so on. It is a xenophobia and of course we will have a tough response to this xenophobia”, the GD official said.
This is a deliberate, xenophobic campaign that is absolutely disgraceful. It does not fit into any standards. If someone wants to be European, they cannot prove it with xenophobia”, he concluded in his comments.
Russia unilaterally introduced the visa regime with Georgia in December 2000 to “prevent terrorsim threats”, claiming that thousands of refugees and fighters had fled from Chechnya to Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge during the second Chechen war (1999-2000).
Georgia suspended diplomatic relations with Russia following the Russia-Georgia 2008 war and cancelled visa-free movement with the neighbouring country. However, Tbilisi lifted the restriction starting March 1, 2012, while Georgians still need a visa to visit Russia.
In its statement earlier this week, the Lelo for Georgia party said that the “uncontrolled influx” of Russian and Belarusian citizens to Georgia on the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine, was a “serious security challenge to Georgia '' amid continuous occupation of Georgian territories by Russia.