Ruling party MP rejects criticism on resumed Russia-Georgia flights “illogical”

Mamuka Mdinaradze, the head of the ruling Georgian Dream party in the Parliament,has responded to comments on the restoration of direct flights between Georgia and Russia. Photo: Georgian Dream press office, 16 May 2023 - 11:53, Tbilisi,Georgia

Mamuka Mdinaradze, the head of the ruling Georgian Dream party in the Parliament, on Monday rejected criticism by the domestic opposition and the United States Ambassador on restoration of direct flights between Georgia and Russia as “illogical”.

Mdinaradze was commenting following Moscow’s decision last week to lift the travel ban it had imposed with Georgia in 2019 and introduce three-month visa-free movement for Georgian citizens to the country, decisions met with controversy in Georgia. 

The domestic opposition urged the Government to challenge the move by imposing visa requirements for Russian nationals and cancelling direct flights amid the Kremlin’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

US Ambassador Kelly Degnan also called Russia’s decision a “trap” and said the Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not give anything for free”, before adding a “meaningful gesture” from Moscow would be to withdraw its troops from Georgia’s occupied regions.

The diplomat also warned Tbilisi of the possibility of sanctions if blacklisted aircraft entered its territory as a result of restored flights. 

She also made a contrast between the current reality and the Kremlin’s 2019 cancellation of flights with Georgia by pointing out the severity of the “brutal, bloody war against Ukrainian citizens, against children, schools, hospitals, apartment buildings” that was launched last year. She called the move an “unprecedented invasion” in an effort to eliminate Ukrainians of their identity and sovereignty.  

In his comments, Mdinaradze said it was “regrettable” the representative of the “strategic partner state” was “starting [the] countdown [of actions of Georgian authorities]” with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and not its aggression against Georgia in 2008.

“The situation has not changed for Georgia since 2008. The situation is the same”, Mdinaradze said, noting it was the country’s imprisoned former President Mikheil Saakashvili who in 2012 had “unilaterally” lifted visa restrictions for Russian citizens four years after the five-day war between the two states. 

[Our opponents’ logic is that] Saakashvili's decision to lift sanctions against Russians was good, while the current Government’s decision not to impose de facto or de jure sanctions on its own citizens [by introducing a flight ban with Russia] is bad”, he said, adding the domestic public would “not be baited by this [messaging]”.

Mdinaradze also reiterated the Government's position that imposing sanctions on Russia would affect Georgian citizens and the country’s economy.