Police arrest 6 protesting landing of Russian airline jet at Tbilisi Airport

  • Georgian Police have arrested six individuals at the Tbilisi airport,  protesting the landing of the first jet of a Russian airline. Photo: RFE/RL 

Agenda.ge, 19 May 2023 - 15:43, Tbilisi,Georgia

Georgian Police have arrested six individuals protesting the landing of the first jet of a Russian airline at Tbilisi International Airport on Friday since the Kremlin’s move last week to resume direct flights and lift visa restrictions with Georgia.

The Georgian Interior Ministry told Agenda.ge the individuals were detained for disobeying police orders and “petty hooliganism”, after the group - including political figures from the domestic opposition - occupied a space outside the facility to voice messages against the first flight arriving from Russia following the lifting of the ban on the backdrop of Russia’s occupation of two Georgian regions and its war in Ukraine. 

Georgia’s Interior Ministry said it was only allowing access to the arrivals section of the facility for customers “directly using Airport services” and its personnel, citing “security purposes”. It also urged protesters to follow law enforcement requests in the area.

The arrival of the Azimuth Airlines flight has marked the first air connection between the countries in four years, and followed concern expressed by a part of the domestic opposition and the United States Ambassador in Georgia of the resumption of flights between the two states.

The United National Movement - the largest opposition group in the country - on Friday announced it would hold a rally at the Tbilisi Parliament building at 7 p.m. protesting the resumption of direct Russia-Georgia flights. Photo: Nino Alavidze/Agenda.ge. 

The company received the permit to operate flights from the Georgian Civil Aviation Agency on Monday, with the body saying Azimuth had been cleared as it was not on the list of companies sanctioned for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Friday pledged “not a single” sanctioned airline or aircraft would be allowed to operate in Georgia following the resumption of direct flights.

He also commented on the criticism on the resumption of flights by saying his Government was “unable” to follow Europe’s “strict policy” towards Russia by imposing sanctions on the country, claiming such move would harm economic interests of Georgian citizens and noting the presence of Russian forces in the occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) regions as a risk factor.

Russia had suspended flights to Georgia in 2019 in response to anti-Kremlin protests in Tbilisi on the backdrop of the country’s ongoing occupation of Georgian territories.