Georgian PM’s Russia economic envoy says “nothing scandalous” in leaked recording over restoration of direct flights between countries

Abashidze said the conversation was proof of the Kremlin’s “unilateral decision” in resuming flights with Georgia in May 2023.Photo: Government press office, 01 Nov 2023 - 12:41, Tbilisi,Georgia

Zurab Abashidze, the Georgian Prime Minister’s Special Representative in Relations with Russia, on Tuesday reacted to an audio recording released on YouTube that allegedly contained his exchange with Grigory Karasin, the Chair of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs, in March 2022 over resumption of direct flights between the states by saying there was “nothing scandalous in it”. 

Posted on Tuesday by the anonymous YouTube channel Cyber Kmara, the recording was purported to contain a telephone conversation between the two officials shortly after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.

In the audio, Karasin was apparently heard wondering whether it was an “appropriate time” for the launch of talks on direct flights between Russia and Georgia. The air connections had been suspended by the decision of the Russian President in 2019 amid rallies in Tbilisi sparked by the presence of Russian MPs in the Parliament on the backdrop of Russia’s occupation of Georgia’s Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (South Ossetia) regions.

In his comments for Interpressnews, Abashidze said his response to Karasin had “confirmed” that the launch of the talks was “not appropriate”. The official also claimed the conversation was proof of the Kremlin’s “unilateral decision” in resuming flights with Georgia in May 2023.

Saying there was “nothing scandalous” in the recording, Abashidze said discussing trade and economic topics with Russia - since the states suspended diplomatic ties following the 2008 conflict between them - had been the “major goal” behind the creation of his office back in 2012. 

He also told the news agency he had held no conversations with Karasin on the flights since the time of the 2022 talk, and had not “discussed this or other topics” with the Russian official over the past eight months.