Russia abolishes visa regime and lifts nan on airline flights with Georgia
The decree #335 signed today by Russian President Vladimir Putin, states that from May 15, 2023 citizens of Georgia will be able to enter and leave Russia without a visa for up to 90 days on the basis of valid identity documents, including for educational purposes, the document says.
In addition, the ban on Russian airline flights to Georgia will also be lifted from May 15, 2023. The relevant decree was signed today by President Vladimir Putin. The direct air links between Russia and Georgia were cut off in July 2019, a decision taken unilaterally by Moscow following the anti-Russian protests in Tbilisi.
After the publication of the decrees, the Foreign Ministry of Russia said it was cancelling the recommendation for Russians to refrain from travelling to Georgia.
“From a humanitarian point of view.. anything and any decision that facilitates the life, movement and business of our citizens is, of course, positive and welcome,”- Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said on May 11, assessing Moscow’s decision to lift the visa regime with Georgia and restore direct flights.
Garibashvili emphasised that Georgia has established trade and economic relations with Russia under the current Government’s leadership, noting that the previous Government “was doing everything” to achieve this goal.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili has criticised Russia’s recent decision to resume direct flights and abolish visa restrictions with Georgia, calling it “another Russian provocation.”
In a tweet, President Zurabishvili stated: “Resuming direct flights and lifting visa ban with Georgia is unacceptable as long as Russia continues its aggression on Ukraine and occupies our territory!”
U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan responded to a question about Moscow’s decision to restore flights with Georgia and said that while it is not for the United States to say whether this will impact Georgia’s chances for the EU candidacy, “it does raise the question as to why Putin would give this to Georgia.” Amb. Degnan noted that no one believes Putin cares about the convenience of Georgian travellers.
Ambassador said if the Russian President “wanted to show that he cared about Georgia,” he would have withdrawn Russian forces from Abkhazia and Tskinvali, complied with the obligations under the ceasefire agreement from 2008, and reversed recognition of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions as independent states.
Georgian Dream renounces affiliation with PES
The ruling Georgian Dream Party has withdrawn its observer membership of the Party of European Socialists (PES), the second largest party in the European Parliament, after being criticised for taking part in a conservative conference.
“We have made a decision to leave the status of observer member of the “Party of European Socialists” and other associations related to… [them] , in connection with which we will immediately send our written statement to the “Party of European Socialists”, – said Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the “Georgian Dream”, during a briefing following the Political Council session on May 11.
Irakli Kobakhidze cited the PES’s “ideological transformation” in recent years as the reason for the ruling party’s decision. He explained that the party was moving further away from classical social-democratic ideology and towards a “pseudo-liberal platform”, which he believed deepens the value crisis in the modern world. “This kind of ideological transformation of the “Party of European Socialists” is unacceptable to us and incompatible with the values and visions of our party, as well as the Georgian society” – he noted.
Furthermore, the chairman of the “Georgian Dream” stated that top officials in PES harshly criticised Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s attendance at the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action in Budapest, which had the motto “God, Fatherland, Family.” He also reported that PES threatened to review their cooperation without any prior bilateral communication. Kobakhidze found this action and attitude unacceptable, noting: “This kind of action and attitude of the leaders of the “Party of European Socialists” is fundamentally unacceptable to us”.
Kobakhidze stressed that previously individual representatives of PES had supported “absurd” resolutions, “by which the European Parliament demanded the imposition of sanctions against the founder of our party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the release of two criminals, Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia, and the termination of the criminal case against another criminal, Davit Kezerashvili”. He also noted that PES had never condemned these absurd resolutions passed by its member European Parliamentarians.
Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili responded to the decision to withdraw from the Party of European Socialists while talking to the press and said that “this party, this union, has slowly transformed and our paths have diverged, the same [happened in the] ideological part, the same in their politics, their statements, their support.” He also emphasised that the “Georgian Dream” had “zero support” from the PES.
“There were many misunderstandings… I went to the meeting of the American Republican Party in Hungary, to CPAC, where the presidents of America and congressmen go, a lot of prominent politicians, and they condemned my participation, they dedicated two statements that how dare I turn out, they said that I used anti-LGBT phrases and that I participated in the national conservative conference,” he said, adding, “Excuse me, friends, we are like this, we want such a Georgia, we are such people, defenders of conservative, national, family values, and if they want us to cease to exist because of this, then goodbye, we wish them success”.
Pro-Western opposition parties: “Georgia faces international isolation”
Pro-Western opposition parties issued a joint statement today accusing the ruling Georgian Dream of “once again” threatening Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future, saying the country is facing the real risk of international isolation and of being left in Russia’s sphere of influence. This in its turn, “raises the risks of the renewed attack and aggression of the enemy against Georgia”,- reads the statement.
The signatories note that “only this month” the Georgian government refused to participate in the exercise “Defender 2023”, attacked the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), left the second largest European political family, and came to an agreement with Russia on direct air traffic.
The statement states that the ruling party “has initiated the final stage of the change of Georgia’s foreign policy course and the establishment of Russian authoritarianism”.
The opposition parties state the Georgian government is lying when it says the decision on abolishing the visas and flights’ ban starting next week by Russia will strengthen the Georgian economy and the ties of Georgians living in Russia with their homeland. They recall the US State Department position that if this decision is enforced, companies operating in Georgian airports will face sanctions.
The signatories state that Georgia is on the verge of international isolation and is left without allies and with the enemy – Russia. They stress that “with this decision by Putin and Ivanishvili, Georgia is openly confronting the Western policy of sanctioning Russia”. They also say that “the Georgian government is once again confronting Ukraine, which is fighting for its freedom, ours and the freedom of the entire civilised world”.
The statement reads: “At a crucial moment for our country, when Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic future is so real, Ivanishvili once again raises the question: Europe or Russia? Peace, prosperity and security in a united European family, or poverty, slavery and hopelessness with a defeated Russia?”
The statement calls upon the Georgian society “to once again say in a united, clear and loud manner: no to collaboration with the enemy, no to the Russian government, together for Europe!”
The statement also says: “We, the democratic, pro-Western political parties of Georgia, will do everything to democratically change this regime, to protect Georgia from international isolation and Russia’s encroachment on freedom and state sovereignty, so that our country, which is at the crossroads of history, turns irrevocably to the path of de-occupation and accession to the European Union and NATO.”