Protesters waved Ukrainian flags and anti-Russian banners outside Tbilisi International Airport in Georgia on Friday, May 19, as they rallied against the return of direct flights from Tbilisi to Russia after their suspension in 2019.
The flight on May 19 was operated by Azimuth Airlines, a Russian company with headquarters in Rostov-on-Don. Azimuth’s founder, Vitaly Vantsev, received a state reward from Putin on February 9, 2023, for his contributions to civil aviation, according to the Kremlin.
On May 10, the pro-Western president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, delivered sharp criticism about the move, calling it a “Russian provocation” disguised as a concession that had been made at an “unacceptable and inappropriate time.”
“Resuming direct flights and lifting visa ban with Georgia is unacceptable as long as Russia continues its aggression on Ukraine and occupies our territory!” Zourabichvili tweeted on May 10. In a video statement issued that day, the president, flanked by the flags of the European Union and Georgia, called on the Georgian government to reassess its relationship with Russia and impose sanctions. “We must know where our country, with its occupied territories and its solidarity with the friendly Ukraine, stands,” Zourabichvili said.
Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream, said the government was in favor of the flights and would not impose sanctions on Russia, arguing that they would have a negative impact on Georgia, according to local reports.
After the first flight took off on May 19, Zourabichvili tweeted: “Despite the opposition of the Georgian people, Russia has landed its unwelcome flight in Tbilisi. #No2Flights2Russia.”
Six people were arrested during the demonstration, according to Georgian news reports. Credit: Current Time via Storyful