Russia suspends flights to Georgia after violent clashes

Russian President, Vladimir Putin

President Vladimir Putin has temporarily banned Russian airlines from flying to Georgia following a spate of violent unrest in the country.

He signed the decree – which will be implemented from 8 July – on Friday.

It came after some 240 people were hurt a day earlier in protests that were ignited by the appearance of a Russian MP in Georgia’s parliament.

Tensions between the countries remain high, 11 years after they fought a war over the region of South Ossetia.

Moscow will also recommend that Russian travel agencies suspend all tours to neighbouring Georgia.

Sergei Gavrilov, the Russian MP who sparked the fury on Thursday, addressed an assembly of MPs from Orthodox Christian nations.

But protesters stormed the parliament in the capital, Tbilisi, and police used rubber bullets and tear gas in an attempt to disperse them.

The speaker of Georgia’s parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, has resigned following the violence. He faced a fierce backlash for inviting Mr Gavrilov to give the speech.

How the protest began

Mr Gavrilov was taking part in the Inter-parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) – a body set up by the Greek parliament in 1993 to foster relations between Christian Orthodox lawmakers.

Opposition MPs in Georgia’s parliament called for protests in response to his decision to deliver a speech in Russian from the speaker’s seat.

About 10,000 protesters later breached the police cordon in Tbilisi, demanding the resignation of the parliamentary speaker and other senior officials. Some were carrying EU flags and placards reading “Russia is an occupier”.

Giga Bokeria, an opposition MP for the European Georgia party, told AFP the rally outside parliament had been “a spontaneous protest by ordinary Georgians”.

Demands by opposition

Inside parliament, opposition lawmakers demanded that the parliamentary speaker, interior minister and state security service chief all resign over the incident. The session was suspended, and Mr Gavrilov later flew back to Russia.

“That was a slap in the face of recent Georgian history,” Elene Khoshtaria, an opposition member of parliament, said.

Timeline to Russia- Georgia tension

When Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, separatist conflicts erupted in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In August 2008, Georgia attempted to recapture South Ossetia. Russia poured troops in, ousting Georgian forces and only halting the advance within striking distance of Tbilisi.

Following a ceasefire, Russia withdrew most of its troops from undisputed parts of Georgia but still maintains a military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, recognising both as “independent” states.

Since then, diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia remain clouded by mutual suspicion. To the ire of Moscow, Georgia has ambitions to join the European Union and Nato.

Emmanuel Ukoh