Russians hit out at Kremlin ban on flights to Georgia

23 June, 2019 12:00 AM printer

MOSCOW: Russia’s travel industry and ordinary Russians hit out Saturday at a decision by the Kremlin to suspend flights to Georgia as a politically motivated move that has little to do with safety concerns, reports AFP.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree banning Russian airlines from flying to pro-Western Georgia from July 8 late Friday in response to anti-government rallies in the ex-Soviet neighbour.

The protests were sparked by a parliamentary address in Tbilisi by a Moscow lawmaker earlier this week.

The Kremlin said the ban was to “ensure Russia’s national security and protect Russian nationals from criminal and other unlawful activities.”

Authorities recommended travel companies stop selling holiday packages to Georgia and advised Russian tourists to return home.

Many ordinary Russians bristled at the Kremlin’s latest initiative, while key players in the industry said they were blindsided by the move.

“Tourism in Georgia is on the rise, and the decision has shocked the whole industry,” Aleksan Mkrtchyan, head of Pink Elephant, a chain of travel agencies, said in a statement.

The ban during high season is expected to hit the travel industry in both countries hard and become a major nuisance for Russian holidaymakers.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008 and tensions between the two governments remain high.

Georgia—known for its picturesque Black Sea resorts, rich national cuisine and generous hospitality—has emerged as one of the most popular destinations for Russian tourists over the past few years, with more than 1.3 million visiting last year.

Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Tourism Union, refused to say whether the ban was justified, adding she did not comment on political matters.

But the general consensus within the industry was that Georgia was not a dangerous destination, she said.