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Georgia ready to restore direct air flights with Russia, MFA says

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, March 9
Georgia is ready to restore direct air flights between Tbilisi and Moscow, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Nino Kalandadze said on Monday, following statements by the Christian-Democratic Movement earlier on March 8 that it was necessary to restore direct flights to Moscow.

Despite the lack of diplomatic relations with Russia the opening of the Larsi border crossing point is a “good example” of how we can cooperate through the Swiss Embassy's mediation, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia said at the traditional Monday briefing. “The Georgian side is always ready to restore air flights with Moscow, however our will alone is not enough to achieve this,” Kalandadze noted, adding that it was the Russian side which had decided to stop regular direct flights to Georgia.

The Parliamentary minority Christian-Democratic Movement had demanded the restoration of direct flights with Russia by saying that this is in the interest of some 800,000 Georgian citizens currently living in Russia. “Following the opening of the Kazbegi-Zemo Larsi land border with Russia, which is used mainly by Russian and Armenian citizens, it is time that the Georgian Government start caring about its own citizens and worked on restoring direct flights with Russia,” MP Nika Laliashvili of the CDM said. “The Georgian Transport Administration should start dealing with this issue,” he stated.

The role of the State in the process of restoring flights is “minimal”, said Kalandadze. “The Government can only issue permission. It is up to private air companies to make the decision,” she said, adding that the restoration of direct flights between Tbilisi and Moscow would ease the movement of Georgian citizens living in Russia and all people interested in entering Georgia.

Air Company Airzena-Georgian Airways, which conducted direct charter flights between Moscow and Tbilisi in January, said that the company has sent a request to Moscow on restoring regular direct flights. “The global spring aviation season starts on March 28 and we are sending out new schedules. We have already sent a new timetable to all countries to which we conduct flights, including Russia. If they agree, we will start flights,” head of the Georgian Airways Press Service Nino Giorgobiani said.

Moscow had also expressed a readiness to discuss restoring direct flights with Georgia in January. “There are no serious obstacles to restoring regular flights [with Georgia]. Of course this would involve preliminary agreement between the air authorities of the two countries on several technical aspects, in particular the timetable of flights,” official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Andrey Nesterenko told journalists on January 29. “If the Georgian side expresses interest, we will be ready to hold negotiations,” he added.

The normalisation of relations between Georgia and Russia is necessary and should be a strategic aim of the Georgian administration, analyst Malkhaz Chemia has stated, however he said that decisions should be made through direct negotiations between the authorities of the two countries. “It is absolutely unacceptable for Georgian officials to scold Russian politicians and representatives of the opposition visiting Russia while at the same time opening the Larsi border crossing point and agreeing to restore direct flights. All conflicts should be resolved at the negotiation table,” Chemia told The Messenger. The analyst said there are three possible reasons for the “contradictory” actions of the Georgian officials. “They could be part of Saakashvili’s betrayal policy, a total capitulation by our authorities or the result of a big corrupt deal,” Chemia suggested.

Direct flights between Russia and Georgia were cancelled in 2006, following the spy row between the two countries. They were restored in 2008 but again cancelled after the Georgian-Russian conflict of August 2008.