Pros and cons of Georgia-Russia air traffic renewal
    Experts share their opinions with Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  22 May 2023 - 11:22

    Vadim Mansurov

    The situation is turbulent in Georgia, the country is almost split into two camps. The subject of disagreement is foreign policy priorities: supporters of the pro-Western path are convinced that the ruling Georgian Dream Party crossed certain red lines in resuming relations with Moscow and this is unacceptable. The Georgian government's decision to launch direct flights to Russia, as well as a visa-free regime with Russia for Georgian citizens was met with mixed feelings. On May 19, protests broke out directly at Tbilisi airport, where demonstrators tried to block the arrival of the first flight from Moscow.

    The uneasy situation reigns in the country's capital: a disagreement over air links to Russia led to a scuffle between Georgian MPs, and the opposition gathered a protest rally in front of the parliament on the evening of May 19. The protesters told journalists that the resumption of flights to Russia threatens Georgia with a refusal to be granted candidate status by Brussels for accession to the European Union.

    So which vector is Tbilisi choosing? Will it pivot to the West or Moscow? Or maybe the situation looks different and Georgia has decided to be more independent in its foreign and domestic policy, without looking to Washington.

    It should be noted that while the masses are opposed to rapprochement with Russia, official Tbilisi has intensified negative rhetoric towards the US and the EU. The ruling party, for example, accused Washington that the US consulate in Georgia "unreasonably and discriminatorily" refuses to issue visas to Georgian citizens. The US Ambassador in Georgia Kelly Degnan, recently denied all allegations and stated that thousands of Georgians travel to the US every year, there are just certain rules and procedures that are required to obtain US visas and the process is transparent. Degnan called on the Georgian authorities to question the Russian President's motives for lifting the restrictions imposed on Georgians by the President himself ... "I think an important question is why now? Why is Putin now making these concessions and these offers to Georgia? What is the price that Georgia is going to have to pay for direct flights, for lifting the visa regime? These are very important questions because we all know Putin does not give anything without extracting a price," warned the US diplomat.

    However, to all appearances, this is not about visas or planes, but rather about the current political discourse in Tbilisi. To understand the situation Caliber.Az decided to listen to the opinions of Georgian political analysts, who view the created situation in different ways.

    Political analyst Simon Kopadze, in particular, reminded that he has repeatedly noted the distance of the ruling Georgian Dream Party from the all-Georgian consensus and its loss of closeness to the people.

    "Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is considered an unofficial moderator of all government decisions in Georgia, has his big business in Russia and apparently thinks that by renewing ties with Moscow and criticizing the West he is saving his business, his money. In fact, he treats Georgia as his corporation and cares for his interests and leadership of the Georgian Dream coalition, which is fully subordinate to him, is taking extremely short-sighted steps and statements. They are not in favor of Georgia," stressed the Georgian political analyst.

    In his opinion, the Georgian authorities are "playing with the Russian authorities" to the detriment of the national interests.

    "In general, I have a negative attitude towards such tactics of official Tbilisi, I am against such a policy and am critical of such steps," Kopadze said.

    Political scientist Archil Sikharulidze, the founder of the SIKHA Foundation research centre, has a different view of what is happening in Georgia. According to his observations, over the past thirty years, the country has been constantly trying to find only one centre of gravity, a metropolis on which it could rely, transfer some powers to it and "live peacefully on its own". Sikharulidze believes that most of the Georgian political elites have found such a metropolis in the US.

    "But when the Georgian Dream decided to request more sovereignty, the right to rely not only on relations with its metropolis, but to build independent relations with Türkiye, Iran, China, and Russia, without changing, however, its generally pro-Western direction, I considered it pragmatically correct. A country in the South Caucasus bordering both Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as Türkiye and Russia, should not behave as if it were in the centre of Europe or America. So, the new approach, the direction of the Georgian Dream is to be part of the European world but also to be critical of the US as a partner, at the same time actively cooperate with Azerbaijan and other countries in the region and have direct flight connection to Russia. I am sure it is right, it is an adequate policy," the political scientist said.

    He doesn't exclude that the Georgian Dream is pursuing its own interests with such a policy: the West has not wanted this party to remain in power for some time and is going to find for itself a more assimilating political force, so the "dreamers" have decided to rely on other external opportunities and attract new electorate with such multi-polar policy.

    "But in general, forming in the country not pro-American, not pro-Western, but exclusively Georgian national policy, which would imply a such multipolar approach to both, but at the same time would be based on its own, national values and principles - is extremely useful for the country. Therefore, there should be direct flight connections with Türkiye, Russia, and even China - we need to trade with all countries, and the people of Georgia should be able to travel everywhere as far as possible without visas and to host representatives of all countries without exception. But those countries should also appreciate the free choice of Georgia and its democratic values" stressed the Georgian political scientist.


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