“From July 8, 2019, Russian airlines are temporarily banned from undertaking flights from the territory of the Russian Federation to the territory of Georgia,” read Putin’s decree published on the Kremlin website on Friday.
On Thursday, a delegation from Russia’s Federal Assembly held a session of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO) at the parliament at the Parliament of Georgia in an attempt to foster relations between Orthodox Christian lawmakers from both countries.
The IAO’s president, Russian lawmaker Sergey Gavrilov, addressed delegates in the lower house of Georgia’s parliament from the speaker’s seat, a move that enraged Georgian opposition lawmakers, who considered it as an offence and disrupted the session in protest.
As the news spread, some 15,000 angry people gathered outside the parliament to voice their strong dissent against the country’s ruling Dream party, accusing it of not being sufficiently strong in confronting the Russians, who fought a short war with Georgians in 2008.
The demonstration turned violent as riot police intervened to disperse protesters, who demanded snap parliamentary elections, with rubber bullets and tear gas. At least 240 people sustained injuries in the clashes between police and demonstrators, who were throwing bottles and stones at police lines, grabbing riot shields from officers and tearing off their helmets.
On Friday, thousands of people held a peaceful and more orderly rally outside the Georgian parliament.
In his decree, the Russian president also advised tour operators and travel agents not to send Russian tourists to Georgia while the ban is place. Putin also stressed that the restrictions had been introduced in order to “ensure the national security of Russia [and] to protect Russian citizens from criminal and other unlawful actions.”
Furthermore, the Russian government was also tasked with assuring the safe return of Russian citizens from the neighboring country.
Separately on Friday, Russia’s foreign ministry issued a warning urging Russian nationals to refrain from traveling to Georgia “for their own security.”
On Friday, the speaker of parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, stepped down, satisfying one of the protesters’ demands. However, opposition leaders have vowed to organize further rallies until parliament is dissolved and snap elections are held.
Tbilisi and Moscow have already traded blames over the unrest.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili called Russia “an enemy and occupier” and suggested Moscow had helped trigger Thursday’s protests.
“Russia is our enemy and occupier. The fifth column it manages may be more dangerous than open aggression,” Zurabishvili alleged on her Facebook page, adding, “Only Russia benefits from a split in the country and society and internal confrontation, and it’s the most powerful weapon today.”
Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev countered soon, dismissing her comments as a willful distortion of reality. The Kremlin also blamed radical Georgian politicians for what it called “an anti-Russian provocation.”
Russia and Georgia have not had diplomatic ties since the 2008 war. Moscow has also recognized the independence of the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russian troops are now stationed, a move that infuriated Tbilisi.