By Ani Paitjan
Various Armenian airlines will increase flights between Georgia and Russia following Russia’s announcement that it would not permit Russian carriers to enter Georgian airspace. Demonstrations broke out in Tbilisi on June 20 to protest a member of Russia’s parliament presiding over a meeting in Georgia’s parliament.
Hakob Tshagharyan, adviser to Armenia’s Prime Minister, wrote on his Facebook page that several Armenian airlines, including "Armenia", "Taron Avia" and "Atlantis European Airways", will increase the number of flights to Georgia.
Immediately after the release of the decree of Russian President Vladimir Putin about the suspension of flights to Georgia effective July 8, Tshagharyan asked several Armenian airlines to indicate their willingness to step in and cover Tbilisi-Moscow and Moscow-Tbilisi flights.
Protests in Tbilisi broke out after a member of the Russian parliament, Sergey Gavrilov, presided over an international meeting of lawmakers from Orthodox Christian countries in Georgia’s parliament on June 20. Opposition parties and citizens slammed the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party for letting Gavrilov and other Russian lawmakers into the parliament building, calling the Russian delegation “occupants.”
Clashes between the police force and protesters on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue left more than 200 people injured, including policemen and journalists. As reported by Georgian media, dozens of people have been detained.
Irakli Kobakhidze, speaker of Georgia’s parliament, resigned on June 21. Zakaria Kutsnashvili, who organized the contested meeting in parliament, also resigned.
On June 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree banning Russian airline companies from moving Russian citizens to Georgia, effective July 8.
This is the second time that disruptions in Georgian-Russian relations has created an opportunity for Armenia’s air carriers. The first time was in the aftermath of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.
Despite the break in diplomatic relations then, economic relations between the two countries have been improving in recent years. According to the Georgian National Tourism Administration, among tourists visiting the country, Russians ranked first place with over 540,000 visitors in the first five months of 2019. Despite Georgia’s western leanings, Russia also remains the biggest market for Georgia’s agricultural products and wines. Nearly 15 percent of Georgia’s exports are to Russia, more than to any other single country.
Implications for Armenia
The only functioning land route that connects Armenia with Russia - its biggest strategic and economic partner - passes through the Georgian Upper Lars checkpoint. While Armenia can potentially benefit from the new flight options, it can also suffer if the Upper Lars checkpoint, located on the border of Georgia and Russia, closes. The bulk of Armenia’s exports and imports pass through this route.
While tensions between Georgia and Russia continue to rise, Vladimir Karapetyan, spokesperson for Armenia’s Prime Minister, announced that a session of the Armenia-Georgia intergovernmental commission will take place in Yerevan on June 27. The Georgian delegation will be headed by Maya Tskitishvili, Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, according to Karapetyan
The last session of the Armenia-Georgia inter-governmental body was held in 2011.