on Saturday 27 May, 2023

'They've gone mad', Putin says of Georgia anti-Kremlin protesters

Georgian demonstrators protest against the resumption of air links with Russia outside Tbilisi Airport last week
by : AFP

President Vladimir Putin on Friday said he was surprised by anti-Kremlin protests in Georgia when Russia resumed air travel with the pro-Western country.

Dozens of Georgians protested last week outside an airport in the capital Tbilisi as a Russian passenger plane landed in the Caucasus country for the first time since 2019.

The resumption of air travel comes as Moscow's offensive in Ukraine stretches into its second year and Russia's isolation from the West deepens.

"Honestly, I was totally surprised by the reaction," Putin said at a meeting with businessmen.

"I thought everyone would say: 'Well, thanks, that's good. But no, there was a completely incomprehensible fuss over this issue," Putin said in televised remarks.

"When I look from here, I think: 'they've gone mad, it's not clear what's happening there," he said.

Russia fought a brief but bloody war with Georgia in 2008, and anti-Russian sentiment runs deep in the pro-Western country.

In response to anti-Moscow rallies in Tbilisi, Russia banned air travel with the country in 2019.

But in a surprise move, Putin this month lifted a flight ban with Georgia.

He has also introduceda 90-day visa-free regime for Georgian citizens.

Putin said on Friday it was his understanding that the Georgian leadership had "repeatedly" asked Russia to lift the flight ban and visa regime.

At the same time, he said Moscow would not interfere.

"What is happening inside the country is none of our business," he said, adding that Georgian people should themselves determine the country's path.

Protesters in Tbilisi last week held placards which said: "You Are Not Welcome" and "Russia Is a Terrorist State."

Georgian authorities have faced mounting accusations of covertly cooperating with the Kremlin after years of tensions.

The government insists it needs to maintain economic ties with Russia.