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Opposition Slams Government for Intending to Subsidize Russia Flights

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The opposition slammed the government’s decision to offer subsidies to travelers from Russia to Georgia’s airports of Tbilisi and Batumi via Yerevan. The government decreed on July 24 that state company United Airports of Georgia will be authorized to subsidize airfare.

The same decision also covers the flights from Brussels and London.

A total of 600,000 euros (without VAT) has been allotted for this purpose per destination country. The airfare subsidy per each passenger should not exceed EUR 90 (excluding VAT). The airline which would win the government contract will have to schedule at least two flights per week.

The decision comes less than a month after Russian flight ban, imposed by the Kremlin on the wave of Tbilisi street protests, which Moscow considers anti-Russian, has entered into force .

Georgian parliamentary opposition considers the government’s decision unjustified from the economic as well as political points of view.

“Economic dependence, including through the tourist market, is a strong lever of political influence [for Russia],” Salome Samadashvili of the United National Movement said, pointing out that expanding such interdependence with Russia has been a consistent policy of the current government “during the past seven years.”

MPs from another opposition faction “European Georgia” have also criticized the decision as “sending the wrong political signal.”

Giorgi Kandelaki of European Georgia argued the government’s own statistics show us, that a British or a German tourist is likely to spend thrice as much money in Georgia than a Russian tourist. “Knowing this, it is difficult to understand  why the government would delay signing a contract with a low-cost carrier Ryanair [intending to fly to Kutaisi] and subsidize Russian tourists instead,” Kandelaki said.

In response to opposition’s criticism, Giorgi Chogovadze, Head of the United Airports of Georgia pointed out the decision also covers London, Brussels and Yerevan.

Chigovadze argued the suspension of flights from Russia was “a sudden blow” to the Georgian economy, which the Government of Georgia felt compelled to address immediately.

According to Chigovadze, the recent decision would also encourage Georgians residing in Russia who are willing to visit the country to do so. However, he said, no contract has yet been signed with any carriers so far. Concerning the comment on Ryanair, Chigovadze noted that negotiations with low-cost air companies are underway that “will soon end in an agreement.”

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