Worries have been mounting among Georgians over the reports that thousands of Russian citizens are pondering to move to Georgia as Russia gets hit by heavy international sanctions over attacking Ukraine.
Alarms were raised in social media after numerous users claimed that scores of Russian citizens were discussing their plans to move to Georgia in Telegram or otherwise inquiring about real estate and business opportunities in the country.
Some realtors, too, confirmed the rising interest. Levan Kiladze, the co-founder of Ss.ge, a major Georgian real estate platform, told Publika media about rapidly rising engagement on their website from Russia.
Otar Kachkachishvili, head of Georgian National Association of Real Estate that unites Georgian realtor companies, similarly spoke about the increased inquiries from the citizens of Russia and Belarus.
Petitions to Introduce Visa-Regime for Russians
Calling to differentiate between those fleeing the regime and other visitors, some are against making it easy for supporters of the Kremlin’s aggressive policies to seek comfort in Georgia as the Russian economy suffers.
At least three separate online petitions were launched calling on the government to introduce visa requirements for Russian citizens, who at present can travel to Georgia visa-free. Georgians, on the other hand, have required visas to enter Russia for over two decades now.
“We demand to introduce specific regulations, on the basis of which only the citizens of Russia who are subjected to political persecution can be allowed in Georgia,” reads the online petition that has already gathered up to 10,000 signatures. The petition authors also called for imposing time limitations for Russians wanting to stay in Georgia.
Those worried cite Kremlin practices to misuse the question of Russian nationals to justify the invasion of neighboring nations. Further concerns include economic impacts, such as fears about property getting unaffordable for locals due to the raised demand, or Russian citizens withdrawing U.S. dollars from ATMs, thus harming the national currency.
Warning against the anger growing into xenophobia, former Defense Minister Tina Khidasheli said that reports of Russians leaving their country, if true, may have two reasons – “fleeing the dictator and anticipated repressions” or “fleeing sanctions discomfort.”
According to Khidasheli, visa regimes exist to filter the applicants. “Those fleeing sanctions while keeping Putin’s pictures on their Facebook pages should not be allowed in Georgia.”
“Stark rise of the number of visitors from Russia can bring the situation out of control and pose serious challenges to the security of our country,” the opposition Lelo for Georgia party reacted.
The party called on Georgian authorities to release statistics of visitors from Russia from the past week and suggested introducing a “temporary visa regime with countries currently involved in the military aggression against the state of Ukraine.”
Ruling Party Denies Reports
Parliamentary Chairman Shalva Papuashvili denied any “mass influx” of Russian citizens, claiming the land border between the two countries has been closed by Russia for individual travel. “This is also a part of a disinformation campaign to bring anxiety to the public,” the chairman noted.
Importantly, Russia has also banned Georgia flights in 2019 over anti-occupation protests in Tbilisi, but the Russian citizens are still able to enter Georgia from other countries.
Irakli Kobakhidze, the chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, accused the opposition United National Movement party of starting a “campaign to introduce discriminatory restrictions for Russian nationals.”
Warning against discriminatory treatment of Russian nationals by private companies, Kobakhidze called on law enforcement bodies to take all measures to avert attempts of “physical confrontation or breeding ethnic feud.”
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On the other hand, the GD chair pledged the government to “fully address all potential risks” associated with a mass influx of foreign nationals.
“Georgia is open to any individual, to a citizen of any country regardless of the ethnicity, and is responsible for ensuring non-discriminatory treatment towards them and protecting their safety,” MP Kobakhidze said.
According to the National Statistics Office, Georgia on average hosted about 100,000 tourists from Russia per month in 2018-2019, the biggest share compared to other foreigners before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
After a drastic drop since 2020, the numbers started rising again last year, with about 20,000 Russian tourists visiting Georgia per month in the last quarter of 2021. In 2021, 54 Russian nationals applied for asylum in Georgia.