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Russia Mounts Pressure by Cutting Links with Georgia
/ 3 Oct.'06 / 09:15
Civil Georgia

Russia said it cut air, sea, land and railway links, and postal communication with Georgia starting from October 3, despite Tbilisi's move to hand over four Russian military officers charged for spying.

President Saakashvili said that putting this kind of pressure on a neighboring country is “uncivilized,” but he also added that Russia’s move should not be overestimated.

Chief of the Russian air navigation service Alexander Naradko said air traffic with Georgia will be stopped starting from October 3.

Officials in Moscow deny that the decision is politically-motivated. Naradko explained that the move is the result of the non-payment of USD 3,6 million by Georgian airlines for air traffic services in Russia since 2001.  

Three Georgian companies operate Tbilisi-Moscow flights: Georgian Airways, Georgian National Airlines and TbilAviaMsheni. Representatives of all the three companies have denied the existence of a debt.

Two Russian companies – Aeroflot and Sibir – also operate flights between Tbilisi and Moscow. About 25 flights total are conducted by the five companies each week between the two capitals.

Officials in Moscow said on October 2 that the postal link was cut after many parcels sent to Tbilisi failed to reach their destinations.

The Russian Railway Company’s official notification to the Georgian side reads that traffic is suspended because of decrease of number of passengers, an official from the Georgian Railway Company said on October 3.

A train to Moscow via Baku was departing from the Tbilisi railway station three times a week.

No specific reasons behind the cutting of land and sea links have yet been cited.

But Russian Deputy Transport Minister Sergey Aristov said on October 2 that “we also have serious questions [for the Georgian authorities] in respect to sea and land traffic.”

In addition, Boris Grizlov, the Chairman of Russia’s lower house of Parliament, Duma Council, said on October 2 that a draft law will be developed authorizing the government to ban money transfers from Russia into Georgia.

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians working in Russia regularly send money back to their families in Georgia.

According to the Georgian National Bank, the largest share (67.5%) of foreign money transfers to Georgia is made from Russia, which reached USD 219 million in the period between January-August of 2006.

Russia stopped issuing entry visas for Georgian citizens on September 28.

The Georgian officials have already downplayed Russia’s move to impose more economic sanctions on Georgia following bans on the import of Georgian wine, mineral waters and agricultural products to the Russian market.

“They have nothing more to cut. They have already cut everything a long time ago… If you are talking about three, or four flights that come here a week [from Moscow], we have much more flights to Europe, to Ukraine, to other places,” Saakashvili said.

“We are not scared, but we are not surprised [by this move by Russia]… One should not overestimate this pressure,” he added.

“We are planning very concrete measures to counter any possible sanctions related with financial transfers, or transport communication,” Irakli Chogovadze, the Georgian Economy Minister, said on October 2.

OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, who visited Tbilisi on October 2 and helped to solve spy row with Russia, said that embargos will not help to solve tensions.

“Isolation is not an answer to the situation and I think that it is very important that swiftly the air traffic should be restored; also land borders should be reopened… We should resolve this conflict by talks. We should not do that by retaliation,” Karel De Gucht said.

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