According to TASS, a Russian news agency, the founder of a national airline has forbidden Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili from using its services after she threatened to boycott it over its plan to restart flights to Russia.
Zourabichvili has been banned and labelled as an unwelcome person by Tamaz Gaiashvili, the owner of Georgian Airways, a private airline. He told TASS that she would remain banned until she says sorry to the Georgian people.
Georgian officials praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for ending a four-year ban on direct flights with Georgia and a visa requirement for Georgian travellers this month.
However, President Salome Zourabichvili urged Georgian authorities to reject the Russian move and follow the US and EU sanctions on Moscow for invading Ukraine.
Her plea was ignored as a Georgian Airways flight arrived in Moscow on Saturday, Tbilisi airport’s Nino Tsivtsivadze said.
Zourabichvili then announced that she would boycott the airline.
“As long as this company is run by those who would sell out for money, I will not use this airline,” she said publicly on Saturday.
Zourabichvili has a largely symbolic role as president, while the prime minister has executive power. Local media say she has clashed with the government over its growing ties with Russia.
She has often warned that Georgia’s tilt towards Russia could harm its EU aspirations.
Reuters news agency reported that the Russian move has divided Georgians, with some keen to mend relations with their neighbour and others preferring to align with the European Union.
Pro-EU Georgians protested in Tbilisi on Sunday against any thaw with Moscow, which controls two separatist regions —Abkhazia and South Ossetia —that account for about a fifth of Georgia’s land.
The Georgian government has tried to build bridges with Moscow in recent years, refusing to join the sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.