On May 10, 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued two decrees; one revoked the 2019 decision to ban direct flights to Georgia, and the other allowed Georgian citizens to enter the Russian Federation without a visa for 90 days. The decision was actively covered in the Russian media. Kremlin propaganda journalists, politicians and representatives of the tourism sector welcomed Putin’s decision, while Russian news agencies, quoting Petre Mamrade, the head of “The Strategic Institute of Management” and Lali Moroshkina, the host at “Radio Imedi,” announced that Putin’s decision was welcomed by the Georgian people as well.
Kremlin propagandists Vladimir Solovyov and Margarita Simonyan welcomed the renewal of direct flights, arguing that because of this fact, the West is now threatening Georgia with sanctions and is trying to force the opening of a second front with Russia. Some Russian news agencies began talking about the possibility of uniting Georgia and the occupied territories into an allied state with Russia and Belarus. Russian media also noted that Georgia “learned its lesson” and did not join the sanctions against Moscow despite Western pressure, thereby avoiding the conflict.
The semi-hostile calls of Russian propagandists for a peaceful coexistence
On May 11, 2023, during the program “Evening with Vladimir Solovyov,” under the theme”The West has decided to shed a lot of blood”, host Vladimir Solovyov talked about the Russian President’s decision to resume flights with Georgia and commented on the statement of the US State Department about possible sanctions on Georgia:
Vladimir Solovyov: “The US is trying to utilize any possible way to open a second front against Russia. Apart from Ukraine, Washington threatens Georgia with sanctions not only for getting closer to Russia but also for any attempt to restore normal relations, for example, air traffic.”
One of the guests on the program was the editor-in-chief of Russia Today, Margarita Simonyan, who said that she has many Georgian friends and Putin’s decision has excited them. Simonyan also spoke about the second front:
Margarita Simonyan: “Of course, they are trying to open a second front against us. They are trying involve Georgian into this. They are hitting Georgia right in the kidneys to open a second front in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and transfer our forces and nerves there, which are already tense for the second year.”
According to Simonyan, Georgia, as a post-Soviet country, understands the importance of friendly coexistence with Russia, and because of this, it neither imposed sanctions nor got involved in the war:
Margarita Simonyan: “In my opinion, Georgia, as a post-Soviet country, which remembers what it is like to live with us, perfectly understands the words of the great Russian cartoon “Guys, let’s live friendly”. Let’s live in a friendly way, as now, when Georgia has not imposed sanctions, has not followed the pressure to open the second front, and is not participating in the war on the side of Ukraine in any way. It does not send anyone or anything there.”
In addition, Simonyan once again voiced a threat to Georgia that in the event of a war, Russia would not treat Georgia “softly” like Ukraine, and everything would end very quickly and badly because Russia would no longer have deterrent factors:
Margarita Simonyan: “I think they understand well that if they opened the second front, it would not be as soft as in Ukraine. Because the leadership of our country, no one doubts it, has a feeling that this is one nation, that what is happening is serious and sad, and the decisions that are made, including the military, stem from this. But in Tbilisi, as far as I know, there is no Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. From this point of view, such a strong emotional restrainer, so to speak, a seat belt, with which you restrain yourself, does not exist in the case of Georgia, and all this would end very quickly and badly.”
Simonyan also commented on Putin’s decisions on Twitter, where she wrote that Georgia behaved well and deserved the restoration of flights:
Margarita Simonyan: “They themselves arrested the president who attacked our peacekeepers, they don’t join the sanctions, they don’t open the second front even though they are forced to. Maybe next year they will come on May 9.”
Simonyan notes that she has received numerous messages from happy Georgians, and Georgian restaurants in Moscow will be full, where Georgians from Moscow will drink a toast to the health of this decision-maker.
Who do the Russian media rely on when presenting that Georgians are happy with Putin’s decision?
The Russian publication взгляд published an article entitled “Protests of the Ukrainian authorities” due to Putin’s decision to cancel the visa regime for Georgian citizens is being anticipated in Tbilisi.” According to the article, Georgian expert Petre Mamradze predicts the dissatisfaction of the Ukrainian authorities. The head of the non-governmental organization “Strategic Management Institute” and former MP, Petre Mamradze, told взгляд that Georgian citizens would have a normal attitude towards Putin’s decision, but a negative reaction is expected from the Ukrainian authorities.
Petre Mamradze: “Hundreds of thousands of Georgians live and work in Russia, who will accept this decision adequately. For those Georgians who have relatives and friends in Russia, this is a very good thing from a humanitarian point of view.”
Mamradze also told взгляд that the Russian market is important for Georgia, and Georgia is a popular tourist destination for Russians. According to Mamradze, “the radical opposition and their MEP lobbyists will start shouting about the potential danger for the national security of Georgia”, although “rational Western leaders” will accept this decision “without any extraordinary emotions.”
Ren.tv, another Russian media, quoting Lali Moroshkina, also wrote about the satisfaction of the ordinary citizens of Georgia with Putin’s decision. According to the article, ordinary citizens of Georgia do not share the position of the formal ruler of their country, Salome Zurabishvili, and are happy about the possibility of entering Russia without a visa.
“We need to see our family members. In Russia, for example, I have a mother – from Sochi, we could not go to the funeral of my uncle and aunt, it was terrible. It is necessary to maintain normal human relations,” says Lali Moroshkina, a resident of Tbilisi,” we read in the ren.tv article.
Notably, Lali Moroshkina appeares as a respondent in the Russian media rather frequently, spreading Kremlin messages, disinformation, and conspiracies.
“Pravda.ru” amid the wait for the unification of Georgia and its occupied territories with Russia and Belarus in an allied state
The alleged satisfaction of Georgian citizens with the visa-free regime with Russia was also underscored by “Pravda.ru” in an article entitled “Georgians welcome visa-free travel to Russia, an allied state is on the horizon.” In order to present the attitude of the population of Georgia, the article relies on the comments section of the Georgian online outlet “Ambebi.ge,” citing only the positive comments of the readers.
The article mentions that the main argument of the opponents of the restoration of visa-free travel and flights is related to the creation of a threat to Georgia’s accession to the European Union. The authors of the article then ask the question of whether Georgia needs EU membership if Russia could provide 7-10% growth of its GDP”. The article also mentions that Putin congratulated Georgia on May 9, which he did not do in the case of Ukraine.
According to the article, Putin’s decision was determined by the position of the ruling “Georgian Dream” party, because they did not hand over the “Buk missile system” to Ukraine, and the last step was the refusal to participate in NATO military exercises.
“If Armenia, which is a member of “CSTO”, takes part in these exercises, then the country that refuses should be a priori removed from the list of unfriendly countries,” the article says.
According to pravda.ru, official Tbilisi’s anti-Western position can be explained by attempts to drag Georgia into a new war with Russia and interference in the country’s internal affairs, which appeared when the “Foreign Agents Law” was adopted. “The EU and the US took this as a personal insult and thus confirmed their colonialist aspirations,” – we read in the article.
“In the future, it is not excluded that soon it will be possible to talk about the unification of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia together with Russia and Belarus in an allied state, while preserving the sovereignty of the members,” the article says.
“The country which learned its lesson”
The article with this title was published on Sputnik under the name of the author of RIA Novosti, Davit Narmania. The article states that Georgia considers “independent Abkhazia and South Ossetia” as its own territories, which is an example of stubbornness. According to the article, Georgia lost three wars for these lands, and the last one was in 2008, when “the Georgian army collapsed much faster.”
“It turns out that only Russian intervention was enough to put an end to conflicts that have smouldered for two decades,” we read in the article. According to the author, this became a lesson for the Georgian society that confrontation with Russia is not worth it, and for some, “it became a trauma that makes them go to die in Ukraine.”
According to the article, despite the pressure from the West, the country’s government manages to avoid a disaster and not enter into a war with Russia.
“And here we must give Georgia its due. The country, which 15 years ago was an example of what not to do, has taken a rather sensible and surprisingly sovereign position: it builds mutually beneficial relations with Moscow, even refraining from the sanctions demanded by the curators of the Frenchwoman in the presidential chair. And of course, this situation is a bone in the throat of the United States and its allies. Russia was predicted to be isolated. And it turned out to be so successful that even yesterday’s vassals of Washington now realize the full benefits of cooperation with Moscow. Albeit limited.” Narmania writes.
What data does RT rely on when claiming that 81% of the Georgian population supports the policy of the “Georgian Dream”?
The decision on the restoration of direct flights with Georgia was covered by Russia Today as well. The publication published an article on May 11, which talks about the Georgian authorities’ position on the refusal to join the sanctions imposed on Russia. According to the article, Georgia refused to supply weapons to Ukraine, while Prime Minister Gharibashvili said that official Tbilisi is not going to open a second front against Russia. According to the article, polls show that the majority of the population supports this policy of the Georgian government, and 81% of respondents support the decision of the “Georgian Dream” not to intervene in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The survey cited by Russia Today was conducted by GORBI in November 2022. TV company Imedi published the results on December 19 last year, and part of the questions repeated the narrative of the “Georgian Dream”, including the question about the ongoing war in Ukraine:
“Do you support the policy of the “Georgian Dream” government not to involve Georgia in the war between Russia and Ukraine?” 81% of the respondents gave a positive response to the question, while 16% said that they did not support the decision.
In the article, Russian experts advise the Georgian government to take into account the example of the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and not deviate from the principles.