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Georgia criticized for resuming direct flights to Russia

Georgia faced a wave of criticism as it resumed direct fights to Russia on Saturday, with both Ukraine and the European Union lambasting the country's decision. 

The small nation, which lies at the intersection of Asia and Europe, resumed flights on its flag carrier, Georgian Airways, after Moscow officials lifted a temporary flight ban last week. The ban had been in place since 2019, and The Associated Press reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin also ended visa requirements for Georgian nationals. 

The move is the latest update in a long lineage of back-and-forth tensions between Georgia and Russia. The countries have not had official diplomatic relations since they engaged in a short war in 2008, often cited as the first of Putin's aggressive moves into a neighboring country. However, Georgia has been softening its stance on Russia in recent months, as it attempts to ease conflicts with Moscow while also pushing for admittance into the EU. 

Russian flights were also seen flying into Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, for the first time on Friday, where they were met by a contingent of protesters with banners reading, "You are not welcome." 

It seems Ukraine has a similar stance on the matter. Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko tweeted that most of the world "is isolating Russia to force it to stop the war, but Georgia is welcoming Russian airlines and sending its own to Moscow...the Kremlin will surely be delighted with such a result."

Nikolenko also noted that the flight restrictions were lifted even as "20% of Georgian territory remains occupied by Russia with impunity."

While Georgia continues to lobby for a seat in the EU, that body also expressed anger at the country's decision to resume flights to Russia. "This latest decision by Georgia's authorities raises concerns in terms of Georgia's EU path," EU spokesperson Peter Stano said, per Reuters