Russia’s response to protests in Tbilisi

On Thursday, anti-government, anti-Russian protests in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, turned violent. On Friday, Vladimir Putin signed an order banning Russian airlines from flying to Georgia. On Saturday, the Russian aviation watchdog banned Georgian operators from flying to Moscow.

It’s not quite clear (to me) what exactly caused the large-scale protests and rallies in Tbilisi. The lighting spark or last straw was this, apparently:

Demonstrators initially gathered on June 20 to express their anger at Russian State Duma Deputy Sergei Gavrilov, who had sat in the Georgian parliamentary speaker’s seat while addressing a council of lawmakers from predominantly Orthodox Christian countries…

While the protests were sparked by concerns about how Georgia handles relations with Russia, opposition parties have sought to seize the moment to press much wider and unrelated demands over economic and political woes that are plaguing the country.

In response, Georgia’s PM suggested that Russia could have deliberately inspired the protests through a pro-Russian “fifth column.”

What’s surprising is not her response but Russia’s – hurried, angry, vindictive but focused, aimed at minimizing the flow of Russian tourists to Georgia and even bringing as many as possible back home before their scheduled vacations have run out.

Perhaps Moscow had been waiting for a pretext to put pressure on Georgia and an opportunity to launch a long-harbored plan presented itself yesterday. That’s plausible but you can’t help suspecting that someone’s personal feelings were involved: Images of Putin set on fire seem perfectly polite gestures compared with these signs. I wish we could find out what role, if any, the thickness of decision-makers’ skins plays at times of crises.

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