January 8, 2010 / 8:57 AM / 10 years ago

Georgians fly direct to Moscow, first time since war

TBILISI (Reuters) - A Georgian Airways charter flight left from Tbilisi for Moscow on Friday in the first direct flight between Georgia and Russia since the two countries fought a brief war in 2008.

Passengers check in for the return Georgian Airways flight to Tbilisi at Moscow's Domodedovo airport January 8, 2010. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Georgian Airways plans to fly to Moscow between January 8 and January 10 under a deal with Russia over the festive season, raising hopes of a full resumption of regular flights between the neighbors.

“Georgian Airways is ready to restart regular flights but we are waiting for Russia,” company spokeswoman Nino Giorgobiani told reporters at Tbilisi airport before flight A9-1930 took off with 84 passengers on board.

Georgia and Russia have also agreed to reopen a key land crossing, and a senior Russian bishop said on Thursday that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church would travel to Georgia to encourage closer relations. The bishop did not specify when.

There is no sign, however, of Tbilisi and Moscow restoring diplomatic relations, which Georgia cut in August 2008 over the Kremlin’s decision to recognize the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

The recognition followed a five-day war in which Russia crushed a Georgian assault on pro-Russian South Ossetia, which like Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in wars in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It’s great that there are flights because we have many friends and relatives in Russia and we couldn’t see them without flying through other countries,” said Georgian passenger Nana Samadalashvili.

“We don’t want to play politics, we just don’t want to have to go through all of this,” she said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last month he saw no obstacle to resuming flights, granting visa-free travel to Russia for Georgian citizens and lifting an import ban on Georgia’s much-loved wine.

But Moscow has ruled out talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Giorgobiani said Georgian Airways was negotiating more flights on January 16, 20 and 24.

The company had planned flights on December 29 and 30 but canceled them, saying Russian permission had come too late.

Reporting by Ekaterine Javakhishvili; writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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