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US wants to keep an eye on Georgia-Russia flights


Washington is concerned that recently resumed air traffic between the two countries could be used by Moscow to evade sanctions

The US needs to know what is being loaded onto planes flying from the Caucasus nation of Georgia to Russia, according to Jim O’Brien, the sanctions policy coordinator at the state department.

O’Brien, who is the current nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, visited the former Soviet republic in June.

Speaking before the US Senate foreign affairs committee last week, O’Brien said that the recently resumed flights could be used to evade Western trade restrictions. He urged strict monitoring of Georgia’s air and road borders and said the Georgian authorities would need US assistance to do so.

“We want to make sure what’s going on those planes on the way back to Russia,” O’Brien said.

In May, Russia lifted a 2019 ban on direct flights to Georgia, with air traffic between Moscow and Tbilisi resuming the same month. The move provoked consternation in the West, with the US openly mulling sanctions on Georgia, and the EU urging Tbilisi to join its measures against Russia instead of resuming direct flights.

The small but strategically important country elected the American-backed Mikhail Saakashvili as its president from 2004 to 2013. Saakashvili overestimated Western support during a brief war with Russia in 2008, which resulted in Moscow recognizing the independence of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Over the past few years, Russia and Georgia have been improving relations and reestablishing their trade ties.

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