Levan Davitashvili, Georgia’s Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, on Monday criticized former President Mikheil Saakashvili and former members of the United National Movement government for calling on authorities to impose visas on Russian citizens, accusing the opposition to seek to curb the development of domestic tourism.
Speaking to the media following a scheduled Cabinet meeting, Davitashvili dismissed opposition claims about the “uncontrolled and increased influx” of Russian tourists into Georgia amid the country’s war in Ukraine, stressing that during his term, Saakashvili and the UNM “were inviting Russian tourists a few days after the 2008 war [between the two countries] and meet them personally at the border”.
The recovery of the tourism sector amounts to 65.3% [recovery] compared to [the pre-pandemic] 2019. The comparison with 2019 is very important, because at that time we had a peak. Although the Georgian economy has fully recovered, the process is still ongoing for the tourism sector,” Davitashvili said, adding that compared to 2019, the number of arrivals of Russian nationals, as well as visitors from other countries, had declined.
Several opposition parties, including Saakashvili’s UNM, called on the government last week to impose visa requirements on Russian citizens, pointing to “security challenges”.
The opposition cited Transparency International Georgia’s recent survey, which suggested that 240,000 Russian citizens had arrived in Georgia in the past seven months.
In comments on the reports, Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili said last week that it was “wrong and misleading” to compare the numbers with the numbers at the start of the pandemic, noting that travel restrictions had been in place during this last period.