Participants shout slogans during a rally in front of the Parliament building in Tbilisi on June 21, 2019. (AFP PHOTO)
MOSCOW, July 8 (Xinhua) -- Russia's ban on direct flights with neighboring Georgia went into force on Monday amid worsening relations between the two countries.
"The suspension of flights will remain in effect until Georgian Airways and MyWay Airlines provide Russia with an aviation safety program that will have to be audited and approved. At the same time, Georgia needs to fully settle its debt related to air navigation services," Russian Transport Ministry Spokesman Alexander Volkov was quoted by Tass news agency as saying.
According to the ministry's press service, a number of Russian and Georgian airlines had completed their final flights between the two countries on Sunday night before the ban came into effect.
On June 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering Russian airlines to indefinitely suspend passenger flights from Russia to Georgia starting July 8. On the following day, Russian Transport Ministry announced that flights of Georgian airlines to Russia will also be halted from July 8.
The reason for the suspension of flights is "the need to ensure a sufficient level of aviation security," as well as Georgia's overdue debts for air navigation activities, the ministry said.
Tensions between Russia and Georgia escalated sharply last month after thousands of Georgian people gathered in front of the parliament building in downtown Tbilisi in protest against a Russian lawmaker's visit.
As a result, at least 240 people were injured in the riots and over 300 participants in the rally were detained.
About 5,000 to 7,000 Russian tourists were staying in Georgia at the time when the flight ban was announced. The Russian Transport Ministry said that it has allocated additional funds to ensure Russian tourists who are still in Georgia return home by the end of the week.