The Kremlin has warned Russians not to travel to Georgia after protesters pelted eggs at the holiday party of a Russian news anchor on his birthday.
An angry mob on Wednesday night laid siege to an upscale hotel in central Tbilisi where Vladimir Pozner, a prominent Russian TV host, was having dinner the night before his birthday.
Protests were spurred by several Georgian politicians who insisted that the 87-year-old journalist was not welcome in Georgia after he said in 2010 that people of the breakaway region of Abkhazia do not seem to want to be part of Georgia.
The Kremlin on Thursday condemned the attack, raising concerns about the safety of Russian tourists. The neighbouring country is a popular getaway destination for Russians.
“Georgia is dangerous for Russian citizens, and Russians should be fully aware of it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, thanking Georgian police for providing security for the TV host.
Russia and Georgia have been at loggerheads since 2008 when they fought a brief war which ended in the declaration of independence by two breakaway republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not recognised by the United Nations. Russia propped up both but stopped short of formally annexing them.
Georgian protesters camped out by Pozner’s hotel on Wednesday night, making noise and chanting insults against Russian President Vladimir Putin, local media reported.
Later that evening, Pozner, who hosts a talk show on a state-owned TV channel, was having dinner with his guests at another hotel when the angry activists showed up, switched off the light in the entire building and pelted it with eggs in front of the police that stood by.
Pozner and his guests, who were reportedly planning to stay for the weekend, left for the airport with a police escort in the early hours on Thursday as the TV host turned 87.
Georgian authorities insisted that Pozner was free to travel to Georgia but they ended up fining him and several members of his holiday party for dining at the restaurant well after the coronavirus curfew.
Pozner, who was filmed on Wednesday evening accosted by Georgian reporters, on Thursday refuted reports that he was fined for breaking Covid-19 regulations.
Wednesday’s protests against the Russian TV host reflect a deep resentment of large swathes of Georgia over what they see as the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have improved in recent years as the Georgian government, which is criticised by some as pro-Moscow, has been eager to expand its tourist sector thanks to nearly two million Russian tourists who visit every year.
Anxious to shore up its economy battered by coronavirus lockdowns, Georgia earlier this year said it would welcome Russian tourists this spring and would not force them to quarantine on arrival as long as they test negative for Covid-19.
The Georgian government was quick to distance itself from the incident, blaming it on former President Mikhail Saakashvili, the bete noire of Georgian politics.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Thursday accused Mr Saakashvili and his party of “acts of sabotage and causing the maximum damage to Georgia.”
“The actions of extremists were perpetrated at the time when our country was opening up for tourists,” Mr Garibashvili said.
The attack is reminiscent of the 2019 protests in Tbilisi when opposition activists were endangered by the appearance of a Russian lawmaker at the country’s parliament. The protests soon turned into clashes, causing a diplomatic scandal and a temporary suspension of flights between Russia and Georgia.