Putin plays down threat of more sanctions against Georgia

Russia's parliament seeks ban on wine and water imports over anti-Putin TV tirade

Russian president Vladimir Putin has opposed calls for tougher economic sanctions on Georgia, after deputies backed such a move in response to a Georgian television presenter's foul-mouthed tirade against the Kremlin leader.

Mr Putin banned direct flights between Russia and Georgia after protesters in Tbilisi, the capital of the Black Sea state, tried to storm its parliament last month when a Russian deputy sat in the speaker's chair to address a forum of politicians.

Relations worsened further this week when a presenter on Georgia's Rustavi 2 channel insulted Mr Putin in obscene terms, prompting parliament in Moscow on Tuesday to call for a ban on imports of wine and water from Georgia and on money transfers to the country from Russia.

Such measures could severely damage the economy of Georgia, which Moscow claims is now unsafe for Russians amid continuing anti-government and anti-Kremlin rallies in Tbilisi.


“As regards various types of sanctions against Georgia, I wouldn’t do it, particularly out of respect for the Georgian people,” Mr Putin said shortly after deputies voted unanimously for the measures.

“For the sake of restoring full ties between Russia and Georgia, I wouldn’t do anything to complicate our relations,” he added.

Lurid insults

Mr Putin also brushed off the lurid insults from presenter Giorgi Gabunia, saying there was no point reacting to the ranting of "scumbags".

Rustavi 2 has suspended Gabunia for two months for calling Mr Putin a “stinking occupier”, comparing him to dog excrement and the genitals of a female walrus, and wishing that the Russian leader and his parents “burn in hell”.

More than a million Russian tourists visited Georgia last year and the current Tbilisi government has sought to rebuild economic ties with its huge neighbour.

While welcoming ordinary Russians, however, many Georgians still loathe Mr Putin for sending troops into their country in a brief 2008 war and supporting and stationing thousands of soldiers in two separatist-run regions of Georgia.


"We consider the insults against our country, the threats towards our citizens, and the insults against our president unacceptable," said Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, as it backed the proposed sanctions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "this tough response from Russian parliamentarians and the complete unanimity of their stance against the backdrop of the Georgian TV host's unprecedented behaviour are quite natural".

He added, however, that decisions on sanctions would be “made by the government and, ultimately, by the president of the country”.

Georgian president Salome Zurabishvili and other senior officials in the Caucasus state strongly denounced Gabunia's outburst.

She struck a conciliatory note on Tuesday, after earlier calling Russia an “enemy and occupier” and blaming last month’s clashes in Tbilisi on pro-Moscow provocateurs intent on destabilising her country.

‘Destructive goals’

“It would be a paradox if a neighbouring state responded to the actions of those they consider to be radical forces by contributing to the realisation of their destructive goals,” she said.

“Even in the most tense times for our country, there were no incidents that threatened foreign citizens or guests in Georgia. And this will continue to be so.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe