Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped away from escalating conflict with neighboring Georgia, rejecting calls from parliament to sharply ratchet up economic sanctions amid anti-Kremlin protests.
“As for various kinds of sanctions against Georgia, I would not do it out of respect for the Georgian people,” Putin told reporters Tuesday in televised comments in Yekaterinburg. “For the sake of restoring full-fledged relations between Russia and Georgia, I would not do anything that would complicate our relations.”
Putin spoke hours after the Russian lower house of parliament approved a motion urging the government to adopt “special economic measures” against Georgia as retaliation for what it called “ongoing anti-Russia provocations.” Those measures may include bans on imports of wine and bottled water as well on as money transfers by Georgians working in Russia, according to Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house.
“Of course this is a good decision and we welcome it,” Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said on Tuesday, according to local media. “There shouldn’t be barriers between our nations.”
Tensions spiraled after violent protests erupted in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, last month when a Russian lawmaker, Sergei Gavrilov, was pictured sitting in the speaker’s chair in the Georgian parliament at a meeting of legislators from Orthodox Christian countries. Relations between Georgia and Russia have been tense since they fought a war in 2008 over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which the Kremlin later recognized as independent. The territories are considered part of Georgia under international law.
The legislator and other members of the Russian delegation had to leave Georgia hurriedly after chaotic scenes outside the parliament. Hundreds were hurt in with police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
The threatened new punitive steps would have been far more damaging. Georgia’s $16 billion economy receives more than $630 million a year in remittances from Georgians living in Russia. Georgia relied on the Russian market for two-thirds of its $203 million in wine exports last year, and almost half of water exports, or $50 million.
The street protests in Tbilisi have continued with many demonstrators accusing the ruling Georgian Dream government of being too willing to accommodate Russia, which they say occupies 20% of the country by keeping forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.