Page last updated at 20:46 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

Russia authorises direct flights from Georgia

Georgian Airlines plane in Tbilisi, Georgia (file image)
Planes will fly direct from Tbilisi to Moscow and St Petersburg

Russia has authorised the first direct flights from the Georgian capital Tbilisi since last year's conflict between the two countries.

The move is the latest thaw in ties that had been frozen since fighting broke out in August 2008.

But Georgian Airlines said the permit had come too late to organise flights for the New Year and the start of the Orthodox Christmas public holidays.

Moscow said Tbilisi had taken too long to reply to requests for information.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Georgian Airlines would be able to operate charter flights into Moscow and St Petersburg on 29 and 30 December.

It said it had taken the "humanitarian significance of this issue" into account, particularly the ability of people to visit relatives over the holiday period.

Reuters quoted ministry spokesman Timur Khikmatov as saying they would be the first passenger flights since the war.

Roads opened

But Georgian Airlines said the flights would not resume until 6 January - Christmas Eve in both Russia and Georgia - as the permission had not arrived in time, meaning no flights would cover the peak travel period.

Georgia map

"We will not have the time to organise flights tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," spokeswoman Nino Girgobiani told the AFP news agency.

Moscow dismissed the airline's complaint, saying Georgia took five days to reply to a request for relevant technical details of the flights.

"In this situation all the responsibility for failing an important humanitarian action rests with the Georgian authorities," said a Foreign Ministry statement reported by the Interfax news agency.

Georgia said Moscow had not sent request through the right diplomatic channels.

On Thursday, the countries announced that a key road crossing closed since 2006 was to be reopened.

The Kazbegi-Upper Lars crossing, which officials said was likely to reopen next March, is the only crossing that does not go through the Russian-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian forces were driven out of the two regions in the bitter war last year.

Correspondents say the recent signs of improving relations between Georgia and Russia are significant, but that the hostility between the two countries remains strong.

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