From July 8, 2019 to May 19, 2023, direct air traffic had been suspended between Russia and Georgia. Russia banned flights to Tbilisi in response to civil protests related to the visit of Sergei Gavrilov. In this case, Russia used economic leverage as a punishment mechanism. However, four years later, by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree of May 10, 2023, the restrictions on direct flights between Georgia and Russia were lifted. In a record short time after the signing of the decree, on May 19, the first flight was operated from Moscow to Tbilisi. The launch of direct flights between Russia and Georgia was followed by the demarche by 27 EU countries. Georgia's decision to launch direct air traffic with Russia was particularly disturbing in light of the fact that on February 27, 2022, three days after Russia started a full-scale war in Ukraine, all EU member states banned Russian airlines from flying to the EU or over Europe.
The first flight from Moscow to Tbilisi was performed by the Russian airline Azimuth, director general of which is Pavel Ekzhanov. According to sanctions.nazk.gov,
a website created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Ekzhanov and Azimuth are sanctioned by Ukraine for providing transport, logistical and material assistance to the Russian authorities, which threatens the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.
Until May 15, 2023, Azimuth had indicated occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. However, after the information was spread in the Georgian media and social networks, the airline removed Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the list of countries.
Who were the passengers of the first flight of Azimuth?
On May 19, Azimuth served 86 passengers. Among the first passengers were:
- Dimitri Lortkipanidze - Chairman of the Primakov Georgian-Russian Public Center (the so-called Primakov Foundation). The Primakov Foundation was created on the initiative of the Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Support Fund. One of the members of the Board of Trustees of the Gorchakov Fund is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Sergey Lavrov. The Primakov Foundation holds various cultural events and lectures, and offers free Russian language courses. The Gorchakov Fund had been operating in Ukraine as well, but it was closed in 2015 for anti-Ukrainian propaganda.
- Merab Chikashvili - host of the Obiektivi TV programme
- Temur Maisuradze - Member of Parliament of Georgia from the Georgian Dream party in 2012-2016.
- Valeri Kvaratskhelia – pro-Russian journalist and host of Obiektivi
Which companies provided ground services to Azimuth?
The Azimuth aircraft was provided ground services by Aero Handling Georgia LLC, a company created on April 21, 2023. According to Pavel Udod, chairman of the Board of Directors, the airline submitted agreements to the Georgian side on the provision of ground services, which includes both logistical and technical details.
The owner of 60% share of Aero Handling Georgia LLC is Davit Kvaratskhelia. The company was created just a few days before the President of Russia signed a decree lifting restrictions on direct flights from Russia to Georgia.
Who is Davit Kvaratskhelia?
Davit Kvaratskhelia is the son of openly pro-Russian journalist Valeri Kvaratskhelia. He is the shareholder of four companies and the director of one company. All four companies owned by Kvaratskhelia – E N Group LLC,
E N Wines LLC,
Business Avia Georgia LLC,
Aero Handling Georgia LLC
were established in 2023, which may indicate that all four of them were created to provide services to the Russian airlines. Until 2023, Davit Kvaratskhelia was the director of only Esteo Group LLC.
Business relations between Davit Kvaratskhelia and Tamaz Gaiashvili, co-owner of Georgian Airlines LLC
Davit Kvaratskhelia is the owner of 60% of the shares of Aero Handling Georgia LLC, while the remaining 40% is owned by 21-year-old Davit Tsivtsivadze. According to Radio Liberty, Davit Tsivtsivadze and Tamaz Gaiashvili are close relatives. This suspicion is supported by the fact that, according to the CEC website, Tamaz Gaiashvili and Davit Tsivtsivadze have the same addresses registered.
The ties between the owner of Georgian Airlines LLC and Davit Kvaratskhelia can be seen in another company as well. Pilot LLC owns 33.34% share in Esteo Group LLC, the director of which Davit Kvaratskhelia. Tamaz Gaiashvili is the owner of 100% share of Pilot LLC.
Tamaz Gaiashvili's brother Davit Gaiashvili is the director general and owner of 80% of Georgian Airways LLC, which was founded in 1999, and until May 3, 2011, Tamaz Gaiashvili was the director general of the company. According to the data of the Public Registy, on May 3, 2011 Tamaz Gaiashvili was replaced by Georgi Okujava.
In addition to Aero Handling Georgia LLC, Kvaratskhelia and Tsivtsivadze are also the owners of Business Avia Georgia LLC. This company is also a newly-created one. It was registered on February 15, 2023. Tsivtsivadze owns 20% of the company, and Kvaratskhelia owns 80%.
According to the website created with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Tamaz Gaiashvili, Davit Gaiashvili and Georgian Airways LLC are on the list of persons to be sanctioned by Ukraine.
Other business relations of Davit Kvaratskhelia
Kvaratskhelia also owns E N Group LLC and E N Wines LLC together with Nika Goletiani. In addition to E N Group LLC and E N Wines LLC, Goletiani is a co-owner of two companies: Goletiani Family Wines LLC and Akvani Wines LLC. Both companies are related to the wine production.
On November 3, 2017, Goletiani Family Wines LLC was given state-owned agricultural (arable) plots of land located in Telavi municipality. The total area of the plots is 105,233 sq.m. The company paid GEL 60,000 for the land (the cost of one square meter – GEL 1, 75), which is unusually low compared to the market price.
The website created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, which provides information about sanctioned persons
E N Group LLC - date of registration 24.02.2023
E N Wines LLC - date of registration 14.03.2023
Business Avia Georgia LLC - date of registration 15.02.2023
Aero Handling Georgia LLC - date of registration 21.04.2023