July 8, 2019 - 12:51 AMT
Putin's ban on Russia-Georgia flights comes into force

A decree banning direct flights between Russia and Georgia, issued by Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to anti-Russia protests in Tbilisi, came into effect on Monday, July 8, RFE/RL reports.

The decree also "recommends" that Russia travel agencies stop selling package tours to Georgia for as long as the flight ban remains in place.

The last direct passenger flight between the two countries before the ban took effect was by Russia's Aeroflot airline.

It took off from Tbilisi International Airport during the early morning hours of July 8 and landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport at around 5 a.m.

The Kremlin has described the ban as "temporary," but the decree does not specify an end date.

That means it is unclear how long the decree will remain in force or how hard it will hit the Georgian economy.

But analysts say if the ban remains in place, Georgia's economy could lose $250 million to $300 million a year.

That's because Georgia has been a popular tourist destination for Russians.

More than 1.6 million Russian tourists visited Georgia in 2018 -- a number that has been steadily rising since the near disappearance of Russian vacationers there immediately after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

Data from Georgia's National Tourism Agency shows that each Russian tourist last year spent, on average, about $465 during their visit to Georgia -- injecting more than $720 million into the Georgian economy.