Georgian police have detained 19 people protesting a visit by several of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s relatives to Georgia, including his internationally sanctioned daughter, to attend a wedding.
On Saturday, 16 people were arrested outside the Kvareli Lake Resort in Kakheti, the wedding venue. Later that evening, Elene Khoshtaria, the head of the opposition Droa party, and two members of Georgia’s largest opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), were also detained.
The two UNM members were detained after holding a rally outside the police station in Sagarejo, also in Kakheti, where some of those detained were being held.
All 19 detainees were released on Sunday.
The activists in Kvareli were protesting the wedding of Mika (Moshe) Vinokurov, the brother-in-law of Lavrov’s daughter, according to social media posts published by the groom.
Special police units were at the scene, cordoning off the resort and obstructing reporters from covering the protest. Later that day, the Georgian Coalition for Media Advocacy condemned the police’s use of physical violence against media representatives at the protest and the ‘confiscation of their equipment, and the illegal interference in the implementation of professional activities’.
Georgian officials, including Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri, initially evaded inquiries about the wedding, but after intensive coverage by local media, Georgian Dream MP and First Deputy Speaker Gia Volski confirmed that Lavrov’s daughter was in Georgia.
Volski deemed the protests inappropriate but admitted that allowing Ekaterina Vinokurova into Georgia was a mistake. He cited Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner’s controversialist visit to Tbilisi in 2021 as a similar blunder.
Earlier that day, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili stated that the interior minister had promised her that the guests, whom she didn’t name, had left the country.
‘The family, those persons that planned to hold the second part of the wedding today, are gone’, stated Zurabishvili.
Zurabishvili admonished Irakli Kobakhidze, Georgian Dream’s chair, for suggesting that the protests were ‘xenophobic’ and warned that Russia similarly uses the same narrative as a pretext to invade neighbouring countries.
‘If Kobakhidze is trying to prepare the grounds for that, I don’t suppose we will allow it’.
Zurabishvili urged the government to enforce border controls in accordance with Western sanctions placed on Russian public figures.
President’s boycott and demonstration in Tbilisi
While it remains unclear how the Vinokurovs entered Georgia, local media reported their visit on 19 May, just hours after the first Russian passenger flight from Moscow landed in Tbilisi.
The flight marked the end of a nearly four-year Russian flight ban between the two countries and the Georgian government’s decision to greenlight the flights.
The resumption of flights with Russia sparked several protests in Tbilisi earlier this week.
[Read more on OC Media: Protesters detained as first Russia–Georgia flight lands in Tbilisi]
President Zurabishvili was among those who criticised the resumption of direct flights with Russia.
Following news of Lavrov’s visit on Saturday, the president vowed not to use the services of Georgian Airways, the first Georgian airline to obtain Russian authorisation to operate flights to Russian cities.
On a rainy Saturday evening, while opposition activists protested the visit of Sergey Lavrov’s relatives in Kakheti, an anti-government rally against direct flights with Russia and for the visa regime with Russia resumed outside Parliament in Tbilisi.
Protesters carrying Georgian, Ukrainian, and European Union flags added the release of those jailed in Kakheti to their list of demands before marching to Heroes’ Square and eventually dispersing, vowing to renew rallies on Monday.
This article was amended on 22 May 2023 to update the number of protesters detained in Kakheti on Saturday and to include confirmation of their release the following day.