Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree temporarily banning passenger flights to and from Georgia, following unrest in the capital of its southern neighbor.

On June 21, 2019, Kremlin announced the President’s decree to suspend all direct flights by Russian carriers to Georgia, starting July 8, 2019, Russian news agency Interfax reported. The following day, June 22, 2019, Russia’s Transport Ministry stated that Moscow will also suspend passenger flights of Georgian airlines to Russia from July 8, 2019.

According to the Ministry, the reasons for the suspension were “the need to ensure a sufficient level of aviation security," as well as Georgia's reportedly overdue debts to Russia’s State ATM Corporation for air navigation services, Interfax informed.

The Ministry states that the flight ban on two airlines – national carrier Georgian Airways and MyWay Airlines – will be lifted once they can guarantee safety, undergo an audit approved by Russian officials, and fully repay the debt. Georgian aviation authorities have reportedly been informed about the decision.

Meanwhile, the President’s decree also “recommends” travel agencies to stop selling package tours to Georgia as long as the flight ban is in place. Moscow has also ordered the authorities to ensure that all Russian citizens currently travelling across Georgia be flown back without additional fees, Interfax reported.

Georgia has a booming tourist industry and there are currently around 5,000-7,000 Russian tourists in the country on organized tours, Sputnik cites the Russian Association of Tour Operators.

According to Russian news agency TASS, the flight bans will result in another 150,000 Russians having to cancel their planned trips to Georgia. This means that airlines will have to pay compensation to passengers that could amount to about $48 million (3 billion rubles).

President Putin’s sudden move comes after massive protests broke out in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, late on June 20, 2019, triggered by the visit of a Russian legislator at the Georgian Parliament.