Georgia to resume flights to Russia this week, drawing EU and Ukrainian criticism

TBILISI (Reuters) -Georgian Airways will resume direct flights to Russia from Saturday, the country's civil aviation authority said, drawing criticism from Ukraine and the European Union.

The move comes after Moscow lifted a flight ban last week in a significant warming of ties with Georgia, with which it has had no formal diplomatic relations since Russia defeated its southern neighbour in a short war in 2008.

"The world is isolating Russia to force it to stop the war, but Georgia is welcoming Russian airlines and sending its own to Moscow. All while 20% of Georgian territory remains occupied by Russia with impunity," Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.

"The Kremlin will surely be delighted with such a result."

Georgia has in recent months tried to balance rapprochement with its giant neighbour and its aspirations to join the EU.

The country was rocked by protests in March after lawmakers moved to adopt a Russian-style bill requiring non-government organisations receiving more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as "agents of foreign influence".

Brussels said the plan was incompatible with EU membership and the bill was later withdrawn.

The EU said it regretted that Georgia was resuming flights to Russia at a time when the bloc has closed its airspace to Russian planes in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

"This latest decision by Georgia's authorities raises concerns in terms of Georgia's EU path," EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said.

(Writing by Caleb Davis and Mark Trevelyan, additional reporting by Timothy Heritage, editing by Christina Fincher)