( AP ) - Air travel between Georgia and Russia resumed Tuesday, more than 17 months after Moscow suspended flights because of tension between the ex-Soviet neighbors.
Russia halted flights after Georgia briefly detained four Russian military officers it accused of spying. The tension is rooted largely in the pro-Western Georgian leadership's efforts to join NATO, and disputes over two Russian-supported separatist regions in Georgia.
Russia insisted that it was suspending flights for purely financial reasons, and said last week that flights could resume after Georgia agreed to pay debt for navigation services provided to its planes over Russia.
"It's great news," said Gia Gogorishvili, 30, a businessman preparing to board the Airzena/Georgian Airways Boeing 737 evening flight from Tbilisi to Moscow. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has courted the West, in particular the United States, and has contributed forces to the war in Iraq. Russia has been pushing to maintain its influence in Georgia, which sits on a key export route for Caspian Sea oil and gas.
Russia in 2006 also barred imports of two major Georgian products, wine and mineral water. Moscow also cut other forms of transport, recalled its ambassador and cracked down on Georgian migrants in Russia.
The ambassador returned last year, and Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Saakashvili on the sidelines of a summit of leaders of ex-Soviet nations in Moscow last month. Both governments have toned down their rhetoric and travel by boat between Russia and Georgia on the Black Sea is also being restored.