Police in Georgia removed protesters who targeted a hotel following reports relatives of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were staying there in defiance of sanctions, according to public broadcaster First Channel.
The opposition United National Movement party staged a demonstration outside the Kvareli Lake Hotel in northeastern Georgia on Saturday, according to First Channel.
It coimes as flights between Georgia and Russia resumed this week for the first time in four years, sparking anger. Since winning its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia has played a balancing act between pro-European sentiment among its citizens and the influence of its powerful neighbor Russia.
Reporters on the ground said the situation outside the hotel had grown “tense” on Saturday after protesters pelted eggs at a minibus that left the hotel carrying Russian tourists.
CNN has reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.
Videos posted on social media showed violent scenes of police officers roughly grabbing protesters gathered outside the hotel. In one video, police officers can be seen holding a protester by the throat.
The protests came after Georgian media reported that Lavrov’s relatives including his daughter Ekaterina Vinokurova, had traveled to Georgia for the wedding of the brother of Lavrov’s son-in-law, Alexandre Vinokourov.
Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili told a briefing Saturday she had been informed by her Minister of Internal Affairs, Vakhtang Gomelauri, that Lavrov’s relatives had left the country, the public broadcaster reported. She did not specify when the relatives arrived in and left Georgia.
Vinokurova who is married to Vinokourov has been sanctioned by the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, while her businessman husband has been sanctioned by the European Union.
Zourabichvili expressed disbelief that the country’s government didn’t know “the daughter of the highest-ranking official, from Putin’s immediate circle, who is under sanctions” had entered Georgia, and stressed that they had a responsibility to know who has “entered the country’s territory” for state protection, according to First Channel.
She also urged the government to pay attention to the list of Russian individuals sanctioned by their partner countries as a way of protecting Georgia.
Last year, the UK government made headlines when it also slapped sanctions on Polina Kovaleva, who it referred to as Lavrov’s stepdaughter despite the Russian foreign minister not being officially married to Kovaleva’s mother.
It followed reporting from the Anti-Corruption Foundation helmed by Russian opposition politician, Alexey Navalny, that Kovaleva had bought a $5.8 million apartment in London’s affluent Kensington neighborhood when she was just 21 years old.
Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream has faced repeated accusations of close ties with Moscow, most notably during efforts to pass a foreign agents bill in March which critics said mirrored controversial Russian laws.
Tensions ran high again in Georgia this week after direct flights between Russia and Georgia resumed on Friday, lifting restrictions imposed in 2019.
The move was condemned by Zourabichvili, who holds a largely ceremonial role and has opposed the government’s alignment with Russia. During her briefing Saturday, she announced a boycott of the airline Georgian Airways.
Large crowds of protesters gathered in the capital’s Tbilisi International Airport to voice their anger at the move, which was announced by the Russian Transport Ministry on Tuesday following a decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters standing outside Tbilisi Airport shouting, blowing whistles, holding placards that read “you are not welcome” and playing the Ukrainian national anthem.
Police detained six protesters demonstrating outside the airport, First Channel reported Friday, citing the country’s Interior Ministry, adding that protesters had blocked a road near the airport.
Prior to the protest, the Georgian Interior Ministry had called on protesters not to demonstrate inside the airport buildings or in areas within a twenty-meter radius of the entrances, where protests are not permitted.
In a statement, the ministry warned protesters that it had mobilized police in the vicinity of the airport and “each act of violation will be immediately foiled by the police.”
CNN’s Mariya Knight contributed to this report.