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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgians Line Up for Visas in Tbilisi

Itar-TassGeorgians waiting to apply for visas at the Russian Consulate in Tbilisi on Tuesday after Moscow eased a ban.
TBILISI, Georgia -- Dozens of Georgians lined up outside the Russian Consulate in Tbilisi on Tuesday following the first easing of Moscow's blanket ban on visas.

The Foreign Ministry said Monday that it would start issuing a limited number of visas to Georgians with invitations from family members living in Russia and who are Russian citizens.

Russia stopped issuing visas to Georgians at the end of September after Georgian authorities arrested a group of Russian officers on spying charges, sparking a crisis in relations.

Around 50 people gathered outside the Russian Consulate in Tbilisi early Tuesday. Russian diplomats allowed people to enter the consulate in groups of two or three.

"I have not seen my son and his family for several months. I'm ready to stand here for hours just to get a visa," said Lia Menabde, a pensioner, with tears in her eyes.

The majority of those waiting had relatives in Russia. "My mother is a Russian citizen, but I'm not. I came to Tbilisi last fall and could not return to Moscow since my visa had expired," said Koka Tabatadze, a 27-year-old doctor.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli welcomed the announcement from the Russian side. "I think that it could become a good grounding for further steps," Nogaideli said.

Regular flights and train links remain severed.

Russian and Georgian officials are expected on Saturday to hold talks in Tbilisi about Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization, which Georgia is blocking over a dispute about customs points in its breakaway republics.

With transport links still cut, the Russian delegation will be forced to travel by car from Armenia for the meeting. But Georgian political leaders said Russia would probably return a wider visa regime soon.

"I think the Russians are trying to correct their mistakes as they understand that sanctions against Georgia did not have the impact they expected," said Jemal Inaishvili, deputy speaker of Georgia's parliament.

"I don't rule out that this [Russian] decision could be linked with negotiations over Russia's entry to the WTO. Russia is trying to get Georgia's consent by any means," he said.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili will attend an informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg in June, a spokesman said. He has asked for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.