Tbilisi rally
People rally outside the parliament in Tbilisi on June 20, 2019.
Violent protests in Tbilisi are a 'Russophobic provocation' which raises serious concerns in Moscow due to Georgia being a popular destination for Russian tourists, the Kremlin has said.

Tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow spiked after the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO), which took place at the Georgian Parliament in the capital on Thursday.

IAO President and head of the Russian delegation, Sergei Gavrilov, delivered an opening speech at the summit, but several Georgian opposition MPs were offended with Gavrilov doing so from the parliament speaker's seat. During a break those MPs occupied the speaker's podium and prevented the session from continuing.

The opposition then called on people to take to the streets and by nightfall some 5,000 people had gathered outside the parliament building to chant anti-Russian slogans and denounce Gavrilov's behavior as offensive. There were also calls for local officials, who allowed the visit, to resign.

In a matter of hours, the demonstration turned into a full-scale anti-government rally, with police in full riot gear deployed to site. Latest reports state that some 240 people were injured in the clashes that followed, as police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent the rioters from storming the parliament.

"What happened in Georgia yesterday is nothing, but a Russophobic provocation," Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson said, adding that "aggressive manifestations against the Russian nationals" is a source for serious concern.

He also slammed the Georgian side - the host of the major international forum - for being unable to provide security to the Russian delegation, which had to urgently leave the country.

What happened in Tbilisi is a "very serious issue," considering the fact that "Georgia is a country that's regularly visited by quite a large number of Russian tourists," Peskov said.

Gavrilov, who was sprayed with water and had insults shouted at him during the events in the Georgian Parliament, earlier called the developments in Tbilisi a "provocation aimed at hindering efforts to strengthen relations between the Russian and Georgian peoples."

The majority of the foreigners, who arrived in Georgia in the first quarter of 2019, were Russians, attracted by the short flight, low prices, great food, and picturesque sites. 222,700 people, which is 21.4 percent of all tourist flow, arrived in Georgia from Russia, GeoStat said in May.

The booming tourism was viewed by many as a sign of a thaw in relations between Tbilisi and Moscow that remained strained after the South Ossetia conflict in 2008. Back then, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered an attack on the breakaway region and Russia was forced to intervene to restore peace. It was followed by Moscow recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and another disputed republic, Abkhazia.