Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia and later a Ukrainian citizen, crossed from Poland into Ukraine in a crowd of his supporters Sunday.
Saakashvili has been stateless since his former mentor, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, stripped him of Ukrainian citizenship two months ago. He is wanted in Georgia on charges related to his political career there, and Tbilisi has asked the Kyiv government to extradite him, but it is not clear whether the request will be honored.
Saakashvili said he wanted to return to Ukraine to contest Poroshenko’s action stripping him of his citizenship while he was out of the country. Ukrainian authorities in the border region tried to block Saakashvili’s return – first by train, then by bus – but then he walked across the Ukrainian border at Shehyni in the midst of a crowd of his supporters.
The Ukrainian border service said in a Facebook post that the crowd broke through a checkpoint and that fighting broke out when guards tried to block Saakashvili’s supporters. Those who accompanied the former Georgia leader included former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Courtesy – RFE/RL
Also with Saakashvili was Mustafa Nayyem, who was active in protests in Ukraine in 2013-14 that drove then pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovych, out of the country. Saakashvili was a strong supporter of those protests and later was a staunch ally of Poroshenko, but more recently he has opposed the current administration in Kyiv, accusing Poroshenko and others of contributing to widespread corruption.
Later Sunday in Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, about 80 kilometers from the Polish border, Saakashvili said the border crossing took place “according to all legal procedures,” and promised to defend anyone who accompanied him from threatened criminal charges. Government officials at the border said 17 police and guards were injured during the confrontation with Saakashvili’s supporters.
After leaving Georgia, where he led the Rose Revolution in 2003 that toppled then president Eduard Shevardnadze, Saakashvili wound up in Ukraine, where President Poroshenko appointed him governor of the Odessa Oblast (region) in May 2015. He served for 18 months before the political split with Poroshenko that led to his present circumstances. He has been known as a pro-Western, pro-NATO political leader in both Georgia and Ukraine.
Georgia has pursued Saakashvili on criminal charges of abuse of power and misappropriation of property. The former Georgian president, who left office after two terms, contends those claims are politically motivated. He forfeited his Georgian citizenship when he accepted Poroshenko’s welcome to Ukraine and the post as Odessa governor two years ago.