Georgia’s ex-president Saakashvili deported by Ukraine to Poland

EPA-EFE/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

Former Georgian president and ex-Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili speaks with the media near the Fairmont Grand Hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, February 9, 2018.

Georgia’s ex-president Saakashvili deported by Ukraine to Poland


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Former Georgian president-turned-Ukrainian-opposition-activist, Mikheil Saakashvili, was deported by Ukrainian authorities to neighbouring Poland on Monday after the one-time darling of conservative Western lawmakers was arrested for having violated Ukrainian law in September 2017 when he illegally crossed into the country from Poland.

Oleg Slobodyan, a spokesman for the State Border Guard Service, said in a post on Facebook that Saakashvili was illegally residing in Ukraine without international travel documents and was returned to the location from which he originally crossed nearly six months ago.

Polish border police confirmed in a statement that Saakashvili had arrived in Warsaw and that “the basis for his admission into Poland was based on an application submitted by the National Migration Service of Ukraine to the commander-in-chief of Poland’s border guards.

“The (readmission) request by the Ukrainian side was approved after we took into account the fact that Saakashvili is the spouse of a European Union citizen,” the Polish border guards said in an official statement. referencing Saakashvili’s estranged wife,  Dutch-born Sandra Elisabeth Roelofs.

Saakashvili was detained at a Georgian restaurant near the headquarters of his New Forces party in the Ukrainian capital Kiev later on Monday afternoon.

The developments came a week after a court rejected an appeal by the former Georgian president and one-time governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region for protection from possible extradition.

Saakashvili’s status has been in question since he forcibly entered the country illegally from Poland in September 2017 after Ukrainian President, and one-time ally, Petro Poroshenko stripped him of the citizenship that he had granted him through an executive order only 30 months earlier.

The brash, portly Saakashvili has been living in limbo ever since the revocation of his Ukrainian citizenship as he is currently stateless, having had his citizenship from his native Georgia stripped in 2015 after he became a Ukrainian citizen.

Saakashvili spent his first years in office as the toast of the Neo-Conservatives in the George W. Bush administration. He was lavished with praise and attention from business leaders and Western lawmakers after he came to power on an anti-corruption platform following Georgia’s pro-democracy Rose Revolution in 2003.

Backed by a team of forward-thinking reformers, Saakashvili enjoyed stunning success as he pulled the war-ravaged, poor South Caucasus nation from the brink of collapse and made it a model of economic and judicial reform. He also firmly placed Georgia in the Western camp, stating his desire to see the former Soviet republic join the European Union and NATO while he was in office.

By 2007, however, he began falling out of favour with many of his foreign backers and local supporters because of his wildly eccentric and often impulsive behaviour.

A sworn enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saakashvili’s disastrous decision to provoke a war with Moscow in August 2008 sapped much of the support that had characterised his first few years in office. His last years were characterised by an increasing number of erratic policy decisions, the muzzling of critical media outlets, and the imprisonment of thousands of Georgian citizens. By the time Saakashvili lost the 2012 election to his bitter political rival, the pro-Russian oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia had one of the highest per capita prisoner populations in the world.

After fleeing Georgia following his election loss amid charges of abuse of power and corruption, Saakashvili briefly found himself living in Brooklyn, signing on as a lecturer at Tufts University. He failed, however, to attend any of the courses he was charged with overseeing and was dismissed by the university before eventually leaving the US for Kiev at the height of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan Revolution.

Poroshenko offered Saakashvili a job in his post-revolution administration and eventually settled on granting his former university classmate Ukrainian citizenship and the governorship of Odessa, the country’s most important economic region.

Saakashvili and Poroshenko fell out only months after the former accused Poroshenko of styling his attempts to clean up corruption in the Black Sea region. Saakashvili resigned from his post in November 2016 and became a vocal anti-government activist, which later led Poroshenko to strip Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship while he was abroad.

In September, Saakashvili forced his way through a  border blockade while crossing from Poland into Ukraine. He briefly entered into a tenuous alliance with a strident anti-Poroshenko foe and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko – the leader of the opposition in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.

Saakashvili’s support with average voters and other Ukrainian lawmakers has been limited since he illegally crossed the border. While he has garnered a certain degree of support with a few hundred Maidan activists and Donbass War veterans, he has been unable to gain the confidence of most Ukrainian voters who support his anti-corruption crusade, but are wary of his demonstrative personality and his penchant for embellishment.

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