By Colin Dwyer
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to the media prior to a scheduled court hearing in Kiev last month.
Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
Ukrainian authorities have deported Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who has emerged as a vocal antagonist of the government in Kiev. Ukraine’s border agency confirmed his deportation to Poland on Monday, while videos on social media purported to show Saakashvili getting seized by masked men.
“This person was on Ukrainian territory illegally,” the agency said in a statement released Monday, “and therefore, in compliance with all legal procedures, he was returned to the country from which he arrived.”
Representatives of Saakashvili are describing the incident in starkly different terms.
Earlier Monday the populist politician’s Facebook account released a plea for help, saying “unknown people in masks kidnapped [him] and drove him in an unknown direction.” At the same time, the account uploaded several videos appearing to show his “abduction” in a restaurant at the hands of several shouting men.
Hours later, he called reporters from Warsaw with his account of the confrontation: “They broke into the cafe,” he said. “They tried to close my eyes, tie my hands.”
Within hours he had been placed on a plane to Poland.
Saakashvili and his supporters have cast the move as an attempt to remove a prominent threat to President Petro Poroshenko, a former ally who granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship and even appointed him governor several years ago — only to strip him of that citizenship after Saakashvili quit amid a flurry of accusations that Poroshenko was blocking his attempts at reform.
Saakashvili — a populist politician who also faces a three-year prison sentence in Georgia for embezzlement and abuse of authority during his presidency there — lost his rights as a Ukrainian last summer while he was in the U.S. He returned, though, gathering supporters on the Poland-Ukraine border for a climactic push back into the country in September. Since then he has drawn a considerable following in Ukraine, even as Ukrainian officials have condemned him as a provocateur backed by a pro-Russian criminal group.
Earlier this month Saakashvili lost his appeal for protection against the possibility of getting extradited to Georgia to stand charges.
“The Georgian authorities never asked for my extradition when I was in America or in Europe,” the 50-year-old opposition leader told The Guardian last week, when he was still living and working in central Kiev. “They only did it when I returned to Ukraine because Poroshenko asked them to.”
Now, after grappling with Saakashvili for months, Kiev has managed to eject him. Time will tell whether he will stay out of Ukraine or whether, as he did last year, he will somehow manage to return. In the meantime, Saakashvili might be out of the country — but he is not exactly out of earshot.
“This is not a president and not a man,” he said of Poroshenko in a statement after the deportation Monday, according to Reuters. “This is a lowlife crook who wants to wreck Ukraine. All this shows how weak they are. We will of necessity defeat them.”