Ukraine Launches Probe on Abduction, Deportation of Anti-Corruption Governor

Former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili (C) is greeted by his supporters after his arriving in Kiev's Boryspil airport on May 29, 2019. - Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelensky on May 28, 2019 restored the Ukrainian citizenship of Saakashvili, less than two years after he was stripped of it and expelled. …
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images

The administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky will open an investigation into Ukraine stripping former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, rendering him a stateless person, and deporting him to Poland last year, authorities announced on Monday.

Saakashvili served as president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013; his tenure was defined by his opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his efforts to galvanize international support against the Russian invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway regions. Following his departure – and the election of President Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine – Poroshenko appointed Saakashvili governor of Odessa oblast in Ukraine. Saakashvili received Ukrainian citizenship and a mandate to weed out corruption.

Saakashvili found corruption, organized by Poroshenko’s political allies, and resigned in disgust shortly after. Poroshenko’s forces abducted him and deported him to Poland for good in early 2018, after Saakashvili founded a political party and began campaigning against Poroshenko. Poroshenko revoked his citizenship while in Poland; Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizen by default when he obtained Ukrainian citizenship. He legally became a stateless person until Zelensky made him Ukrainian again in May.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office, the highest in the country, announced on Monday that Saakashvili had filed charges for “abduction and violent actions” against him by the Poroshenko government. He is arguing that the decision to deport him to Poland – a country that he has no ethnic ties to and has never had legal residence or citizenship in – was a violation of his rights. The Prosecutor General’s office did not specify if Saakashvili had filed any criminal complaints against individuals in particular, instead vowing an official probe into who ordered his deportation and why.

Saakashvili alleges that Poroshenko forces violently abducted him and forced him out of the country.

The former Georgian president first got into the crosshairs of Kyiv in 2016, when he resigned from his post as governor of Odessa.

“I can’t stand this, I’ve had enough. I’m tired of this. And I want to say: nobody in my life has lied so much or so cynically to me,” Saakashvili said of Poroshenko at the time.

“In reality, in Odessa region, the president personally supports two clans,” he alleged, suggesting that Poroshenko ordered him to identify and punish corrupt political actors while also obfuscating his investigations and protecting his corrupt allies.

Saakashvili then founded the Movement of New Forces party, which some compared to the movement that brought President Donald Trump to the White House. In response to Saakashvili’s agitation, Poroshenko revoked his citizenship, leaving Saakashvili without citizenship in any nation, a violation of international law. He then deported Saakashvili to Poland, which accepted him as an anti-Putin ally and spouse of a European Union citizen. Poroshenko officials since attempted to paint Saakashvili as a Putin supporter – a claim widely dismissed due to Saakashvili’s prominent place at the head of the anti-Putin movement when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008.

By late September 2017, Saakashvili was back in Ukraine thanks to the work of hundreds of supporters, who blocked Ukraine border patrol officers by forming human chains so that Saakashvili could physically force his way into the country. The roaring crowds of anti-corruption protesters accompanied Saakashvili in Kyiv, where authorities repeatedly attempted to arrest and deport Saakashvili again.

In December of that year, police wrestled Saakashvili off a Kyiv rooftop and smuggled him into a police van, only to have hundreds of supporters physically pull him out of the car to freedom.

Saakashvili’s final deportation under Poroshenko occurred in February 2018. Authorities waited for the crowds to subside and, according to surveillance video, apprehended Saakashvili in a restaurant, assaulted him violently, and shipped him to Poland. Police still had to contend with throngs of Saakashvili supporters at the Kyiv airport to get him on a flight to Warsaw.

“Dear Ukrainian citizens, your country is run by liars, by people who’ve been lying to you and who lied to you four days ago,” Saakashvili said at the time. “We need to save Ukraine from corruption. Ukrainian citizens deserve a better life.”

The Saakashvili scandal significantly hurt the Poroshenko administration, brought to power by a wave of protests against pro-Russian predecessor Viktor Yushchenko. Ukrainians soundly rejected Poroshenko and elected an untested comedian known for playing a schoolteacher who abruptly becomes president of Ukraine: Volodymyr Zelensky, who Saakashvili has endorsed. Zelensky returned the favor by granting Saakashvili his Ukrainian citizenship back as one of his first acts as president this year.

Saakashvili claimed upon return to Ukraine that he is not interested in political ambitions at the moment, but does support Zelensky’s attempts to oust entrenched Kyiv interests and eradicate corruption.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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