The fallout from Ukraine’s dramatically failed attempt at arresting former Georgian president (and Ukrainian governor) Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday was a violent raid on supporters’ tent city in front of the nation’s parliament.
Supporters have prevented police from arresting Saakashvili, who continues to call for a populist revolt against “corrupt” President Petro Poroshenko.
What Reuters describes as a “surreal hide-and-seek game” on Tuesday night to find and arrest Saakashvili—which Kiev accuses of collusion with allies of President Vladimir Putin despite Saakashvili’s lifelong record of opposition to Putin—has, at press time, failed to bear fruit. On Tuesday, Ukrainian police managed to arrest Saakashvili after a standoff on his rooftop in which he threatened to jump to his death if detained. Hundreds of supporters surrounded the police car they placed him in, however, and physically removed him from the car.
The former Georgian leader, who ran the country while Putin invaded the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, told the crowd following his arrest and un-arrest on Tuesday, “there is no more bitter foe of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in the world than me, and the accusation that I am linked to Russia is completely absurd.”
Saakashvili is currently living in the tent city in front of parliament, with supporters hiding him from police. Following a police announcement demanding he turn himself in within 24 hours, Saakashvili spoke before a crowd of supporters to confirm he would not comply and insulting Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko.
“I want to say the following: I will not go to any ‘pseudo-prosecutor general,’ he is an illiterate underachiever, he is illegal, I do not recognize him as prosecutor general,” Saakashvili told supporters, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
“I’m ready to receive their investigator here, in the camp,” he added, urging supporters not in the camp to bring food, tea, and firewood to help the protesters, who did not have any financial backing.
Saakashvili also announced a rally scheduled for 6 p.m. local time Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, however, Ukrainian riot police attacked the tents; Reuters reports they targeted the wrong tent and failed to find Saakashvili. Instead, they engaged in violent clashes with the protesters in the tent in question. Police told reporters that four officers were wounded, but they do not know how many civilians were hurt in the encounters.
Saakashvili took to Facebook on Tuesday to demand that police not follow orders to violently attack protesters. According to a rough translation, the former Georgian president told officers to ignore “criminal orders” from the Poroshenko government and avoid being held “responsible for their crimes.”
Lutsenko “later acknowledged that the operation could have been carried out more effectively,” Reuters reported, and once again urged Saakashvili to turn himself in.
“The best thing he could do, if he were a man, if he really loved Ukraine even a little, would be to come today to Volodymyrska Street (security service headquarters) to testify to investigators,” he asserted.
The Kyiv Post adds that Lutsenko defended the raid on the camp as “absolutely lawful because Mr. Saakashvili was declared wanted after his escape, and the Security Service and the Interior Ministry are supposed to detain him, and this is a lawful and necessary action in any country.”
Russian news agency TASS reported on Wednesday that sources in Kiev confirmed that police are “preparing a special operation” to detain Saakashvili that will involve “more forces and means … than on Tuesday,” referring to Saakashvili’s initial arrest in his apartment, not the subsequent failed arrest at the camp.
The source said he does not know when the operation will be carried out. “I think, this will be in the near future as Saakashvili has been put on the wanted list and police will be let off the leash,” the source told TASS.
Saakashvili has maintained that the charges against him are fabricated. Speaking to Deutsche Welle on Tuesday night, he said that Ukrainian authorities “told me that if they couldn’t find something on me, they would invent something.”
“We have been marching peacefully, quietly, but in big numbers, more and more, and that is what they are scared of,” he added, asserting that he did not have any ambitions to be president of Ukraine.
“I am just trying to rescue this nation from the absolute oblivion of corruption,” he added.
On Monday morning, asked by a BBC journalist whether he would now turn himself in, Saakashvili replied, “get lost.”
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) December 6, 2017
Saakashvili is currently stateless, having had his Georgian citizenship stripped when he moved to Ukraine to aid the Poroshenko government and his Ukrainian citizenship stripped after accusing Poroshenko of corruption. In an interview with the Independent occurring before his arrest but published on Wednesday, he acknowledged his situation was bizarre.
“From a Western point of view this looks strange; a former head of state of a country going to another country and trying to change it, a foreigner trying to save the country,” he said. “Simón Bolívar was a couple of centuries ago, but there is no modern precedent for it.”
Simón Bolívar, a Spanish citizen, fought with locals in multiple Latin American nations against the crown in their struggles for independence.
Saakashvili argued that a major political shift was necessary in Ukraine because the young country had no protocol for removing a president when the people were dissatisfied. “In normal countries, there can be an impeachment process,” he noted. “As we saw with Mugabe, this can happen even in places like Zimbabwe. But there is no law allowing impeachment in Ukraine.”
Saakashvili, a staunch ally of the United States and the greater West, stated that he believed the West “understands the need for strong leadership and we all know Ukraine needs strong leadership now” while rejecting the label of victim of any aggression from Putin. “One thing we learned, and Ukraine would be wise to learn, is that one shouldn’t always be the victim. Because at the end the West tends to lose patience and sympathy with victims.”