Ukrainian authorities violently arrested and deported Mikheil Saakashvili, former Georgian president and governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, to Poland on Monday, citing his lack of permission to enter the country.
Saakashvili, who has defined himself throughout his career as one of the loudest anti-Russian voices in Europe, entered Ukraine after being expelled to Poland in September, forcibly making his way across the border with the help of hundreds of supporters. He was twice arrested and released in December before police ultimately dragged him out of Kyiv and into Poland this week.
Having had his Ukrainian and Georgian citizenships stripped from him, Saakashvili is not a citizen of any country.
Surveillance camera footage surfaced on the Internet Monday showed police raiding a Georgian restaurant in Kyiv and dragging Saakashvili away. In a statement, Saakashvili’s official Facebook page described the incident as a “kidnapping” and claimed that police “beat him in the face all the way to the plane, closed his mouth and eyes, [and] threatened to shoot him.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reports that Ukraine dispatched “dozens” of police to apprehend him:
Poland had received Saakashvili once before, for a trip abroad while he was still a Ukrainian citizen. The government of President Petro Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his citizenship while he was in Poland, making it impossible for him to legally travel. The Polish government accepted Saakashvili a second time on Monday, citing the fact that his wife holds Dutch citizenship and as such can travel across EU borders, according to NBC News. RFE/RL reports that the Ukrainian government had filled out immigration paperwork to allow Saakashvili to enter Poland, and this was the basis for Warsaw to allow him to stay.
Ukrainian officials claimed on Facebook that Saakashvili’s supporters attempted to congregate at the Kyiv airport to protect him from deportation and that police had to use “force” to prevent them from succeeding.
Saakashvili and Poroshenko were once close allies in a growing community of anti-Putin post-Soviet leaders. Following Saakashvili’s completion of his presidential term in Georgia, Poroshenko invited him to help weed out corruption in Odessa. Accepting the office made Saakashvili a Ukrainian citizen, stripping him of his Georgian citizenship.
Months after taking the job, Saakashvili revealed that his investigations had revealed widespread corruption within Poroshenko’s government and that Poroshenko himself was preventing Saakashvili from properly eradicating the problem. Shortly after Saakashvili vocally denounced Poroshenko, he found himself a stateless man, accused of a conspiracy with Russian President Vladimir Putin against Poroshenko’s government.
In remarks after returning to Poland this week, Saakashvili stated that his deportation was an act of desperation. “I think Poroshenko does not have much time left,” he told reporters. “We will defeat him for sure. We will prevail over him through the peaceful resistance of the Ukrainian people.”
In a press conference, Saakashvili insisted, “A free Saakashvili is more dangerous for you, Mr. Poroshenko, when I am free [and] not under pressure like I was in Ukraine.” He vowed that Poroshenko and his allegedly corrupt allies would “go to prison” at the end of his campaign.
“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 asserted. “We need to save Ukraine from corruption. Ukrainian citizens deserve a better life.”
“There will be a big protest of Ukraine’s united opposition on February 18. It will be neither [the] first nor last protest. The protests will grow eventually. In the end, they will have to surrender and retreat from power,” Saakashvili told Current Time TV, a joint RFE/RL and Voice of America project.
Saakashvili thanked Poland for receiving him “warmly” but asserted he would not attempt to procure Polish citizenship or political asylum there. In contrast, he accused Ukraine’s behavior of being “absolutely outrageous, total lawlessness.”