Georgia's former president deported from Ukraine to Poland

Mikheil Saakashvili has been an outspoken critic of Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko

Georgia’s former president Mikheil Saakashvili has been deported from Ukraine to Poland after he was seized by armed border service officers in Kiev.

Poland’s border service confirmed that Saakashvili, who has emerged as a bitter critic of Ukraine’s government, had arrived and that Warsaw had agreed to let him enter.

“This person was on Ukrainian territory illegally and therefore, in compliance with all legal procedures, he was returned to the country from where he arrived,” the Ukrainian border service spokesman Oleh Slobodyan said in a post on Facebook.

The development marks another twist in Saakashvili’s ongoing political confrontation with Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko.

“[Poroshenko] is neither a president nor a man,” Saakashvili told supporters by telephone from Warsaw. “He is a wheeler-dealer who wants to ruin Ukraine. This shows how weak they are. We will triumph for sure.”

Video footage posted to Saakashvili’s Facebook page appeared to show the politician being dragged from a restaurant in central Kiev by a group of men in green uniforms on Monday.

“He was kidnapped by men in camouflage gear in a restaurant near our party offices. They pushed him into a white van and drove off,” said Tatiana Bahranovska, Saakashvili’s press secretary. “They didn’t show any identification.”

Saakashvili, an enthusiastic supporter of Ukraine’s 2013-2014 Maidan revolution, was appointed governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region in 2015 by Poroshenko, an acquaintance from his student days in Soviet-era Kiev. But he resigned his post in November 2016 in protest at what he said was ingrained high-level corruption and launched a campaign to oust his former ally. Poroshenko responded by stripping Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship while the Georgian-born politician was in the United States. He had previously been deprived of his Georgian citizenship.

Saakashvili’s deportation on Monday came a week after a court in Kiev rejected his appeal against extradition to Georgia, where he faces three years behind bars on charges of illegally pardoning police officers accused of murder.

Saakashvili, who ruled Georgia for nine years until 2013, denies the charges, which he says are politically motivated. He has also been charged by Kiev with involvement in a Russian-led plot to destabilise Ukraine, an accusation he describes as “lies”.

There were angry scenes at Kiev’s Borispyol international airport after Saakashvili’s deportation as the opposition politician’s supporters confronted border service officers. “Poroshenko will answer for this!” shouted supporters, according to an online stream of the protest.

Saakashvili told the Guardian during an interview in Kiev earlier this month that Ukraine had “begged” Warsaw to take him.

He also alleged that his Georgian bodyguards, friends and supporters had been kidnapped by Ukrainian security services, tortured and deported to Georgia in recent months.


Marc Bennetts in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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