Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, was involved in a dramatic standoff with Ukrainian law-enforcement on Tuesday, during which he threatened to jump off the roof of his apartment building, was detained, and then broke free.
Officers from the SBU security services entered Saakashvili’s flat in central Kiev early in the morning, after which he fled to the roof and gave an impassioned speech to supporters gathered below.
After he was dragged from the rooftop by masked security forces agents, there was a stand-off in central Kiev, as supporters of Saakashvili moved to block the van carrying the politician from leaving the scene. There were clashes and teargas was used as protesters blocked the road for more than an hour. Saakashvili was eventually freed from the van, to cheers.
It remains unclear exactly what charges, if any, Saakashvili faces. Lawyers close to the politician suggested he may be charged either with supporting criminal groups, or with plotting a coup. There were also suggestions he could be deported to Georgia, where he faces criminal charges he has dismissed as politically motivated. Ukraine’s general prosecutor said on Tuesday afternoon that Saakashvili’s activities in Ukraine were funded by an ally of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.
Tuesday morning’s arrest was a new chapter in the bizarre and incongruous recent biography of a man who was once considered the reformist hope of the post-Soviet region. It is also the latest episode in an increasingly bitter feud between the former Georgian leader and the current Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.
Poroshenko tapped Saakashvili, whom he had known since student days, to run the southern region of Odessa in 2015, in the hope that the Georgian’s energetic reformist tendencies would transform the area. However, at the end of 2016, Saakashvili resigned, blaming Poroshenko for the slow pace of reform and promising to go into opposition and create his own party.
Saakashvili was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, granted so he could take up the Odessa job, while on a trip outside the country earlier this year, but forced his way across the border with the help of supporters. On Tuesday, Saakashvili shouted from the roof that Poroshenko is “a criminal, thief and traitor”.
Saakashvili came to power in Georgia in the Rose Revolution of 2003, and introduced sweeping reforms that helped reduce corruption and red tape in the post-Soviet nation. However, his rule became marred by allegations of creeping authoritarianism. In 2008, the Georgian Army was routed by Russia and when Saakashvili left office in 2013 he was widely unpopular.
Poroshenko gave Saakashvili a second political life with the Odessa appointment. His time in office was never boring, with televised publicity stunts, late-night meetings and increasingly strident criticism of Poroshenko’s government. During one cabinet meeting in Kiev, Saakashvili got into a shouting match with interior minister, Arsen Avakov, accusing him of corruption and saying he would go to jail. In response, Avakov threw a glass of water in Saakashvili’s face and called him a “bonkers populist”.
Poroshenko’s supporters say the Ukrainian president is attempting important reform while dealing with a difficult political legacy of ingrained corruption and a punishing war in the east of the country, where the Ukrainian army is fighting separatists funded and backed by Russia.
Critics, including Saakashvili, have accused Poroshenko of governing in the same manner as previous Ukrainian presidents, giving preferential treatment to oligarchic allies and failing to reform fast enough. International backers of Ukraine have grown impatient at the speed of reform in the country.
The extraordinary footage of masked special agents manhandling Saakashvili is unlikely to burnish Poroshenko’s reform credentials, though the Georgian also has a mixed reputation in the international community, with many wary of his impulsive style.
Source: Guardian UK