Former Georgian president forces way back into Ukraine
Mikheil Saakashvili stripped of citizenship amid feud with Ukraine leader Poroshenko
Supporters of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili helped him force his way back into Ukraine from Poland on Sunday night, in a chaotic return that officials said broke the law and injured 17 people.
Accompanied by several Ukrainian deputies and dozens of journalists as well as scores of supporters, Mr Saakashvili returned to Ukraine despite being stripped of the country’s citizenship and facing the threat of deportation to his homeland.
He and his helpers crossed the border on foot and then reportedly went by car to the western city of Lviv. He had vowed to return from Poland to fight for his rights in a court in Ukraine, where his passport was revoked in July by the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko.
Mr Saakashvili, who served as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region in 2015-16, accuses his former ally Mr Poroshenko of trying to sideline him and other critics, and potential rivals ahead of elections due in 2019.
“I came with my Ukrainian passport, I wanted to show my passport and make a statement. Instead, the authorities arranged this circus,” Mr Saakashvili said after crossing the border.
Ukraine’s interior ministry said 12 members of the country’s police force and five border guards had suffered injuries at the frontier, and that Mr Saakashvili and all those who helped him cross the border illegally could face charges. “A group of aggressive people caused a fight with representatives of the national police and border service,” the ministry said.
“They broke through the checkpoint and breached the state border of Ukraine, allowing the illegal crossing of the state border by a group of people including Mikheil Saakashvili and deputies.”
The now stateless leader of Georgia’s 2003 pro-western Rose Revolution announced several weeks ago that he would cross by road from Poland to Ukraine on Sunday, but his plan changed on a day of typical showmanship and unpredictability.
With a large Ukrainian police contingent at the frontier, a long traffic jam developing and Mr Saakashvili’s supporters involved in a standoff with scores of young men who said they opposed his return, he and his entourage switched to a cross-border train which was then held at a station on Polish territory.
Then Mr Saakashvili announced that he was “going back to plan A” and re-boarded a bus, and they drove back to border before pushing their way across on foot.
Ukrainian officials said border guards were ready to prevent Mr Saakashvili entering the country and confiscate his passport.
“If Poroshenko is not afraid of me, let him give me equal footing...It looks like he is getting rid of a political opponent,” Radio Free Europe quoted Mr Saakashvili as saying.
Mr Saakashvili ran Georgia for almost a decade before rivals took over and accused him of abuse of power.
Ukraine has rejected previous requests to extradite Mr Saakashvili to Georgia and said allegations against him were politically motivated.