Saakashvili aims to topple Ukraine’s ‘oligarchy’ after dramatic return

President Poroshenko condemns ex-Georgian leader’s border-crossing ‘crime’

Former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to stay in Ukraine to try to oust its "oligarchic" political elite, a day after forcing his way back into the country in what its president called a criminal act that must be punished.

Supporters of Mr Saakashvili swept him through a crossing on Ukraine's frontier with Poland on Sunday night, in chaotic scenes that officials said left at least 16 police and border guards injured.

In the western city of Lviv, Mr Saakashvili said on Monday he would fight in court to remain a citizen of Ukraine, after the country's president Petro Poroshenko annulled his passport in July for allegedly giving false information on his application form.

Mr Saakashvili served as governor of Ukraine's Odessa region in 2015-16, before resigning and accusing his former ally Mr Poroshenko and other top officials of blocking efforts to fight corruption and implement major reforms.


“I have a clear plan: to end theft from the economy; to end the power of the oligarchy; to end misuse of power,” Mr Saakashvili said.

“For that I intend to travel around all the regions of Ukraine, to unite as much as possible with people and with different political forces around a shared theme – that we should have democracy and not the diktat of oligarchs.”

‘No ambition’

The populist Mr Saakashvili – who ran Georgia for nearly a decade after leading its 2003 Rose Revolution, but is on the wanted list of its current authorities – insisted he had "no ambition towards any particular office in Ukraine".

“The aim for me is not to reshuffle the old pack of cards . . . [but to] open the path for new Ukrainians.”

While there is sympathy for Mr Saakashvili in Ukraine – where many people believe the ruling elite is increasing pressure on critics and failing to fulfil its reform pledges – polls suggest he would not be a major challenger in elections due in 2019.

Mr Saakashvili claims, however, that he is being targeted by confectionary billionaire Mr Poroshenko, and is in danger of being deported to his native Georgia to face charges of abuse of power that he says are politically motivated.

Mr Poroshenko defended his decision to annul Mr Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship, noting that no appeal against the move had been lodged in court.

“Instead, a crime was committed,” he said of Sunday’s events at the border.

“This is a question of the national security of the state. And it is all the same to me who breaches the state border, whether fighters in the east or politicians in the west. There should be precise, legal, judicial responsibility.”

“I hope this gentleman [Saakashvili] will strive with the same zeal to get into Georgia as he did to reach Ukraine.”

Ukrainian officials say Mr Saakashvili and several deputies who accompanied him – including populist former premier Yulia Tymoshenko – and supporters who scuffled with border guards could all face several criminal charges.

Mr Saakashvili (49) claimed on Monday that police stole his Ukrainian passport during the melee at the border, an allegation they denied.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe