Saakashvili seeks asylum during political tour of Ukraine

Ukrainian president annulled ex-Georgian leader's passport during feud

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s pending asylum application prevents Ukraine extraditing to him to Georgia. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s pending asylum application prevents Ukraine extraditing to him to Georgia. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

 

Former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili has requested political asylum in Ukraine, having forced his way back into the country after being stripped of its citizenship by his ally turned enemy, President Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Poroshenko cancelled Mr Saakashvili’s Ukrainian passport in July due to alleged irregularities on his application form, but the ex-Georgian president and his supporters shoved past border guards last month to re-enter Ukraine from Poland.

Mr Saakashvili’s pending asylum application prevents Ukraine extraditing to him to Georgia, where he is accused of several crimes including abuse of power, in what he calls a witch hunt by his long-term political rivals.

Kiev sided with Mr Saakashvili in rejecting previous such requests from Tbilisi, but since quitting after a year as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region in 2016 he has become a strident critic of Mr Poroshenko and his government.

Mr Saakashvili (49) has founded a political party called the Movement of New Forces, and is now touring Ukraine to rally support ahead of a planned demonstration in Kiev on October 17th against the slow pace of reform and anti-corruption efforts.

Asylum application

“Saakashvili appealed to the state migration service’s department for the Lviv region on September 11th to be granted status as a person in need of special protection. It’s commonly called an ‘application for asylum’,” said Mr Saakashvili’s lawyer, Markiyan Halabala.

“In particular, after the issuance of the decree on terminating Saakashvili’s citizenship, he automatically acquired the status of a person without citizenship permanently residing in Ukraine, and, in line with Ukrainian law, the extradition of such persons is prohibited,” the Interfax-Ukraine news agency quoted him as saying.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko appeared to allude to Mr Saakashvili’s asylum request by saying that he had “filed documents . . . that in accordance with our international obligations prevent his extradition.”

“Now it will be thoroughly studied. That procedure will take a few more weeks.”

The furore around Mr Saakashvili’s return has given a huge boost to what appeared to be his fading political career, and he now portrays himself as the Ukrainian people’s champion in a battle with oligarchs such as confectionery billionaire Mr Poroshenko.

When he resigned as Odessa governor, Mr Saakashvili lambasted Mr Poroshenko for failing to support his fight against the region’s pervasive crime and corruption, and now he accuses the head of state of trying to sideline rivals before presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.