Saakashvili standoff continues as Ukraine’s security services face scrutiny

Kiev’s western allies fear anti-corruption drive is being sabotaged

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili speaks  to his supporters as they camp out outside parliament demanding the resignation of the Ukrainian president, in Kiev, Ukraine, on  Wednesday. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to his supporters as they camp out outside parliament demanding the resignation of the Ukrainian president, in Kiev, Ukraine, on Wednesday. Photograph: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

 

Ukraine’s law enforcers were locked in a standoff with fugitive former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili on Wednesday and faced mounting questions from western powers about their handling of the case and their commitment to fighting corruption.

Mr Saakashvili was detained on a Kiev rooftop on Tuesday but supporters dragged him free from a police van and set up a protest camp with him at its centre outside the Ukrainian parliament.

At about 6am on Wednesday, police officers raided the camp to arrest Mr Saakashvili, whom Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko accuses of conspiring with a pro-Russian oligarch to seize power through street protests.

Several protesters and police were hurt in the ensuing scuffles, but Mr Saakashvili again evaded capture and refused to answer questions at the prosecutor general’s office, insisting instead that investigators come to the tent camp.

After leading Georgia for almost a decade, Mr Saakashvili became governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region in 2015 on the invitation of the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko.

Mikheil Saakashvili supporters set up a barricade in their tent camp near of parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine. Photograph: Stepan Franko/EPA
Mikheil Saakashvili supporters set up a barricade in their tent camp near of parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine. Photograph: Stepan Franko/EPA

He resigned the following year, however, and accused Mr Poroshenko and allies like Mr Lutsenko of blocking reforms and protecting powerful politicians and businessmen from the anti-corruption drive demanded by protesters during Ukraine’s 2013-14 revolution.

“I appeal to Poroshenko: Why do you need these provocations?” Mr Saakashvili wrote on Facebook following the raid on his camp.

“Don’t attack and don’t force people to defend themselves! It’s a peaceful protest! Has experience taught you nothing?” he wrote, referring to the deadly clashes in Kiev that prompted pro-Kremlin ex-president Viktor Yanukovich to flee to Russia in 2014.

Deadline

Mr Lutsenko gave Mr Saakashvili until Wednesday evening to surrender, but the leader of Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution only urged more people to join a camp where his supporters have built makeshift barricades and gathered mounds of rocks to hurl at police if they attempt another raid.

The combination of heavy-handedness and incompetence shown by the security services in recent days has further weakened their standing among Ukrainians, and fuelled concerns among Kiev’s allies.

“We are following developments closely. We call on all to fully respect and support the constitutional and legal order of Ukraine, adhere to the rights and responsibilities of peaceful protest, and refrain from attempts at destabilisation,” ambassadors in Kiev from G7 states said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The pursuit of Mr Saakashvili, who claims to be the victim of political persecution, comes as Ukraine’s new national anti-corruption bureau (Nabu) accuses Mr Lutsenko and the security services of sabotaging its work.

“The fight against corruption is a key element in the development of EU-Ukraine relations, upon which the success of other reforms rests,” the EU said in a statement, which referred to Nabu’s claim that the prosecutor general’s office had wrecked an undercover operation to catch bribe-taking officials.

On Monday, the US state department said Nabu’s travails appeared “to be part of an effort to undermine independent anti-corruption institutions that the United States and others have helped support. They undermine public trust and risk eroding international support for Ukraine.