Kiev deports ex-Georgian leader to Poland


Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - Page 6

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili on Monday vowed to “fight till the end” after Ukraine deported him to Poland following a falling-out with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Saakashvili, 50, is accused of trying to stage a coup sponsored by Russia in Ukraine, where he has led rallies calling for Poroshenko’s ouster, accusing him of failing to fight corruption.

Saakashvili had obtained Ukrainian nationality, which was revoked last year.

On Monday, Ukraine’s border guard service said he had been residing in Ukraine “illegally” and was thus sent back to Poland.

“I love Poland, but my fight is in Ukraine and Georgia, and I’ll fight till the end,” Saakashvili said in a video interview from Warsaw, posted on Twitter by a journalist from Plish commercial radio station RMF FM.

“We’ll be fine. We will win that battle,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Saakashvili, a former governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, was detained by masked men at a restaurant in central Kiev, a witness said.

His supporters went to Kiev’s two airports in a vain effort to prevent his deportation.

Saakashvili’s opposition party said in a statement that his lawyer “filed a petition on the kidnapping of the politician” to the police.

A few hours later his close ally David Sakvarelidze wrote on Facebook that Saakashvili had been deported to Poland and was in Warsaw.

“I was very nicely met by [the] Polish side and [the] Ukrainian side was absolutely outrageous, totally lawless,” Saakashvili said in the Polish video interview, which shows him getting into a car at a Warsaw airport.

“It was a kidnapping, illegal one, but Poles are very good and I’m very grateful to them,” he said in English.

About 150 of Saakashvili’s supporters gathered in front of Poroshenko’s office in Kiev late on Monday to protest his deportation.

They chanted “Poroshenko must resign” and held up banners that read “Poroshenko, let Saakashvili go free.”

The operation that saw Saakashvili’s arrest was led by border guards, police and state migration officials who had to “use force,” the Ukrainian border guards said in their statement.

Saakashvili had already been briefly detained twice in December last year in Kiev before being released.

Ukrainian authorities accused him of wanting to “seize power by force” during recent demonstrations.

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office said those rallies were funded by allies of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Saakashvili fiercely rejected the accusations.

A pariah of the Kremlin after Georgia fought a short war with Russia in 2008, Saakashvili was a vocal champion of a popular uprising in Kiev that toppled Yanukovych’s Moscow-backed government in 2014.

Poroshenko rewarded Saakashvili for his efforts by appointing him governor of the strategic Black Sea region of Odessa in 2015 before the two men fell out.