The FINANCIAL — Mikheil Saakashvili, the ex-president of Georgia and former governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region, has forced his way into Ukraine across the Polish border, helped by hundreds of his supporters.
Prosecutor-General Yury Lutsenko said late on September 10 that charges would be pursued against the people who helped organize Saakashvili’s entry. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said 17 police and border guards were injured in the confrontation at the border, according to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.
The incident occurred at the Medyka-Shehyni crossing point between Poland and Ukraine following a day of confusion and several changes of plan.
Saakashvili — formerly Georgian, then Ukrainian — has been a stateless person since President Petro Poroshenko, once a supporter, stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship in July.
The former Georgian president, who has vowed to return to Ukraine to challenge the revocation of his Ukrainian citizenship and to reenter politics, now runs the risk of being arrested on the grounds that he illegally entered Ukraine. He is also wanted in Georgia on criminal charges, which he claims are politically motivated.
Saakashvili was allowed to pass through the Polish checkpoint at Medyka, before a line of border guards tried to block his approach to the Ukrainian side.
But Saakashvili, surrounded by a crowd of supporters, broke through the line before proceeding toward the small town of Shehyni on foot amid shouts of “victory” and “glory to Ukraine.”
“I want to thank everyone, all our heroes, all those people, all the veterans, all the lawmakers who have helped us,” Saakashvili said after crossing. “We had absolutely peaceful intentions. You saw how they provoked you. You saw how they incited the violence.”
He then hopped into a car bound for the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where supporters greeted him on his arrival, the AFP news agency reported. He was quoted as saying he would decide while in Lviv if he would travel on to the capital, Kyiv.
Police, Border Guards ‘Injured’
Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the Ukrainian border service, wrote on Facebook that a crowd “broke through” the checkpoint and that a fight broke out with the border guards.
“It’s hard to predict the consequences of this situation,” he added.
Saakashvili and his supporters, including former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, had earlier tried to travel to Lviv by train, but it was held up in the Polish city of Przemysl for hours until he got off and traveled by bus to the Medyka-Shehyni border crossing.
An announcement made for passengers on the Ukrainian-operated train said the National Police of Ukraine had informed the rail service that “a person without a permit to enter the territory of Ukraine” was on board. The announcement said that “in accordance with Ukraine’s legislation, the train will move on as soon as that person leaves the train.”
However, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry tweeted that the Ukrainian police had “no relation to the movement of the Intercity train.”
Speaking to reporters in Rzeszow, the 49-year-old Saakashvili said that Poroshenko’s actions, “the way how he mobilized the whole of the state apparatus” against him, “means that he feels some existential threat” from the former Georgian president.
“It looks like [Poroshenko] is getting rid of a political opponent. No matter how many times he says that I am not a danger [to] him, every action of his shows exactly the opposite — that he regards me as a great and immediate danger,” Saakashvili also said.
The stateless Saakashvili had initially intended to travel through the Krakovets border crossing where hundreds of supporters of his Movement of the New Forces party had gathered. But he changed his plans because of concerns that “provocateurs” could cause trouble at the crossing point.
An RFE/RL correspondent at the border reports that Ukrainian police on September 10 detained about 40 Ukrainian men wearing camouflage military uniforms who allegedly were “hired” to disrupt events marking Saakashvili’s attempted return.
A topless woman protester affiliated with the Ukrainian feminist group Femen was also arrested.
Georgia’s government is seeking Saakashvili’s arrest and extradition on allegations that he misappropriated property and abused his powers when he was president of his native Georgia from 2004 to 2013.
Saakashvili denies the allegations and says Georgia’s extradition request was made on behalf of “oligarchs” who fear his presence in Ukraine.
After leaving Georgia for self-imposed exile in the United States in 2013, Saakashvili went to Ukraine in 2015 to work for the country’s pro-Western authorities as governor of the Odesa region.
He lost his Georgian citizenship when he was granted a Ukrainian passport in 2015 because Georgia does not allow dual citizenship.
Saakashvili had said he would present his Ukrainian passport to Ukrainian border officials on September 10, along with other “legal documents,” in his attempt to enter the country.
It was not immediately clear what documents he actually showed when he crossed the border.
With reporting by AFP, UNIAN, Reuters, AP, and TASS