Despite risks, stateless Saakashvili to attempt Ukraine entry

Przemysl (Poland) (AFP) –


Stateless former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili says he is determined to return to Ukraine on Sunday, to reclaim the Ukrainian citizenship which has been stripped from him, although in doing so he runs the risk of being arrested at Tbilisi's request.

The 49-year-old firebrand says he intends to show up on Poland's Korczowa border crossing point with Ukraine Sunday around noon, where Ukrainian authorities are likely to refuse him entry.

The charismatic Saakashvili is credited with pushing through pro-Western reforms in his native Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013.

He is currently wanted in his homeland for alleged abuse of power -- something he denies -- during a tumultuous nine years as president that saw him fight and lose a brief war against Russia in 2008.

He left in disgrace for Ukraine in 2015 to work for the country's pro-Western authorities as governor of the key Odessa region on the Black Sea.

But he quit in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, who stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship in July while he was out of the country.

Now, Saakashvili wants to return to challenge that decision in court and to get back into politics.

"I know their (Ukrainian authorities) scenario," he told reporters in the Polish capital Warsaw on Friday. "They are trying to send some young girls to welcome me with smiles and with strong refusal.

"I want to tell these girls and other border guards: Please don't comply with illegal orders. Act as the law provides. And the law clearly says... we are on the right side of the law."

- 'Stateless in Ukraine -

Speaking to the BBC, spokesman for the Ukrainian border service Oleg Slobodyan suggested Saakashvili would be denied entry on the grounds that as a stateless person who lacks the required documents.

Invalid documents must be confiscated and their bearers denied entry, border guards said.

Saakashvili showed his Ukrainian passport to reporters in Warsaw on Friday, adding that he would present it to Ukrainian border guards on Sunday along with "other legal documents."

He said he had been an enthusiastic participant in the 2014 pro-Western Maidan uprising, and since 2015 had battled corruption as governor of the Odessa region.

Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship when he was granted a Ukrainian passport in 2015, as the country bans dual citizenship.

He maintains that officials working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva have confirmed his status as "stateless in Ukraine", meaning he has the right to be there to appeal against President Poroshenko's July decision to strip his citizenship.

Kiev justified the move by claiming that Saakashvili had provided "inaccurate information" in his citizenship application.

Saakashvili quit his job as governor of Odessa in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with Poroshenko, accusing high-ranking officials of blocking his efforts to tackle rampant corruption.

- 'We can't use Putin's methods' -

Georgia on Tuesday asked Kiev to extradite Saakashvili to face charges include misappropriation of property and abuse of office, among others.

Saakashvili flatly denies the allegations, arguing that they are part of a political witch hunt by his opponents.

He says Georgia's extradition request was driven by "oligarchs" who fear his presence in Ukraine, where he fought against corruption, and claims Tbilisi's accusations of "abuse of power" are politically motivated.

Several politicians and Ukrainian MPs are due to welcome him to the border, Saakashvili said, including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-defence minister Anatoly Hrytsenko.

He also expects "thousands" of supporters of his political party - the Movement of the New Forces - which he created in Ukraine to show up.

"We see a roll-back of reforms in Ukraine, we see a crackdown on anti-corruption activities in Ukraine. This is very sad," Saakashvili said Friday in Warsaw.

"In order to contain (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, we have to be much better than Putin. We cannot use the methods of Putin," he added.