After being propelled into Ukraine over the flimsy resistance of border guards, Georgia’s onetime leader, the stateless politician Mikheil Saakashvili, arrived in Kyiv on September 19 to drum up public support for his fast-escalating battle against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Greeting waving fans and promising to defeat rampant corruption and plutocracy, Saakashvili was his typical, firebrand self. Speaking at a makeshift press conference, right outside of Poroshenko’s administration building, he said he will be pushing for a series of legislative reforms, including a procedure for impeaching the president.
He also intends to use the courts to restore his Ukrainian citizenship, cancelled by Poroshenko in what his former Georgian ally calls a bid to get rid of him.
“They stripped me of citizenship when I was away,” Saakashvili told the crowd in Kyiv. “It was like getting fired from work when you are away and then they don’t let you back in the office to collect your belongings and your employment record.”
He described his denaturalization as a manifestation of the corrupt rule of President Poroshenko and a circle of oligarchs. “If they can do this to me, can you imagine what they do to ordinary citizens?” he asked.
Saakashvili said he will tour Ukraine to bolster support for a repeat engagement in the Ukrainian capital on October 17 with a larger, civil-rights-movement crowd. Next stop: the Cherkasy region, just south of Kyiv.
Once again, he said he has no plans to emulate the peaceful 2003 uprising that brought him to power in his native Georgia, but his current ways harken back to the time when he and his supporters, civil-rights activists among them, stormed the Georgian parliament with a similar aim of reform.
Even his frequent reliance on symbolism is back. “As far as I know… September 19 is the day of the Archangel Michael [Mikheil in Georgian -- ed], the patron of Kyiv,” he said, as if in passing. “Kyiv does need to be saved.”
Before he becomes, or does not become, a political savior, though, Saakashvili himself has a court case on for having illegally crossed from Poland into Ukraine. He is also wanted on a handful of criminal charges in Georgia, now run by loyalists of his arch-nemesis, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Whether in Ukraine or in Georgia, Saakashvili denies all transgressions.
Wearing a traditional Ukrainian vyshyvanka, he argued at length this week to a Lviv regional court that those who had scrapped his citizenship and attempted to foil his re-entry into Ukraine were the only ones who had violated the law. The court will reconvene on September 22.
Meanwhile, back home in Georgia, officials tend to downplay or ignore their former president’s adventures in Ukraine. “For our country, Saakashvili is an unfortunate past,” Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said after the ex-Georgian leader resurfaced in Ukraine earlier this month.
While Saakashvili vows to get back at both Ukraine’s Poroshenko and Georgia’s Ivanishvili, his flamboyant ways continue to inspire jokes in both of his homelands. As Georgian comedy show host Vano Javakhishvili put it, “Saakashvili has become the fuse that Poroshenko and Ivanishvili are trying to push into each other’s hands.”