Mikheil Saakashvili has long had a reputation for pulling off the unexpected, and, this time, he’s done it again, with a trip from the US to Poland shortly after having lost his Ukrainian citizenship, his only form of citizenship and the basis for his passport.
The former Georgian president made the trip to take part in anniversary ceremonies for the August 4, 1944 uprising in Warsaw against Nazi Germany. In a speech for the occasion, posted on Saakashvili’s Facebook page, he declared that “I come to Poland for inspiration. I come to Poland to pay respect. I come to Poland to recharge myself because that’s where the greatest source of freedom and inspiration is . . .”
The question is, though, how he came to Poland.
In an interview with Ukraine’s 24 Kanal news channel late on August 4, Saakashvili stated that he traveled with his Ukrainian passport.
“I flew out of America, I went through passport control like usual, I flew to Poland like usual . . .They put a stamp [in my passport.],” he said, adding that no one will fulfill the “dictatorial whims” of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Poroshenko, his onetime friend, revoked Saakashvili’s citizenship on July 26. The Ukrainian government claims that the ex-Georgian president, who has reinvented himself as an opposition politician in Ukraine, had not disclosed that he was under investigation in Georgia when he applied for Ukrainian citizenship.
Saakashvili, an outspoken Poroshenko critic, has denounced the claims as a thinly veiled attempt to push him out of Ukraine. He plans to appeal the decision in a Ukrainian court.
In the meantime, he apparently plans to keep on traveling. He told 24 Kanal that he intends to “travel around to other European countries” after his stay in Poland, and will return to Ukraine for the start of his court appeal.
Neither Saakashvili nor his spokesperson could be reached to elaborate about his trip from the US to Poland.
In response to emailed questions from EurasiaNet.org, a spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection noted that “an individual may depart the United States regardless of their citizenship status. The responsibility of permitting entry then lies on the country of debarkation.”
Polish Border Guards spokesperson Agneshka Golias declined to specify to the Russian state news agency TASS what document Saakashvili had used to enter Poland. Giving out such information would violate Polish law, she said.
In response to a later question from EurasiaNet.org about Poland's entry requirements for stateless individuals, Ms. Golias cited regulations for general entries into the EU's Schengen Area, of which Poland is part.
"I assure you, there is no way that [the Saakashvili case] does not conform with SG [Border Guards] law," she added.
Nonetheless, Saakashvili's trip to Poland is cause for head-scratching. Stateless persons cannot travel without some form of valid travel document. The US is not a signatory of the 1954 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which requires signatories to issue such documents for stateless individuals "lawfully staying in their territory."
It is not known whether Saakashvili petitioned the US to issue him such a document. He has stated that he would not request asylum in the US, however.
Yet one speculative explanation for the stateless Saakashvili’s ability to cross borders has been eliminated. In an interview with VOA, he underlined that he does not have Dutch citizenship through his Dutch-born wife, Sandra Roelofs. “This thing will never be on the table for me,” he said.
He has no plans to stay in the US, he added.
The Georgian government, allied with Ukraine in a pushback against Russia's territorial encroachments, will follow Saakashvili's ongoing travels with interest.
It has vowed to have the former Georgian president extradited back to Georgia to face outstanding criminal charges, and already has asked Poland “to take measures against” him.
Saakashvili's next destination is unclear. As RFE/RL observed, now that he's within the European Union's Schengen Area, he can, "in principle," travel without showing a passport.
No surprise, then, that his Facebook page recently displayed him popping out from underground via a trapdoor.
[Updated on August 8, 2017]