Even by Mikheil Saakhashvili’s standards, it was a dramatic scene. Shortly after 7am local time, the former Georgian President appeared on his Kiev rooftop. For a while at least, he threatened to jump from the eight-story building, and made claims of political persecution by the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.
“Poroshenko is a thief and a traitor,” he shouted down at the crowds below. “They want to kidnap me!”
After a short standoff, he was dragged away by law enforcement officers, and arrested. But some time later he was freed by his supporters in a direct challenge to Mr Poroshenko’s authority.
According to his close associate, David Sakravedlidze, armed officers from the Prosecutor’s Office had arrived at the former Georgian President’s home in central Kiev just after 7am local time. They proceeded to force open his door, and conduct a search of his apartment.
For the past three years, Mr Saakashvili has lived in exile in Ukraine. Between May 2015 and November 2016, he was in Mr Poroshenko’s team, working as governor of the Odessa Region. But the two men have since fallen out, and Mr Saakashvili has been the driving force behind a series of often idiosyncratic rallies against the President.
The most recent rally, “March for Impeachment,” took place on Sunday. Mr Saakashvili used the platform to call for the start of a “people’s impeachment” against the President.
That demonstration drew no more than 3,000 people, which is small by Ukrainian standards. But the President’s team are said to be worried by Mr Saakashvili’s populist knack and damaging rhetoric. The slogans evident at his rally - “Impeach him”, “Revolution”, “No corruption, No Poroshenko” – will, no doubt, have grated those watching from Bankova Street.
Mr Saakashvili has a dedicated, if narrow circle of support. Today. those supporters attempted to impede his arrest by forming a live shield around police vehicles. Eventually, and after approximately 15 minutes, those vehicles found a way through. But later supporters managed to break him out a police van, and surrounded him as he marched up to the parliament.
With today’s developments, Mr Poroshenko seemed to be saying he was not afraid to use loyal bodies such as the Prosecutor’s Office against his foe.
Shortly after the arrest, Mr Saakashvili’s lawyers told local journalists that the former Georgian President stood accused of attempting to organise a coup. The Ukrainian Security Service later confirmed he was being questioned in connection to article 256 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code – “for assisting members of a criminal group, and providing cover for their criminal activity.”
At one point, Mr Saakashvili and Mr Poroshenko were all smiles and allies. The Ukrainian President, after all, had resurrected the Georgian’s political career when he appointed him Governor of Odessa Oblast. At the time, Saakashvili was facing allegations of abuse of office in Georgia – allegations, he says, which were politically motivated.
Mr Saakashvili began the Odessa job with many promises of reform. Over time, he became increasingly isolated and rendered ineffective. He fell out with Mr Poroshenko, and finally quit in November 2016. In the months that followed his resignation, Mr Saakashvili took to lashing out at the President, and accused him of “personally supporting” corruption.
Eventually, Ukrainian authorities decided to make a move. In May 2017, migration authorities, presumably on the orders of the president, stripped him of his citizenship. The erratic showman fled to Poland, and that seemed to be that. But two and a half months later, the passport-less Mr Saakashvili and his supporters managed to force their way past border control, back into Ukraine.
Today’s dramatic scenes were not dissimilar, and showed Mr Saakashvili has not lost the knack for pulling off improbable comebacks. But with the country’s President, law enforcement bodies and prosecutor general now lining up against him, he could soon face the most formidable test of his political career to date.
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