Georgia’s imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashivili says Nato must not hesitate to admit Ukraine

The former leader – who is serving a prison sentence decried as politically motivated – says the alliance cannot show the same weakness it did in the wake of a 2008 declaration saying Kyiv and Tbilisi could join but offering no path. Russia invaded Georgia months later

Chris Stevenson
Tuesday 11 July 2023 16:55 BST
Georgia’s imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili attends a court hearing from hospital via video link earlier this month
Georgia’s imprisoned former president Mikheil Saakashvili attends a court hearing from hospital via video link earlier this month (AP)

Georgia's imprisoned former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has called on the members of Nato to not hesitate in admitting Ukraine to the alliance – and not repeat the mistakes that he believes empowered Russia's Vladimir Putin to invade the nation he led in 2008.

In a piece for The Independent written from the hospital he is locked up in, Mr Saakashvili said that "Ukraine has amply earned the right to be the full fledged member of Nato" in fighting Russia's invasion and that it is "vital that Nato not to leave any space for the slightest perception of weakness"

Mr Saakashvili, 55, who led Georgia from 2004 to 2013, was jailed on abuse of power charges upon returning to to the country from nearly a decade of exile in 2021. He is serving a six-year jail term. Critics have called the charges against him politically motivated. Earlier this month, appeared via vide link for a court hearing and looked almost unrecognisable, both frail and emaciated. It is the first time in months he had been seen, fuelling concern over his treatment. He was transferred to a civilian hospital last year after staging a 50-day hunger strike to protest against his detention.

In his piece, Mr Saakashvili said that has a "nagging sense that we’ve been here before," recalling a Nato summit in Bucharest in April 2008 during which the alliance declared that both Georgia and Ukraine would be members of the alliance – but offering no path to get there.

Mr Saakashvili said that despite his optimism about both nations being presented with a path to membership, thanks to support from the US. He was told by then-chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, that such a move would be blocked. That eventually leading to the wording Ukraine and Georgia "will become members of Nato" in the declaration stemming from the summit. Mr Saakashvili said that what was "worse" was a decision to pick the issue up again at a ministerial meeting in December, giving Mr Putin the space needed to act, which he did by invading Georgia in a brief war that August

Mr Saakashvili says hestitation over Ukraine's status now will only lead to a "further escalation of conflict" and that "strength and resolve" is what is required from all the nations of Nato.

The Georgian former leader has close ties to Ukraine, holding Ukrainian citizenship and having spent time as a regional governor in the country during his exile. In the wake of the video hearing showing Mr Saakashvili's condition, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the Georgian ambassador to Kyiv to leave “within 48 hours” to consult with Tbilisi about transferring the former Georgian leader to Ukraine for medical treatment. The Ukrainian leader also accused Russia of “killing” Mr Saakashvili “at the hands of the Georgian authorities”.

Relations between the Kyiv and Tbilisi have suffered since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, with Georgia having refused to join sanctions against Moscow, one of its largest trading partners.

In response to Mr Zelensky's remarks, Irakli Kobakhidze, chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, ruled out the possibility of such a transfer, saying there would be “no consultation” with Kyiv. He added that Mr Zelensky’s decision to send the Georgian ambassador to Ukraine back to Tbilisi in order to negotiate was “regrettable and insulting”.

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