The former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, arrested in Ukraine on February 12 and subsequently deported to Poland, has surfaced in the Netherlands, from where he intends to “continue the fight.” Saakashvili – who is currently stateless – is married to a Dutch citizen and may apply for a Dutch passport.
“I want to stay a Ukrainian politician and fight corruption,” he told reporters after his arrival in the Netherlands. “When there are one million people on the streets of Kyiv, we will peacefully return to Ukraine.”
Ukrainian border officers detained Mr Saakashvili, who had become an unlikely leader of the country’s opposition, while he was eating lunch in a Kyiv restaurant. Video shows armed, masked agents grabbing Mr Saakashvili, who was then rushed to Kyiv airport, where guards escorted him through a group of his supporters – who claimed he had been kidnapped – to a plane. He was deported after rulings by Ukrainian courts which said that he was staying in the country illegally.
Mr Saakashvili – once the darling of the Rose Revolution – became president of Georgia in January 2004 after President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned in wake of mass popular protests, led by Mr Saakashvili and his political allies. He was re-elected to a second term in 2008. He was widely regarded as a pro-NATO and pro-West leader who spearheaded a series of political and economic reforms, many of which have indeed born fruit, making Georgia one of the most business-friendly countries in emerging Europe.
However, barred by the Georgian constitution from seeking a third term, Mr Saakashvili left Georgia under something of a cloud in 2013. Shortly afterwards he was indicted on a number of criminal charges, which he claims are politically motivated.
Following his departure from Georgia Mr Saakashvili moved to Ukraine, where he was a vocal supporter of the Euromaidan movement which overthrew the staunchly pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. In May 2015, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed Saakashvili governor of the Odessa Region. He was also granted Ukrainian citizenship, which – due to restrictions on dual nationality under Georgian law – led to him being subsequently stripped of his Georgian passport. Mr Saakashvili’s relationship with Mr Poroshenko quickly soured, however, and in November 2016 Mr Saakashvili resigned as Odessa governor, blaming the president for enabling corruption in Odessa and in Ukraine as a whole.
Mr Saakashvili declared that he intended to set up an opposition movement, and led street protests against Mr Poroshenko. While out of the country in September last year he was stripped of his Ukrainian passport and left stateless. A game of cat-and-mouse began, with the Ukrainian authorities attempting to arrest the former Georgian president a number of times. He was convicted by a Ukrainian court of illegally crossing Ukraine’s border, and then in January, another court rejected his plea for refugee status.
On one occasion in December 2017, Mr Saakashvili was indeed arrested, only to be released soon afterwards when his supporters surrounded the police van transporting him to a detention centre.