Mikheil Saakashvili as a Factor in Relations Between Ukraine and Georgia

One of the directly rude comments (in the liberal online publication Grani, which is blocked in Russia, by the way) on the news of the detention of the third President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on the evening of 1 October, after his secret return to his homeland just in time for the municipal elections in Ukraine from exile: ‘The man is absolutely nuts. With the anvil Zele (President of Ukraine Voldymyr Zelensky – A.S.) he will bring two countries (Ukraine and Georgia -A.S.) into conflict.’

On 4 October Giorgi Zakarashvili, , a new appointed ambassador to Ukraine, handed over his letters of appointment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and, according to his own account, gave a full explanation for Mikheil Saakashvili’s detention, and also said that he had received Kiev’s gratitude for the opportunity given to the Consul of Ukraine to visit Mikheil Saakashvili, who had been detained in the prison number 12 in the suburbs of Tbilisi Rustavi, where he had been held since 2015 (he is a Ukrainian citizen since 2015).

The diplomat also assured that Tbilisi would ensure compliance with all international norms in such cases.

On the eve of the meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia David Zalkaliani stated on Imedi TV channel (a TV channel that is favourable to the ruling Georgian Dream party) that the issue of Mikheil Saakashvili’s extradition had been discussed with the previous government (Petro Poroshenko, who also summoned the President of Georgia, who was forced to flee his homeland because of the persecution after he resigned in 2013, to Ukraine? – A.S.) And that all matters relating to Mr Saakashvili will be dealt with in strict compliance with the laws.

The Minister also stated that he was confident that the situation at the beginning of October would not have negative consequences for the strategic cooperation between Ukraine and Georgia. The fact that this cooperation is indeed strategic is evidenced by the Joint Declaration signed by the Presidents of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova in Batumi in July on the unshakeable aspiration of these countries for Euro-Atlantic integration and the course of democratic reforms.

However, this time David Zalkaliani had to (deliberately?) say in public that there were no negative consequences for the strategic cooperation between Ukraine and Georgia.

The day before the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili also pointed out in the same Imedi the extremely good, fraternal relations between Georgia and Ukraine, and that the imprisonment of Mikheil Saakashvili would not make them worse.

According to Irakli Garibashvili, the third President of Georgia began to realise his deplorable situation in prison in his homeland, remembered that he had Ukrainian citizenship, and began to demand repatriating him there. However, if he wants to go there, he will be able to do so in six years’ time, after he has served the sentence imposed by the Georgian court.

On 6 October, the Prime Minister of Georgia published a letter accusing the country’s third President of plotting a coup d’état and made a passing reference to his drug addiction. Mikhail Saakashvili, who receives information from his lawyers, responded immediately by suggesting that both the author of the letter and him should undergo drug tests in front of television cameras.

At the time of writing this article, the Prime Minister had not yet responded to the challenge, but thanked the Minister of Interior of Georgia Vakhtang Gomelauri, and the Head of the State Security Service Grigol Liluashvili, who had organised the whole thing flawlessly and at the highest level, and who had picked a time and a place for the assassination of the  third President of the country in such a way as to ensure that there were no possible confounding factors that could have prevented his arrest.

In this context, a video of Mikheil Saakashvili’s detention in the apartment of a businessman Elguya Tsomaia Tbilisi, where he was in hiding, has been circulating on the Internet social networks. It was filmed and unofficially circulated by the police, avoiding the Ministry of the Interior.

Elguya Tsomaia delivered the third President of Georgia to the port of Pochi in a container, for which he was detained for two months, as well as for harbouring him in his apartment.

On 1 October, the President of Georgia Salome Zourabichvili categorically stated that she would not pardon Mikheil Saakashvili and that this was her final answer, because the country is tired and dreams of justice and peace.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has expressed its support for Mikheil Saakashvili. Head of the Ministry Dmytro Kuleba stated on Dom TV channel on 2 October that Ukraine defends every citizen in trouble.

The day before the Press Secretary of the Ukrainian President’s Office Serhiy Nykyforov wrote on Facebook that President Volodymyr Zelensky was worried about the tone of the news from Georgia, that Kiev was closely monitoring the fate of the Executive Director of the National Council of Reforms under the President of Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili, and that Kiev was not ruling out the possibility of appealing to Tbilisi for clarification of all the circumstances surrounding behaviour with a citizen of Ukraine.

On 6 October, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia categorically rejected a possibility of Mikheil Saakashvili’s extradition to Ukraine in an interview on Rustavi-2 TV channel, calling the scenario absurd.

The indefatigable Executive Director himself wrote a letter to Volodymyr Zelensky, which he posted on his Facebook account on 5 October: ‘…I am deeply moved by the reaction of you, a high-level statesman, to my unlawful arrest and imprisonment in Georgia on faked charges, which no one in the world recognises except Russia. I love my Georgia more than life, but I also love Ukraine, my second homeland, where I spent many years of my life, obtained citizenship, and have many friends. I will always be proud that I had the opportunity to make my modest contribution to your historic reforms. As I am in fact Vladimir Putin’s personal prisoner, I appreciate very much your high-principled stand in defence of Ukraine, the whole region and all prisoners of the empire.’

Beka Besilaia, the lawyer of the third President of Georgia, calls the four criminal cases of abuse of office and embezzlement of public funds against his client politicised. President Mikheil Saakashvili entertained guests at state expense, which is normal. It was not big money – restaurants, etc., or when he went on a visit to the Czech Republic as Head of State and paid tribute to the grave of Václav Havel with flowers, also at state expense.

To tell the truth, it is not serious and even comical. But the Georgian Prosecutor General’s Office of Georgia is planning to bring another charge against the third President of the country – for illegally crossing the border on the eve of 29 September, as mentioned, in a container.

After a meeting with him in solitary confinement, Mikheil Saakashvili’s other lawyer issued a statement on his behalf about his decision to starve himself to death or be released. Mikheil Saakashvili allegedly forbade doctors to intervene even if he lost consciousness.

And finally, the President was visited in his prison cell by Elyzaveta Yasko, a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, who had flown in from Kiev especially for the occasion. Even before Mikheil Saakashvili’s “homecoming”, she and the third President of Georgia released a video declaring their mutual love and their intention to start a family.

After about an hour of conversation with her lover in prison, the Ukrainian politician indicated that she would very much like to see Mikheil Saakashvili, who is a political prisoner, released as soon as possible. It is too bad what has happened to the President of Georgia and the Georgian people must defend their future as well as that of Mikheil Saakashvili, because the third President of Georgia has a big heart and is capable of making big changes, which is highly appreciated in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are jealous of the Georgians for having had such a President and are very keen to see him defended in his homeland.

Mikheil Saakashvili’s actual wife, the Dutch Sandra Roelofs, after a long pause, reacted to her husband’s intention to link his life with Elyzaveta Yasko by saying that this news was unexpected, but also acknowledged that her actual husband was a political prisoner.

Meanwhile, Mikheil Saakashvili’s United National Movement party is preparing for mass actions, as a member of Parliament Levan Khabeishvili for the United National Movement, who was denied a permission to meet the imprisoned ex-President by Kakha Kuchava, the Speaker of Parliament, has told journalists outside the prison in Rustavi, and the struggle will definitely continue, with a powerful action planned for the capital Tbilisi.

This is what the, let’s call it, intermediate side of things looks like.

There is also a conceptual side. Mikheil Saakashvili living and taking high position in Ukraine has always rushed to his home, which is unique in the current circumstances. For example, opposition politicians forced to flee Russia no longer say they will return when things calm down. Because they know that they will not. Only Alexei Navalny returned from Germany at the beginning of the year, and of course, that was the end of it.

In this sense, the return of a third President, no matter what, is a test for the current government of Georgia – will it be able to behave in a civilised way or not, whether is it different from authoritarian Russia or not. Even if the ‘Georgian dream’ cannot stand Mikheil Saakashvili.

According to the Editor-in-chief of the portal Factcheck.ge Dmitry Avakian, Georgia is not only remembering that under Mikheil Saakashvili’s presidency, but corruption has also been overcome and crime has been brought under control. It is true that if the legacy of overcoming corruption has not been definitively dispersed (but sprinkled, especially at municipal level), the criminal structures are raising their heads, although Georgia is still considered a relatively safe country compared to its neighbours.

The worse thing now is that unlike under President Mikheil Saakashvili, there is a loss of vision, a loss of perspective, and there is no shortage of young people who do not see their future in their homeland and who want to leave.

As for Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian journalist Leonid Shvets, it is a pity that this reformer has not been properly adapted to Ukraine, has not really found himself, although he had hoped for a post of the Prime Minister under President Petro Poroshenko. In the end, it all ended up with a not very prominent (in terms of influence) position in the government, so nobody expected anything special from an active reformer.

Could it be because it is actually too active for Ukraine, which is emerging at its own pace from the ‘spell’ of the Soviet era?

For a country in vital need of reforms, a person who knows how changes are made should/could have been a great help. However, Ukraine and Mikheil Saakashvili, who does not know how to be second, did not ‘meet’, even though it could have been an incredible story of a politician who reformed even two countries.

It may well be that Ukrainian politics without Mikheil Saakashvili was/is not short of alpha males. However, it is still an open question whether/how much the Ukrainian state is better off for it.

To summarise the ‘saga’ (the never-ending one, anyway) of Mikheil Saakashvili as a factor in relations between Ukraine and Georgia, one could also use the spirit of ancient stories (such as the Odyssey). The issue of a third President of Georgia, a Ukrainian will not obscure relations between Ukraine and Georgia for some time, but rather ‘spin’ them unpredictably. In pretty much the same way that this implacable Georgian politician has acted (and hopefully will continue to act after everything).

Arūnas Spraunius

Voras Online
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Autorius: Voras Online