Divisive former leader returns to Ukraine
Przemysl, Poland — Mikheil Saakashvili and a small crowd of supporters shoved their way through a line of guards at the Ukrainian border Sunday, making good on the politician’s vow to return to the land that had stripped him of citizenship.
The return of the divisive and headstrong Saakashvili, who became governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region after being Georgian president from 2004-13, poses a strong challenge to Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko, who once was Saakashvili’s patron but then revoked his citizenship in July.
Saakashvili was appointed to the Odessa post in 2015 on the strength of his record of fighting corruption in Georgia. However he resigned the post after only 18 months, complaining that official corruption in Ukraine was so entrenched he could not work effectively.
The return carries risks for Saakashvili, who is stateless. Georgia, where he faces accusations of abuse of power and misappropriation of property, has sent an extradition request for him to Ukraine. It is not clear if Ukraine intends to honor that request.
Prosecutor-General Yuri Lutsenko said late Sunday that charges would be pursued against organizers of Saakashvili’s unauthorized entry. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said 17 police and border guards were injured in the confrontation.
In the evening, Saakashvili and others arrived in Lviv, western Ukraine’s largest city.
Supporters who accompanied him to the crossing point included former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Mustafa Nayyem, a lawmaker who was a key figure in the 2013-14 protests that drove Russia-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of the country.
Saakashvili was a strong supporter of those pro-democracy protests and has accused Poroshenko of betraying their ideals.
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