As It Happens

Former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili enters Ukraine to challenge country's president

Mikheil Saakashvili, who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, says he wants to unite the country's opposition against President Petro Poroshenko.
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili speaks to media on the Ukrainian-Polish border on Sunday. Saakashvili is attempting to return to Ukraine, although both his Ukrainian and Georgia passports are no longer valid. (Monika Scislowska/Associated Press)

Story transcript

Mikheil Saakashvili is attempting a comeback.

The former president of Georgia crossed into Ukraine from Poland on Sunday, backed by hundreds of supporters.

I came back to protect my rights in the court and to pursue my political activities.- Mikheil Saakashvili 
Saakashvili gave up his Georgian citizenship to become the governor of Ukraine's Odessa region. But President Petro Poroshenko stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship last year, leaving Saakashvili effectively stateless.
Saakashvili spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Lviv, Ukraine. Here is part of their conversation. 

Mr. Saaakashvili, what are you attempting to do by entering Ukraine?

I entered Ukraine as a Ukrainian citizen, even if President Petro Poroshenko deprived me, with his decree of nationality — in violation of the Ukrainian constitution, in violation of international law, in a clear intent to get rid of a political opponent. But I still have my permanent home in Ukraine. I have a political party, which I lead, in Ukraine. I have lots of my supporters in Ukraine, thousands of whom came to the border to greet me. And so I came back to protect my rights in the court and to pursue my political activities. 

"I don't think that Ukraine needs any upheavals now. I believe that Ukraine has enough trouble without that." -Mikheil Saaakashvili

Can you describe the scene at the border when you crossed into Ukraine?

After ten thousand of my supporters gathered on the other side and people were squeezed and stranded and told that the place is mined and that there was a threat of explosion, I guess some of the people panicked, some got very angry. And they just pushed through the ranks of the border guards — not that they put up much of a resistance. Once they brought me in, I went to the Ukrainian immigration service and submitted my declaration of protection status, which entitles me to stay in Ukraine until the court decides whether I have the right to stay in Ukraine or not. Meanwhile, I'll pursue my political activities.  

OK, but they're saying you entered illegally. And even what you've described would constitute an illegal entry. And they also say that about 16 border guards and national guardsmen were injured in scuffles with your supporters.

Well, this is a blatant lie. We were today at the hospital. There are only three people very lightly hurt and all of them say [it was] because of overcrowding, not because of clashes. Second, they're saying it's illegal, but my lawyers are saying exactly the opposite. I had the right to be in Ukraine. Ukrainian citizen coming back to Ukraine cannot be illegal, even if his passport had been invalidated. I still have entitlement to permanent residence in Ukraine. They had no right to stop me. There was no official ban of me entering Ukraine. 
Supporters of Mikheil Shaakashvili wait for his arrival at the Krakovets check point on the Ukraine-Poland border on Sunday. (Efrem Lukatsky/The Associated Press)

But you are still stateless, right? You've been stripped of your citizenship. 

Yes, because President Poroshenko did it in five minutes — secret procedure, without any prior notification, without any due process, without any hearings. And I think all these corrupt officials tried to get rid of me because they are scared of me talking about their corruption.

At the same time, you are wanted in your former country of Georgia on charges of corruption. So you're accusing Mr. Poroshenko of enabling corruption —

No, no. First of all, you are grossly misinformed. There is no charge of corruption. You can check. There is a charge of misappropriation of presidential office funds. And no country in the world recognizes them. The U.S. State Department denounced those charges when they were issued. Interpol expressly refused to start any illegal proceedings or act on those charges. And, indeed, Ukraine's prosecutor general sent a 10-page letter saying why the charges are politically motivated and totally fake. 
Ukrainian border officers block the Shegin check point on Ukrainian-Polish border, Ukraine on Sunday. (Monika Scislowska/The Associated Press)

People may recall back in 2003 when you stormed the Georgian parliament, ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze — that was the "Rose Revolution." I'm wondering, are you attempting something similar now in Ukraine? 

What coup are you talking about? Bizarre. We will oppose any coup, or any attempt to change Ukrainian constitutional order.- Mikheil Saakashvili 
I don't think that Ukraine needs any upheavals now. I believe that Ukraine has enough trouble without that. What Ukraine needs is strong rule of law. Ukraine needs open transparent system. In order to contain and ultimately defeat Putin, we need to be better than Putin — we need to avoid any association with any methods that are used by Putin. 
A Ukrainian border guard officer, left, reads a protocol to Mikheil Saakashvili at a hotel in Lviv, Ukraine on Tuesday. Ukrainian border guards and police turned up at the hotel where Saakashvili is staying. (Mykola Tys/The Associated Press)

Let's just leave President Putin aside. We're talking about President Poroshenko. Is this a coup attempt?

Look, I crossed the border together with legitimate members of Ukrainian parliament. They don't have weapons and they don't have military guns. What coup are you talking about? Bizarre. We will oppose any coup or any attempt to change Ukrainian constitutional order.

OK, but you are challenging President Poroshenko, who says you broke the law by entering the country. Will you be arrested, do you think? 

He might try to arrest me. But one thing that he should remember always: Ukrainian people are not Russians. Ukrainians are extremely free loving, very fair people who are intolerant of injustice. If ever Poroshenko tries to do something like that, I guarantee you it will be the end of his rule in this country. 

Are you going to challenge President Poroshenko for the presidency?

I'm certainly challenging many of his methods, but I don't think he's my personal adversary. I'm not willing to be president of Ukraine. But, certainly, I'll do my best together with other political leaders to change the entire political system and to change the political class here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Mikheil Saakashvili.


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