Former Georgian President and now Ukrainian opposition politician Mikhail Saakashvili is in the center of a new political crisis in Ukraine, after he was first detained in his home in Kiev, and then he was freed by supporters. The attempt by policemen to move him for interrogation lead to clashes on the streets. The Ukrainian authorities asked Saakashvili to turn himself in the next 24 hours.
Masked officers took Saakashvili into custody in his apartment building in the Ukrainian capital earlier Tuesday, as protesters rallied outside in his support. At one point, the former Odessa governor climbed on the building’s rooftop to address them. He also threatened that he will jump from the roof, before he was subdued by special forces. The reason for his detention is suspicion of assisting a criminal organisation. He could face up to five years if found guilty.
The van in which authorities attempted to transport him was blocked by protesters, who held it up for hours. In the end, the leader of dragged out of the vehicle. Once free, he repeated his calls for protests against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. With one hand in handcuffs and surrounded by hundreds of people, Saakashvili urged his supporters to march to the Ukrainian parliament.
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“I urge you to start a peaceful protest to remove Poroshenko. You should not be afraid of anything,” Saakashvili told the crowd, according to Reuters.
Saakashvili gets 24 hours to surrender
Prosecutors said they would make all efforts to regain custody of Saakashvili but the chaotic scenes of his detention and escape are likely to undermine the image of stability that Ukraine’s leadership are keen to present to foreign backers.
“All legal grounds for his detention have been established,” spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.
The detention was the latest twist in a prolonged feud between the Ukrainian authorities and Saakashvili, who was invited by Poroshenko to become a regional governor after the ‘Maidan’ protests ousted a pro-Russian president in early 2014.
New twist in a drama
Tuesday’s high-tension drama is the latest episode in the unlikely political rise and subsequent fall of a now-stateless former president, the Washington Post writes. Both celebrated and feared, the anti-Russian Saakashvili built political careers in two countries but may now face charges in both places. He was the Georgia’s President from 2004 to 2012, and he was charged with financial crimes. In 2015, he became an ally of Poroshenko, who gave him the Ukrainian citizenship and made him the governor in Odessa. He was forced to rescind his Georgian citizenship in the process.
The relationship with Poroshenko soured however, with the opposition politician accusing him of not doing enough to fight corruption in Ukraine. the Ukrainian President made a decision to take Saakashvili’s citizenship in July of this year.
“What’s going on in Kiev today is Ukraine’s headache. You wouldn’t want to wish that guy on your worst enemy,” responding to Tuesday’s developments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.