Ex-Georgian President Freed After Dramatic Standoff In Kiev

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a dramatic standoff with Ukrainian law enforcement, the former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili has threatened to jump off the roof of his apartment building, been detained, and then broken free.

Saakashvili is detained in Kiev.

Officers from the SBU security services entered Saakashvili’s flat in central Kiev early on Tuesday morning, but he fled to the roof, where he threatened to jump off, Ukrainian media reported.

After he was dragged away by masked security forces agents, there were clashes on the ground as supporters of Saakashvili blocked the van trying to take the politician away.

Teargas was used against protesters during the hour-long standoff after which Saakashvili was released from the van.

It was unclear what charges, if any, Saakashvili faced.

Lawyers close to the politician suggested he could be charged with supporting criminal groups, or with plotting a coup.

There were also suggestions he could be deported to Georgia, where he faces criminal charges he has said are politically motivated.

Ukraine’s general prosecutor said on Tuesday afternoon that Saakashvili’s activities in the country were funded by an ally of the deposed president Viktor Yanukovych.

Tuesday morning’s arrest was the latest chapter in the bizarre and incongruous recent biography of a man who was once considered the reformist hope of the post-Soviet region.

It is also the latest episode in an increasingly bitter feud between the former Georgian leader and the current Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.

Poroshenko appointed Saakashvili, whom he had known since their student days, to run the southern region of Odessa in 2015, in the hope that his energetic reformist tendencies would transform the area.

However, Saakashvili resigned at the end of 2016, blaming Poroshenko for the slow pace of reform and promising to go into opposition and create his own party.

Saakashvili was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, granted so he could take up the Odessa job, while outside the country earlier this year, but he forced his way across the border with the help of supporters.

On Tuesday, Saakashvili shouted from the roof that Poroshenko was “a criminal, thief and traitor”. 

Saakashvili came to power in Georgia in the Rose Revolution of 2003, and introduced sweeping reforms that helped reduce corruption and red tape.

However, his rule became marred by allegations of creeping authoritarianism.

In 2008, the Georgian army was routed by Russia and when Saakashvili left office in 2013 he was widely unpopular.

His second political life in Odessa was never boring, with televised publicity stunts, late-night meetings and increasingly strident criticism of Poroshenko’s government.

During one cabinet meeting in Kiev, Saakashvili accused the interior minister, Arsen Avakov, of corruption and said he would go to jail.

In response, Avakov threw a glass of water in Saakashvili’s face and called him a “bonkers populist”. 

Poroshenko’s supporters say he is trying to make important reforms while dealing with a political legacy of ingrained corruption and a punishing war in the east, where the army is fighting separatists funded and backed by Russia.

Critics have accused Poroshenko of governing in the same manner as previous presidents, giving preferential treatment to oligarchic allies and failing to make changes fast enough.

International backers of Ukraine have grown impatient with the slow rate of reform.

The images of masked special agents manhandling Saakashvili is unlikely to burnish Poroshenko’s reform credentials, though the former also has a mixed reputation in the international community, with many wary of his impulsive style.

Source: The Guardian