In the run-up to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's recent state visit to Georgia, there was a flurry of speculation about whether Mikheil Saakashvili might be extradited from Ukraine to face trial in Tbilisi on charges stemming from his 10 years as Georgia's president.
Since completing his second term in 2013, Saakashvili has been accused by Georgian authorities of exceeding his authority and misusing budget funds. He remains in Ukraine, where he obtained citizenship and served from May 2015 until November 2016 as governor of Odesa Oblast.
According to the office of Ukraine's Prosecutor General, that country's constitution rules out any such extradition, given that Saakashvili is now a Ukrainian citizen.
The extradition question surfaced in mid-June, when Davit Saqvarelidze, a member of Saakashvili's United National Movement (ENM) who, like him, settled in Ukraine following the ENM's defeat in the October 2012 parliamentary ballot by the current ruling Georgian Dream party, told a Ukrainian TV channel that Poroshenko had discussed the possibility with Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili. Even though he stepped down as Georgian prime minister in late 2013, Ivanishvili is still thought by some to dictate policy behind the scenes.
Saqvarelidze claimed that Poroshenko -- who cited Saakashvili's successes in cracking down on police and local corruption in Georgia when he invited him to take on the Odesa job in May 2015 -- is put out and fed up that Saakashvili is now openly in opposition and campaigning to bring down the Ukrainian government.
Saakashvili has repeatedly accused the Ukrainian leadership of corruption and declared more than once that he sees a major political role for himself in Ukraine "higher than the post of prime minister."
'New Rules Of The Game'
In February 2017, Saakashvili was quoted as telling the Georgian TV station Rustavi-2 that he intends "to establish completely new rules of the game" in Ukrainian politics and "bring a new generation into the political elite." He had previously characterized Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, as "a cemetery" and "a swamp."
Asked on July 18 about the extradition rumors, Poroshenko at first categorically denied that Tbilisi had demanded Saakashvili's extradition. "We have effective communication with the Georgian government but have not received an extradition request. It therefore follows that we haven't discussed it," the news portal InterPressNews quoted him as saying.
The following day, however, Poroshenko told Georgian journalists that he had checked and established that Georgia did indeed request Saakashvili's extradition, but that he had previously been unaware of that fact. He said Ukraine had "replied in the negative, and requested additional information."
Poroshenko went on to say the extradition issue did not figure in his talks with Georgian officials. He stressed that evaluating any such request is "the prerogative of the 'power' agencies and the prosecutor-general, who examines with scrupulous attention any demand for the extradition of a criminal." At the same time, Poroshenko said it would be "a great pleasure for us to cooperate with Georgia in investigating any crimes."
Citizenship Aspect 'An Obstacle'
Georgian Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, for her part, released a statement saying that Tbilisi had twice lodged a formal request for Saakashvili's extradition, backed by purported evidence against him, but both requests were turned down. (The first such request was in early 2015, before Saakashvili had been granted Ukrainian citizenship.) She said Tbilisi has complied with Kyiv's request for further information about the charges against Saakashvili.
Georgian Prosecutor-General Irakli Shotadze told journalists in Tbilisi on July 19 that talks with his Ukrainian counterpart about Saakashvili's possible extradition were continuing. Shotadze termed the citizenship aspect "an obstacle," leaving open the possibility that the two sides might be seeking a way around it.
But stripping the former Georgian president of his Ukrainian citizenship, a step that the Ukrainian Constitution seemingly empowers a president to do, could risk negatively affecting Ukraine's renewed aspiration for NATO membership.