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Saakashvili Predicts Putin's 'Full Isolation,' Rise of Russian Opposition


WARSAW -- Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and ex-governor of Ukraine's Odesa region who was stripped last month of his Ukrainian citizenship, says Russian President Vladimir Putin will eventually face "full international isolation" as a result of tensions between Moscow and the West.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Russian Service on August 7, Saakashvili also predicted that political opposition forces “will certainly prevail” in Russia.

"In the end, Putin will be in full international isolation. He is going downhill fast," Saakashvili said during a visit to Warsaw.

"There is a serious opposition rising up inside Russia," Saakashvili continued. "I am referring to the youth that we saw in the streets recently following [calls to rally by opposition leader Aleksei] Navalny. They were not those well-to-do people who had come out on Bolotnaya [Square in 2012] for protests that were limited to Moscow and St. Petersburg."

Rather, Saakashvili said, Russia's new "rising" opposition was made up of "poor but well educated and very well informed" people, "millions and millions of residents of Russia. And that is a very big force."

Saakashvili acknowledged that Russia's opposition remained in the minority for now. But he said that together with those who passively support antigovernment protests, the opposition now had the moral support of a majority of Russians, "and they will certainly prevail."

Saakashvili also echoed the concerns aired in the Baltic states about Zapad 2017, the joint military exercises Russia is holding with Belarus in September, saying he thinks Putin will leave thousands of Russian troops in Belarus after the drills to establish a military outpost against neighboring NATO countries.

"I think the most imminent threat [from Russia] is coming up against Belarus, because I think part of the military personnel and equipment will remain in Belarus after the exercises," Saakashvili told RFE/RL.

"It is unlikely they will do anything during the exercises. But any trap might be expected after the exercises. I think they are considering the possibility of the complete occupation of Belarus, and possibly an annexation of that country. That would be yet another big crisis in the region."

A Citizen Of Nowhere

Saakashvili -- a longtime adversary of Putin who resigned as Odesa's regional governor in November 2016 -- was in the United States when Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, his former political ally, issued an executive order on July 26 that stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship.

Poroshenko's decision effectively left Saakashvili stateless.

The former Georgian president lost his Georgian citizenship in 2015 after becoming Odesa's regional governor -- a post that required him to take Ukrainian citizenship -- because Georgia does not allow dual citizenship.

Authorities in Tbilisi are now seeking Saakashvili's extradition on charges related to the violent dispersal of protesters when he was president and charges related to a raid on a private television station.

He rejects those charges as politically motivated.

Despite the revocation of his Ukrainian citizenship and Tbilisi's extradition requests, Saakashvili told RFE/RL that he was allowed to leave the United States last week and to enter Poland using his Ukrainian passport.

"Obviously, not everyone accepts the whims of some people who have suddenly decided to act in a Soviet, dictatorial way," Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili also rejected the notion that his Ukrainian passport was now "illegal," saying that he planned to challenge Poroshenko's order in a Ukrainian court and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

"It's what Poroshenko did that's illegal," Saakashvili told RFE/RL. "Absolutely, he violated Ukraine's Constitution. He violated the law on citizenship. He violated the [United Nations'] 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. In other words, in a typical Soviet way, he violated everything that is possible to violate."

Saakashvili also said that although he cannot seek political office in Ukraine without Ukrainian citizenship, his "political plans are linked only to Ukraine."

"I must return to Ukraine and win back in court my rights," he said.

But he made it clear that he intends first to travel inside the EU's Schengen zone where, in principle, he will not be required to present any travel documents.

The former Georgian president said he first plans to travel across the European Union to "meet with politicians, journalists, and political analysts" and bolster his case.

"I am preparing for a trial in Ukraine," he said. "We are currently preparing our judicial documents. Together with my lawyers, we are now deciding when I must return, the court where I must file the papers, and I am also consulting with my supporters about how to organize all that properly."

"My goal here [in the EU] is to gain back my right to return to Ukraine," he said. "Of course, I have not forgotten Georgia, but Georgia will never be successful if Ukraine fails to get through. That is why [my plans] are linked to Ukraine, of course. And, of course, I believe that injustice has happened and it is my duty to return [to Ukraine] and claim my right before a court."

Saakashvili told RFE/RL that he was not concerned about the current Georgian government's calls for his extradition to Tbilisi -- efforts that have already included contacts with the authorities in Kyiv and Warsaw.

"No one in the world will ever accept those charges," he said. "The charges are so bizarre that whoever looks at them in detail will see they are totally ridiculous."

"Ukraine's Prosecutor-General [Yuriy] Lutsenko travelled to Georgia himself, where he testified against those cases in court," Saakashvili continued, noting that Lutsenko twice refused to launch investigations against him on grounds that the charges were politically motivated.

Written by Ron Synovitz in Prague
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