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Saakashvili Lashes Out, Says He Will Fight To Return To Ukraine

  • RFE/RL

Former Georgian President and Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili (file photo)

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president and Odesa regional governor who has been stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, is vowing to resist what he called the "cowardly" move and to "continue fighting for a real European Ukraine."

In a video statement posted on Facebook on July 27, Saakashvili lashed out at President Petro Poroshenko and charged that he was facing the same ill-treatment from the government that countless citizens of Ukraine face every day.

"I am a simple Ukrainian," Saakashvili said. "Today they are trying to do to me what prosecutors or bureaucrats do to ordinary Ukrainians: spitting on their rights."

Poroshenko's office confirmed to RFE/RL that Saakashvili's citizenship has been revoked, saying that it was done at the request of the Migration Service. It declined to give the reason, saying the information was personal and would not be made public.

A liberal lawmaker from Poroshenko's faction in parliament, Serhiy Leshchenko, said it appeared the president's intention was to force Saakashvili to stay out of Ukraine and seek refuge in the United States.

That "will never happen," Saakashvili, who had written in Facebook on July 25 that he was in the United States, said in the video. "I will fight for my legal right to return to Ukraine."

'Cowardly' Move

Saakashvili said it was "cowardly" of Poroshenko to strip him of his citizenship when he was out of the country. He added that the decision came after the opposition party he leads, the Movement Of New Forces, announced plans to organize street protests against the government in the autumn.

"As soon as those in power realized that the opposition is unifying in order to come out into the streets this fall and put an end to their oligarchic pact, their fear overcame their reason," Saakashvili said.

WATCH: Saakashvili Lashes Out At Poroshenko, Vows To Seek Return To Ukraine

He said that by annulling his citizenship, Poroshenko "signed off on his own demise." He accused the president of trying to maintain grip on power "by all possible means" and warned that Poroshenko could share the fate of his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych, who was toppled by pro-European protests in February 2014 and fled to Russia.

Saakashvili, 49, is an adamantly pro-Western reformist who was swept to power in Georgia by the peaceful Rose Revolution protests of 2003 and served two terms as president in 2004-2013. His popularity declined in his later years in office, in part because of a five-day war with Russia during which Moscow's forces drove deep into the South Caucasus country, and his long-ruling party was voted out of power in a 2012 parliamentary election.

Saakashvili was stripped of his Georgian citizenship in 2015, after Poroshenko appointed him as governor of Ukraine's Odesa region -- a post that required him to take Ukrainian citizenship. Georgia is seeking his extradition to face charges -- which he says are politically motivated -- connected to the violent dispersal of protests and a raid on a private television station.

'No Matter What!'

He resigned as Odesa governor in November 2016, complaining of official obstruction of anticorruption efforts, accusing Poroshenko of dishonesty, and charging that the central government was sabotaging crucial reforms.

"I obtained Ukrainian citizenship to fight for reforms, to fight for a successful future for Ukraine, on which the future of my native Georgia depends as well," Saakashvili said in the video statement.

"Every day that I have had a Ukrainian...passport I have worked so that Ukraine could win and become a real European country," he said. "I am more Ukrainian than the majority of today's [Ukrainian] lawmakers. I love Ukraine with all my heart and I will continue fighting here, in our Ukraine, no matter what!"

On July 26, reports in Ukraine cited officials in the Migration Service as saying that Saakashvili's citizenship was revoked because, when he filled out application forms to obtain citizenship in 2015, he did not say that a probe was launched against him in Georgia.

Saakashvili dismissed that explanation, saying that no country including Ukraine has officially accepted the charges filed against him in Tbilisi.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said on July 27 that Ukraine had good reason to deprive Saakashvili of citizenship and the former Georgian president should never have left his own country.

"I think that Ukraine as a sovereign country has all reasons for [the] decisions it is taking," Margvelashvili told reporters in Tbilisi. "He should not have left the country that had entrusted him with the role of president and commander in chief twice."

Saakashvili would face charges of embezzlement and abuse of office were he to return to Georgia.

Late on July 27, some 400 members of Saakashvili's Movement Of New Forces and its supporters protested on Independence Square in Kyiv against the move.

Without citizenship, Saakashvili cannot seek political office in Ukraine, where his party is calling for early parliamentary elections and a presidential vote is to be held in March 2019.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Reuters, and Interfax
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