Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who served as governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region in 2015-16, has welcomed the restoration of his Ukrainian citizenship by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as a "courageous step by a courageous and worthy president."
Saakashvili made the remark in an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on May 28 after Zelenskiy signed a decree that annulled a decree by his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, which deprived Saakashvili of his citizenship.
Speaking via Skype from Poland, Saakaashvili told RFE/RL that Poroshenko’s decision to strip him of Ukrainian citizenship was a "cowardly step by an unworthy president."
He said he was grateful to Ukrainians who have supported him, and that he was "certain there are many people in Ukraine who would not like to see me [back] in Ukraine."
He said Zelenskiy's decision to "very quickly" restore his Ukrainian citizenship shows "his character."
Saakashvili's spokeswoman Tanya Bahranovska told RFE/RL that he plans to return to Kyiv on the afternoon of May 29 on a flight from Warsaw.
Saakashvili was granted Ukrainian citizenship and appointed to the Odesa governor's post in 2015 by Poroshenko, an acquaintance from their student days.
Authorities in Tbilisi stripped Saakashvili of his Georgian citizenship in December 2015 on grounds that Georgia does not allow dual citizenship.
Then, when relations between Poroshenko and Saakashvili had soured over corruption allegations and reform efforts, the then-president fired Saakashvili from the Odesa governor's post in November 2016.
Poroshenko issued the decree that stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship In July 2017 after Saakashvili created an opposition party called the Movement of New Forces.
'No Professional Ambitions'
In February 2018, Saakashvili was detained in Kyiv, taken to the airport, and flown to Poland.
Days later, Ukraine's border service banned Saakashvili from entering Ukraine until February 13, 2021.
“I want to emphasize again that I have no personal professional ambitions,” Saakashvili told RFE/RL on May 28, adding that what was of "utmost importance" to him is that "Ukraine be successful."
"So, I’m returning home [to Kyiv] and then we’ll see," he said. "I’ll consult. I’ll be talking to people."
"We cannot let this third chance pass us by," Saakashvili said, explaining that Ukraine had a chance to carry out successful reforms after its Orange Revolution in 2004 and again after the Maidan protests that pushed Ukraine’s pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014.
He described Ukraine’s "third chance" as "a peaceful electoral revolution."
However, he did not clarify whether an "electoral revolution" referred to Zelenskiy’s presidential election victory in April, early parliamentary elections scheduled in July following Zelenskiy’s May 21 decree that dissolved parliament, or both.
In Georgia, Saakashvili was swept into power after helping lead the peaceful Rose Revolution protests there in 2003, when he was mayor of Tbilisi.
But his party was dislodged from power by an opposition force in 2012 parliamentary elections and his term as president expired in 2013.