MOSCOW: Those who do not know the character of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili may have been shocked at the scene in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.
Passionate and charismatic by nature, Saakashvili always felt in his element leading multitudes of supporters of fast and colorful victories. On Tuesday, Saakashvili, 49, climbed onto the roof of his apartment building right next to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the famous square that was the epicenter of the Ukrainian revolution in the winter of 2013-2014.
"Poroshenko is a thief!" Saakashvili shouted from the rooftop, denouncing his former ally, the billionaire president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. "He is a traitor to the Ukrainian nation!"
On the street below, supporters of Saakashvili from the New Forces Movement party encouraged him.
Saakashvili, whose complicated political career had taken him from Georgia to Ukraine to becoming Poroshenko's first ally, one of his staunchest opponents, climbed to the top of the building when he learned that the Ukrainian authorities were on track to arrest him . He threatened to jump if that happened, but things did not go as he or the police expected.
Leaning over the edge of the roof, Saakashvili called on Kyiv residents to take to the streets and force Poroshenko to flee the country, as did the Maidan protesters with another Ukrainian president four years ago. "Eject the thieves!"
LIFE WITH Saakashvili has never been boring, neither in its country of origin, Georgia, nor in Ukraine. Only a couple of months ago, after Poroshenko – who had granted him Ukrainian citizenship and then taken it away – forbade him to return, Saakashvili made his way to the country from across the border with Poland.
In the past, the lawyer educated in the United States and the talented leader of civil society was very good at organizing colorful revolutionary events. In November 2003, when a young activist, Saakashvili and his followers broke into the Georgian parliament with roses in their hands. His stormy appearance interrupted the speech of then President Eduard Shevardnadze, finally forcing the president and his bodyguards to leave the building, much to the joy of the students protesting outside in the Rustaveli Prospect of Tbilisi. Saakashvili led the movement known as the Rose Revolution, which eventually forced Shevardnadze to resign.
Later, as president-elect of his country after 2004, Saakashvili fought corruption deeply rooted in Georgia. He and his team inspired brilliant reforms and taught Georgian state officials to stop accepting bribes, a phenomenon unique to a post-Soviet country. The Georgians are still proud of that. Russia has never approached Saakashvili's successful anti-corruption reforms.
At the beginning of his presidency, Saakashvili fired more than 250,000 professors, teachers and state officials, including former KGB officers, creating a large number of bad tempered enemies. Thousands of people protested against Saakashvili. Today, almost all Georgian families have a story about the suffering of some relatives of Saakashvili's harsh mandate, which included mass prosecutions and arrests in every corner of Georgia.
But even Saakashvili's biggest critics are proud of the Rose Revolution and its corruption-free police.
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He introduced the ancient cities of his country to modern western architecture, built hotels, ski resorts and even negotiated a Trump Tower project in the Black Sea. Firmly pro-American and enthusiastically supported by the George W. Bush administration, he named a seat for the president of the United States.
But eventually Saakashvili went too far in hopes of getting two separatist regions backed by Russia back into Tbilisi's control. As events entered a spiral of war, Russian President Vladimir Putin had all the advantages, and Saakashvili's American friends were determined not to be drawn into the conflict. When the troops of Moscow advanced on the capital of Saakashvili, he was so moved that the BBC filmed him biting his red tie like a baby sucking a rag.
Saakashvili's romance with the Georgian people finally finally ended in the urn. His party admitted defeat, another thing that almost never happens in the post-Soviet countries, and in 2013 he resigned. Subsequently, Saakashvili was declared a wanted man for abuse of authority in his country of Georgia. He decided to move to the opposite shore of the Black Sea, to Ukraine – then also in conflict with Moscow – and Poroshenko made him, for a time, governor of the province of Odessa.
From the beginning in Ukraine, Saakashvili was fighting corruption. The struggle against the persistent Soviet mentality, the corruption of the state and against the complicated bureaucracy had been his mission throughout his career, and Poroshenko knew it perfectly well. There should not be any surprise since Saakashvili, or "Misha", as they all addressed the new governor, tried and broke the rules in one of the most corrupt regions of Ukraine. But Misha's mission turned out to be impossible. Or maybe, he did not try hard enough. Some blame him for that now.
Addressing the crowd from Kiev's rooftop on Tuesday, Saakashvili asked his supporters not to allow security forces to drag him. If he is tried and convicted for his alleged connections to criminal groups, Saakashvili could face up to five years in prison, a sinister sentence for someone who seems to gain power and life on the street.
Sometimes day after day, Saakashvili has led rallies and marches in the center of Kiev, outside the presidential administration and the parliament building, the State Rada, calling for the overthrow of Poroshenko.
LIKE THE DRAMA Deployed in Kiev on Tuesday, the Kremlin seemed to enjoy the news of Saakashvili, which were completely covered by Russian state television. "We are watching what is happening with interest," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "Saakashvili has followed a thorny path, from eating his tie to climbing to the roof."
Images of Tuesday of men in uniforms grabbing and holding Saakashvili reminds us of one of the episodes that we reported in August 2008 in the Georgian city of Gori, except that on that day the men in uniforms were Saakashvili's security and they grabbed him to save his life. That was in the middle of the war with Russia and the Russian tanks were rolling in the lands of Georgia.
President Saakashvili showed a group of foreign journalists and politicians around a block of recently bombed apartment buildings after an attack by Russian planes. Suddenly, we heard a high-pitched sound of a jet plunging over us. The next moment, several uniformed men seized President Saakashvili, laid him on the ground and covered him with their bodies.
Now, Saakashvili had no bodyguards, he was alone on the roof.
It's still hard to believe that the video posted by Ukrainian MP Tetiana Rychkova on Facebook is real. It has a group of men dressed in civilian clothes who take Saakashvili from the roof. In its publication, Rychkova accused Saakashvili of creating a secret plot with the Russian security service, the FSB, to receive money from Russia for organizing a coup in Ukraine.
The video of Saakashvili detained on the roof went viral on the Internet. A creative blogger even turned the footage into a dance with traditional Georgian music.
And then, another surprise.
Saakashvili supporters broke the windows of the vehicle with Saakashvili inside and released their leader. He seemed a little overwhelmed, but here he was once again surrounded by a thick crowd and marching towards the Maidan. But on Wednesday morning he was in a tent camp and offered to have investigators visit him there if they wanted to talk to him.
WHEN MISHA WAS President of Georgia, he never received such good reviews. He dismissed, for example, all the questions about the pressure on his opposition or about the bombing of Tskhinvali in the separatist South Ossetia on the night of August 7, 2008. That same day, Georgian tanks, artillery and some 800 troops armed with rockets GRAD moved out of its base towards the disputed area. The GRAD opened fire in the direction of Tskhinvali, a city full of civilians. After that, Russian tanks arrived in Georgia, occupying miles of their land and threatening the capital.
The reporters who covered the presidency of Saakashvili almost never heard him admit any of his mistakes. But one thing we all appreciated was his respect for the press and transparency. In good or bad times, Saakashvili always lets journalists be by his side and sees everything with his own eyes. He never forbade us to cover both sides of the front lines during the war with Russia.
Now the clouds are becoming denser and darker over Saakashvili's head. The Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yuri Lutsenko, has accused Saakashvili of organizing opposition rallies to take power from the state and bring to power the people of the administration of the discredited and exiled former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Lutsenko claimed that Saakashvili acted specifically in the interest of Sehiy Kurchenko, a Ukrainian oligarch.
Lutsenko told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday that the effort to arrest Saakashvili is "part of the operation carried out by the SBU Security Service of Ukraine and the Office of the Attorney General to thwart the plan of revenge of the pro-Kremlin forces in Ukraine. "
Mustafa Nayyem, a prominent member of the Ukrainian parliament, wrote in a Facebook post that now is the time for Saakashvili to respond to the Acusan and answer all questions about any contact with Kurchenko and Kurchenko's money.
Nayyem also suggested that public opinion about the protest movement would not focus solely on the name and history of Saakashvili, because the street protests disappointed.
"What Mikhail has been telling us for the past two years is what our society has been trying to achieve for the past 25 years," Nayyem said in his message. "It is impossible to open only one criminal case to kill the indignation of millions of people who are angry with theft and corruption"