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How Saakashvili and Poroshenko got into this mess

KYIV – The adventures of Mikhail Saakashvili reached new heights this week when masked Ukrainian security agents broke the door of his apartment and finally arrested him on the roof of the building, where he shouted insults about former President Petro Poroshenko to supporters at the street below.

Officers took Saakashvili, born in Tbilisi, to a police van, but they could not get him out of the scrum while hundreds of Saakashvili supporters rushed to the scene to prevent them from taking the once-Georgian president and former governor of La Odessa region of Ukraine is far away. The truck only reached the corner before it was forced to stop near a Catholic church and about 100 meters from the European Square in the capital.

There was a struggle, with supporters of Saakashvili colliding with the riot police while trying to free him. Saakashvili finally emerged triumphantly lifting a hand with the handcuffs still attached to his wrist to offer a "victory" sign to the jubilant crowd.

Later in the day, Saakashvili swore in a tent a city of supporters outside the parliament to fight corruption and "eliminate a criminal group from power and dismiss it." When the night of December 5 fell, Ukrainian prosecutors accused Saakashvili of a crime and the police placed him on the national list of wanted persons.

He was a fugitive.

LOOK: Ukrainian security forces arrested former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on suspicion of helping a criminal organization, but later escaped from custody in Kiev with the help of his supporters. (Ukrainian RFE / RL Service)

Tensions persisted, with clashes between Saakashvili supporters and the December 6 deadline for Saakashvili to surrender. He has suggested that he will only meet with the authorities in the city of tents, which appeared around noon on December 7.

Even by Saakashvili standards – whose political career has been peppered with dramatic and controversial events – it has been remarkable for several days.

But how did the Ukrainian officials and Saakashvili find themselves in this situation, and how far could it lead?

Does this risk explode?

Some analysts are convinced that everything could have serious consequences for the country, not to mention Saakashvili.

Prosecutor General of Ukraine suggested later on December 5 that the man who as president of Georgia led a disastrous five-day war against Russia in two dissident Georgian regions has naively or not, become puppets of an organized crime group based in Russia allegedly led by the exiled Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yanukovych.

Adrian Karatnycky, a senior member of the Washington-based Atlantic Council, argues that the "sensational accusations made against Mikheil Saakashvili by the Ukrainian procuratorate [prosecutors] have the potential to reorganize the entire political platform in Ukraine "

If it is shown that the prosecutors are correct, then it has been shown that Saakashvili has "conspired" and accepted money from friendly elements with Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in 2014.

"This is a situation of both," says Karatnycky, highlighting how difficult it can be to find a middle ground. "Either Saakashvili was playing with the exiles of the old Yanukovych team, or the security services and the Ukrainian procuracy have perpetrated the fraud of the century and Saakashvili is an innocent victim of false accusations not seen since the Stalin era." [19659002] And beyond any threat to the popularity of Poroshenko among Ukrainians, the repression of Saakashvili could damage the international support of the Ukrainian administration. The sudden and dramatic events of this type generally do not agree with the western allies of Kyiv, and the frustration already grew.

The day before the failed arrest, the US Department of State. UU He expressed "concerns" about signs that Kyiv could be reoffending its commitment to fight corruption. The statement appeared to be a response to a bitter dispute between the National Anti-Corruption Agency (NABU) independent of Ukraine against the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), both run by persons appointed by the president.

After the rooftop raid, the Embassy of the United States and the European Union mission in Kiev called on all parties to de-escalate the situation and urged the authorities to conduct a fair investigation in accordance with the law .

Why does Saakashvili have legal hot water? Ukraine anyway?

Ukrainian authorities gave few explanations when they announced that they had withdrawn citizenship from Saakashvili in July, causing a small international uproar and provoking Saakashvili's defiant reintegration into Ukrainian territory in September despite warnings that he might face the arrest. 19659002] But more recently, Saakashvili was accused by the Ukrainian authorities of links to criminal elements around the world. exiled Yanukovych and other conspirators based in Russia. If found guilty, Saakashvili could face up to 10 years in prison.

Saakashvili called the accusation of policy and evidence against him, including an alleged intercepted conversation between him and Serhiy Kurchenko, a multi-millionaire ally of Yanukovych – "fake." He says that Poroshenko is trying to eliminate him as a political opponent. He has claimed that his Ukrainian rivals would like to extradite him to his native Georgia to face what he says is politically motivated abuse of office charges stemming from his presidency there, or to reach an agreement that would allow him to avoid charges against him. in Ukraine in exchange for leaving the country.

Poroshenko initially did not directly respond to any of the accusations, but said on December 6 that Saakashvili's actions were aimed at destabilizing the situation within the war

A legal assessment prepared by the Saakashvili's lawyer, Ruslan Chornolutsky, who was obtained by RFE / RL on December 7 alleged, "The case against Mikheil Saakashvili is purely political and represents an act of political terror against the main opposition leader of Ukraine." He continued to accuse the Ukrainian government , through their actions, to have "taken a step towards authoritarianism, using terror tactics against their own citizens".

The evaluation also alleged that the actions of the Attorney General's Office in publicly incriminating Saakashvili, "violated the presumption of innocence, unlawfully revealed alleged details of the investigation and violated the principle of secrecy of investigation in criminal cases"

LOOK: Dozens of Ukrainian police stormed a protest camp in front of the parliament building in Kiev early on December 6 in a failed attempt to arrest Mikheil Saakashvili. (Ukrainian RFE / RL Service)

How did Saakashvili end up as a Ukrainian politician?

To understand how Saakashvili got here, we have to go back in some aspects. Less than two years after completing his second presidential term in the fiercely polarized political atmosphere of Georgia, he arrived in Ukraine after the riots of Euromaidan and with Kiev at war with Russia-backed separatists.

After giving up his Georgian citizenship and being granted Ukrainian citizenship, in mid-2015 he was appointed by Poroshenko to govern the notoriously corrupt southern region of Odessa. According to reports, the idea was Poroshenko's own, who brought his former university partner and reformer tried in the battle to clean things up. (Saakashvili had introduced important institutional and economic reforms in Georgia before his allies hit the polls in 2012)

But after a period that occasionally included dramatic acts of political theater, the Ukrainian plan went awry and Saakashvili resigned in November 2016 , publicly accusing Poroshenko of blocking his reform efforts. He announced the launch of his own opposition party, called the New Forces Movement, and began to campaign against his former ally.

With only marginal public support, Saakashvili had mostly fallen off the map until Poroshenko's decree in July, while the former governor was visiting the United States, that stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship and canceled his passport. No justification was declared publicly.

"Everyone would have forgotten Saakashvili, nobody was really paying attention to his words," says political analyst Taras Berezovets, adding Poroshenko's citizenship maneuver, "Then, after this, he was cited in all media Internationals. "

The news gave Saakashvili a much-needed boost of short-term public relations that he used to rally supporters at the Ukrainian-Polish border, where they helped him break a guard post and re-enter the country. . While illegal, the authorities leave him with a fine.

Why the dramatic scenes and the legions of the police on December 5? Was it excessive?

Some say that the massive operation of the Ukrainian authorities this week indicated Poroshenko's overwhelming desire to see Saakashvili off the scene in a very public way.

Since his return to Ukraine, Saakashvili has set his sights on campaigning for the first presidential and parliamentary elections. (The presidential and legislative elections are not scheduled for 2019). His message has been anti-government and specifically anti-Poroshenko, which observers say could have been under the president's skin.

"It seems a personal rivalry …" A battle of egos "between Poroshenko and Saakashvili, according to Kateryna Zarembo, deputy director of the Center for New Europe based in Kiev, a group of experts." It is similar to Yanukovych and [former Prime Minister and eventually failed presidential candidate Yulia] ] Tymoshenko. "

But the strength and apparent dedication shown by Saakashvili supporters this week suggest that it could require a considerable contingent of police officers to arrest him.In this case, it seems that the authorities miscalculated. [19659002] … But how could they let it escape?

Some observers have noticed that, with the violence of Euromaidan still fresh in the minds of Ukrainians: the police may be less inclined to use force against the demonstrators.

The authorities certainly seem to have miscalculated the determination of the followers of Saakashvili.

But the operation itself seems to have been planned in a hurry. Driving it in the light of day and in Saakashvili's apartment, on a narrow one-way street in the crowded center of the capital during the morning rush hour, probably reduced the chances of efficient extraction.

How widespread is the support for Saakashvili among Ukrainians?

Many Ukrainians say that Saakashvili thanks Poroshenko for his recent publicity. In fact, for months opinion polls have shown that Saakashvili polls are between 1 and 2 percent popularity. That has many political observers who scratch their heads about the tireless search of his authorities.

Like his summer breakthrough on the border between Ukraine and Poland, Saakashvili's flight from the police van on December 5 is likely to increase his political profile, if briefly.

With the report of Christopher Miller in Kiev

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