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Saakashvili says determined to return to Ukraine Sunday

Posted Sep 5, 2017 by AFP
Exiled former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili said he was determined to return to Ukraine on Sunday, despite Tbilisi's request that Kiev detain and extradite him, amid his feud with the Ukrainian leader.
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili  49  is credited with pushing through pro-Western refo...
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, 49, is credited with pushing through pro-Western reforms in his native Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013
JANEK SKARZYNSKI, AFP/File

Exiled former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili said he was determined to return to Ukraine on Sunday, despite Tbilisi's request that Kiev detain and extradite him, amid his feud with the Ukrainian leader.

Saakashvili, 49, is credited with pushing through pro-Western reforms in his native Georgia which he led from 2004 to 2013.

But he is currently wanted in his homeland for alleged abuse of power during his tumultuous nine years as president that saw him fight and lose a brief war against Russia in 2008.

He left in disgrace for Ukraine in 2015 to work for the country's pro-Western authorities as governor of the key Odessa region on the Black Sea.

But he quit in November 2016 amid a dramatic falling out with President Petro Poroshenko, who stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship while he was out of the country.

Saakashvili wants to return to challenge that decision and to resume his political action.

"Every step taken against me in Georgia and in Ukraine was illegal. And I have people on my side, both in Ukraine and Georgia," he told AFP late Tuesday in a telephone interview.

He says Georgia's extradition request was driven by "oligarchs" who fear his presence in Ukraine, where he fought against corruption, and claims Tbilisi's accusations of "abuse of power" are politically motivated.

But he considers "the law is on my side" in both countries and wishes to defend himself against extradition in the Ukrainian courts.

"Now they are directly menacing to deport me to Georgia. But even for that, for me to be extradited, I need to be in Ukraine, physically. I need to be allowed in Ukraine, I need to go through judicial procedures in Ukraine," he said.

"I am a Ukrainian patriot because I spent many years of my life in Ukraine," he said.

"I have a political party which I am heading in Ukraine... I have obligations towards people who joined my party, who support me.

Saakashvili lost his Georgian citizenship when he was granted a Ukrainian passport in 2015, as the country bans dual citizenship, and so now is effectively stateless.

"For me, Ukraine is not a finished business, we need to fight and finish reforms there. That's why I am so motivated to go back," he said, explaining why he refuses to take citizenship of another European country.

Saakashvili said he expects to be greeted at the border by "dozens of Ukrainian MPs, by many thousands of our supporters".

He said he was not afraid of being "kidnapped" when he arrives and sent to Georgia but "it would be a gross criminal act ordered by the president".

On Wednesday he heads to Brussels to meet European parliamentarians and said the "silence of the European Commission is not helpful".

He said he plans to enter Ukraine by road from Poland on Sunday.