Thousands marched in central Kyiv over the weekend calling for the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko and the release of former Odessa governor and ex-Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, who was finally arrested on the third attempt as political tensions remained high.
The state attempted to arrest Saakashvili twice last week. In the first attempt Secret Service officers tried to take the one-time governor from his apartment only to be surrounded by a crowd of Saakashvili supporters, who ripped him from a police van. The crowd then moved to a protest tent camp outside the Verkhovna Rada where police again tried to arrest Saakashvili that night, before being beaten off by supporters for a second time.
Saakashvili is currently stateless given that Poroshenko stripped him of his Ukrainian passport earlier this year. He subsequently entered the country illegally. During that arrival supporters defied police by physically pulling him over the border.
The circus around Saakashvili has damaged Poroshenko’s standing and made him look authoritarian. The two men were once close friends but turned to bitter rivals since Saakashvili accused Poroshenko of corruption.
The fracas comes at a time when Poroshenko’s standing both home and abroad has been sinking. The case against Saakashvili smacks strongly of a political vendetta but comes at a time when the president’s regime has opened a public and sustained attempt to undo the anti-corruption measures imposed on Kyiv by its international donors. Specifically, a law was tabled last week that would take the new and independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and in effect the anti-graft drive under direct government control. The draft law was only removed from the docket after a hue and cry by the international community and local civil society.
Protestors this weekend had four main demands: impeach Poroshenko, release Saakashvili, set up an independent anti-corruption court that would try cases brought by NABU, and sack Prosecutor General and close Poroshenko ally Yuriy Lutsenko, who has been the tool used by the president in his campaign against Saakashvili.