Ex-Georgian president Saakashvili stripped of Ukrainian citizenship

Ex-Georgian president Saakashvili stripped of Ukrainian citizenship
Ex-Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili (centre) seen on Freedom Square in Tbilisi during Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution. Demonstrators, led by Saakashvili, stormed a Parliament session with red roses in hand. / Zaraza.
By Carmen Valache in Lund July 27, 2017

Georgia's controversial former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship on July 26. According to the Ukrainian state migration service, the reason for the move was Saakashvili's failure to reveal a criminal investigation against him in Georgia.

However, the stated reason lacks credibility, since Saakashvili's falling out with the incumbent party in Georgia, Georgian Dream, and the trial against him were highly public.

Having come to power after the Rose Revolution of 2003, Saakashvili was credited with reforming Georgia and setting it on the path to a Western-style capitalist democracy. However, popular support for him waned in his last years as president amidst revelations of widespread abuse of power of state institutions, including the secret services and interior ministry.

After the end of his second term in 2013, he fled to Ukraine to help President Petro Poroshenko, a former university friend, conduct the same types of reforms he had successfully implemented in Georgia. After gaining Ukrainian citizenship in 2014 and becoming the governor of the Odessa region, he then had his Georgian citizenship stripped from him because Georgia does not allow dual citizenship. 

However, he quit the governorship in November 2016 amidst a very public falling out with Poroshenko, whom he accused of stalling reforms by being too accommodating of the interests of the country's powerful oligarchs.

Saakashvili was in the US when news of the loss of his Ukrainian citizenship broke, he said on Facebook. That likely means he will seek asylum in the US. If he returns to Ukraine, he risks being detained and deported to Georgia, where he will face prosecution.

Kyiv's decision to strip Saakashvili of his citizenship comes less than a week after Poroshenko visited Georgia, where he mended ties that were broken because of the previous decision to offer Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship.

Georgia and Ukraine share many similarities, including aspirations to one day join the EU, membership in the EU's Eastern Partnership and strong antagonism towards Russia, which has invaded both countries in the last decade. Saakashvili's presence in Ukraine was the main obstacle preventing bilateral cooperation with Georgia. Case in point, between 2014 and 2017, Ukraine did not even have an ambassador in Tbilisi, a situation that it rectified earlier this year.

In a tweet on July 25, US President Donald Trump criticised Ukraine for efforts made at sabotaging his campaign during the 2016 American general election. Saakashvili followed that with a Facebook post in which he said that he had warned Poroshenko about Trump's high chances of winning the election.