When irresponsible politicians play with rules instead of following them, the one who ends up paying is the country itself. Before yesterday, I thought Poroshenko was smarter and Saakashvili was less self-centered.
There is one image that will haunt me after the infamous September 10 border crossing: a soldier from the Ukrainian border guard unit attacked from behind by one of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s supporters.
In a fighting country, where other border guards fight and die to protect the border from Russian invaders.
A soldier who was humiliated so that the power hungry politicians could have their show.
The hypocrisy of everyone who says they want to bring a brighter future to this country but violate the basis of its very existence — the rule of law.
The main conclusion of yesterday: Ukraine lost. Saakashvili and President Petro Poroshenko too, but the cost they will pay for yesterday’s circus will be much lower than what the country will have to pay. It became more obvious than ever that in Ukraine we don’t have statesmen, and for both decision-makers in power and the opposition it is much more important to have high ratings than to think about what kind of damage their actions will have.
The main mistake, undoubtedly, was made when Poroshenko revoked Saakashvili’s citizenship. This was an immature and emotional decision to get rid of his irritating former friend. It was obvious to everyone that a politician who has such experience, connections, hunger for power and ego wouldn’t let this situation go easily. Saakashvili, who was gaining fewer new supporters, needed a situation that would bring him back to the headlines. In this regard, Poroshenko gave him a present by revoking his Ukrainian citizenship and by this promoting him to a victim of the “regime”. I do believe that many in the presidential administration had simply hoped that Saakashvili wouldn’t strike back. They definitely underestimated him and how far he can go and, therefore, didn’t prepare a plan to handle a scenario of Saakashvili's return to Ukraine.
No matter how hard I try, I just can’t find a logical explanation that would justify the decision to stop the train from leaving and increasing security at the border. Saakashvili wanted attention and was looking for a provocation. Both were so mercifully given him by the Poroshenko’s circle. (Nota bene, I think this case will become a cold shower for Poroshenko and his advisers because such a mistake is simply unforgivable from anyone who’s pretending to make rational decisions.)
It was definitely a day of bad decisions by both sides. Saakashvili’s first big mistake was to have Yulia Tymoshenko by his side. This was the first warning bell for his supporters, making them doubt the sincerity of his actions. It is highly probable that Tymoshenko and Saakashvili will not make a lasting alliance: their personal ambitions, populist talent and not very promising record in the past raise the suggestion that they got together just to make Poroshenko even angrier. But seeing Saakashvili, a politician who claims to bring a new quality into Ukrainian politics, with Tymoshenko, who represents an old guard, raised eyebrows.
The second mistake Saakashvili made was in the way he and his supporters crossed the border. Video and photo footage has quickly overshadowed a not-allowing-train-to-depart incident. This was savage: the crowd of people running to the border line, clashing with border guards, Saakashvili pushing his way through the line of soldiers and falling into arms of a cheerful crowd. It all looked very humiliating: what kind of state can’t protect its border from a bunch of people? The reaction of social media and some people in Saakashvili’s orbit show that it was one step too far. Even for those who publicly criticised Poroshenko for revoking Saakashvili’s citizenship, the border episode was too much. Not only because it looked bad on television: by violating laws and doing it so publicly and decisively Saakashvili lost his moral right to criticise Poroshenko for illegal decisions. He showed that he is no better than Poroshenko because both of them are ready to break or use the law for their political benefit.
Currently, it’s not even about winning the situation but about minimising the collateral damage. It is also a very strong signal for Ukrainian society showing what poor choices we have. Because when we think about elections that will take place in just two years, we see that we have no one to choose from. So far all alternatives look equally bad. This challenge is especially true for young and aspiring politicians who must understand that you can’t build a new Ukraine with the old way of thinking. Saakashvili is not a messiah and his ratings will probably go down as soon as the interest in this event cools. New parties and new people are badly needed.
And one very last remark. Sunday’s events proved the shortsightedness of Ukrainian politicians. This could have devastating consequences for the entire country. At a time when the Ukrainian authorities should throw all their time and efforts into preparing for a diplomatic battle over finalising the weapons deal with the US and settling the conditions under which a UN peacekeeping mission can be deployed, they waste time handling a crisis situation they have created themselves. A situation that not only devalues the position of Ukrainian authorities but also an entire country’s credibility and respectability.