LVIV, Ukraine — President Petro Poroshenko on Sept. 11 accused ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, his one-time ally and now political foe, of committing a crime when he and his supporters broke through a border cordon and entered Ukraine on Sept. 10.
“This is a state security issue,” Poroshenko said in a video address. “I don’t care who breaks the state border: fighters in the east, or politicians in the west. There should be direct legal accountability.”
Ukraine’s police have opened a criminal investigation into Saakashvili and his supporters for illegally crossing Ukraine’s border, the country’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said in a post on his Facebook page on Sept. 11. The punishment for such crimes is up to five years in prison.
Saakashvili, who became stateless after Poroshenko stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship in July, broke through the Polish-Ukrainian border late on Sept. 10 with a crowd of his supporters, including five Ukrainian lawmakers.
Saakashvili claimed Poroshenko withdrew his citizenship illegally and chose to enter Ukraine at the Shehyni border crossing point, after the authorities tried to deny him entry via other crossing points, first for having invalid documents, and then because of an alleged bomb threat.
The cordon of border guards tried to stop him but was pushed away by hundreds of Saakashvili’s supporters.
Avakov called on Saakashvili and “all who illegally crossed the border” to either immediately return to the border crossing point and pass through it properly, or report to the state migration service.
“All the participants of the ‘breakthrough,’ including the lawmakers, should show up at the police to give statements,” Avakov added.
However, Saakashvili’s lawyer, Markiyan Halabala, said that crossing of the border “in cases of extreme necessity” was not illegal under Ukrainian law. Some lawyers also argued that it was an administrative offense punishable with a fine, not a crime.
If Saakashvili is considered a stateless person, he is a permanent resident of Ukraine under the law, and has the right to enter the country without a visa, his lawyers argue.
Under international law and Ukraine’s Administrative Law Code, Saakashvili has the right to dispute his loss of citizenship in court and take part in court hearings over the issue in Ukraine, his lawyers say.
After entering Ukraine, Saakashvili met in Lviv on Sept. 10 with the leader of Batkivshchyna party, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Andriy Sadovy, the mayor of Lviv and the leader of the Samopomich party.
Saakashvili was guarded by about 70 fully uniformed soldiers of the Donbas battalion, whose leader Semen Semenchenko is a member of Sadovy’s party.
Saakashvili is currently staying at the Leopolis hotel in central Lviv, where the Kyiv Post saw Mayor Sadovy and Yehor Sobolev, a lawmaker from Samopomich party, early on Sept 11.
Poroshenko also hinted in his speech that Saakashvili might be extradited to Georgia, where several criminal cases have been opened against him. Georgia also filed an extradition request for him last month.
“I hope (Saakashvili) will be just as eager to go to Georgia as he was to get into Ukraine,” Poroshenko said.
At the press conference in Lviv, Saakashvili claimed the criminal cases against him had been opened with involvement of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Saakashvili’s long-time enemy, and oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has been involved in business both in Russia and Georgia.
“These cases were initiated by Putin,” he said. “If Poroshenko, who has a joint business with Putin’s friend (Viktor) Medvedchuk and with (tycoon Rinat) Akhmetov, takes orders from Putin and wants to arrest me and surrender me to Russia or to Russian oligarchs, it’s up to him.”
Saakashvili accused Poroshenko of breaking the law and “shaming Ukraine” by stripping him of his citizenship.
“The president mentioned some crime,” Saakashvili said. “I want to respond to him. A crime was committed when I was stripped of my citizenship in violation of the Constitution and law of Ukraine. The forgery of my signature (in documents published by a pro-government lawmaker) was a crime. The halting of a train, when passengers were taken hostage, was a crime. Their decision to imitate a bomb threat at the (Shehyni) checkpoint and keep people in huge lines for many hours was a crime.”
The train that Saakashvili took from the Polish city of Przemysl on Sept. 10 was halted by state-owned railway monopoly Ukrzaliznytsya. When Saakashvili arrrived at the Shehyni checkpoint by bus on Sept. 10, Ukrainian border guards claimed that there was a bomb threat at the checkpoint and halted its work – a move that was dismissed by Saakashvili’s supporters as a ploy to prevent Saakashvili from crossing the border.
“The full responsibility lies on the people who blocked the border, failed to carry out a single legal procedure, illegally stripped me of citizenship and forged my signature,” Saakashvili said. “Poroshenko, who put barbed wire on the border with the European Union, forced people to wait in lines for many hours, illegally stopped the train on Polish territory – it’s him who violated the law, disgraced Ukraine and made a mockery out of it.”
Saakashvili also told NewsOne television that he had legally passed through the Polish checkpoint and was on Ukrainian territory when clashes began, and that is why his arrival in Ukraine cannot be considered an “illegal breakthrough” of the border.
Saakashvili also argued at the press conference that he was staying in Ukraine legally because he had officially applied for asylum. He said border guards at the checkpoint had not wanted to accept either his passport or his application for asylum.
“My lawyer has brought an application for protection to the State Migration Service,” he said. “I’m staying absolutely legally on Ukrainian territory… The Ukrainian state must appeal to a court and resolve my request for protection.”
Saakashvili announced he would create a broad alliance with the opposition political forces, and travel around Ukraine.
Saakashvili also said that Ukrainian authorities had “stolen” his passport on the border. The police denied seizing his passport.
Saakashvili’a associate David Sakvarelidze told the Kyiv Post they had taken away Saakashvili’s foreign passport but he kept the domestic one.
Sakvarelidze said that Saakashvili and his allies would make a joint statement on Sept. 12, and Saakashvili could leave for Kyiv on Sept. 13.
Sakvarelidze also said that he was not aware of any National Guard or police movements in Lviv with the aim of arresting Saakashvili.
Zenon Zawada, a research analyst at Concorde Capital, said that the Sept. 10 events at the border marked the start of the 2019 presidential and parliamentary election campaigns.
“A pro-Western opposition is shaping up to oppose Poroshenko’s re-election bid, led by Saakashvili and Tymoshenko,” Zawada wrote in an analysis issued on Sept. 11.
“We believe Saakashvili is drawing support from U.S. intelligence services, which have grown tired of Poroshenko’s corruption. With Saakashvili’s help, they are cobbling together a coalition of MPs willing to pursue reforms a lot farther and quicker than Poroshenko and his team, who have demonstrated much resistance.”
When Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his citizenship in July, he argued that the former Georgian president had submitted incorrect information when applying for citizenship in 2015.
Saakashvili says that no proof of this has been provided and that the cancellation of his citizenship is politically motivated and violates due process and Ukrainian and international law. Ukrainian authorities have so far refused to give Saakashvili documents on the loss of his citizenship, or specify the legal grounds for the cancellation.
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