Recently, dramatic images went around the world and world wide web with thousands of Ukrainians protesting in Kyiv once again and opposition leader Michael Saakashvili being arrested, but escaping custody with the help of his supporters. Here, as sum up in brief:
The Drama of Saakashvili
Michael Saakashvili is currently stateless, but plays an important role in the politics of not just one, but two countries: in Ukraine and in his country of birth, Georgia. His life in Georgia, which amounts to the first act of his drama, he led the country through a series of tough reforms, transforming it from a seriously underdeveloped, post soviet state to the most accomplished of the EaP countries. However, his leadership was not unopposed and after his party plummeted in the polls in 2012, he fled the country. Currently, he is wanted in Georgia under charges of corruption.
Saakashvili came to Ukraine during the Maidan aftermath and quickly became the governor of the notoriously corrupt Odessa region, a position granted him, along with his new Ukrainian citizenship, by the new president Poroshenko, who happens to be an old university friend. Yet, Saakashvili resigned from his position before the end of his term. He accused the central government to undermine his anti-corruption agenda and became a well known opposition politician, frequently invited to talk shows and interviewed. Subsequently, he created his own party, called Movement of New Forces, but remained unsuccessful in the polls.
Publicity is Everything
Saakashvili’s continued to attack the government and specifically his friend-turned-foe Poroshenko. The rivalry between the two, showing similarities to the one between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, albeit of little importance for Ukrainian politics, escalated further with the first climax being reached in July 2017, when Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, leaver the latter without a state, since he gave up his Georgian citizenship earlier in 2015. This move was unprecedented and legally questionable, but should have kept Saakashvili out, thereby concluding the second act of the play, were it not for his supporters, who, when Saakashvili attempted to cross the border into Ukraine by foot, broke through the police and allowed Saakashvili to enter.
No new Maidan
The obsession of the authorities with Saakashvili continued and the latter used it to gain more and more public attention, supposedly to boost his party, but arguably with no success. All this culminated once again in the past weeks, opening the third act. On December 5th, Saakashvili was arrested in a police raid, yet was freed from the hands of the police by his supporters, who have not stayed away from using force. Saakashvili then fled to a friends place, yet was arrested again just days later. The general prosecutor, who is himself a rather dubious figure, accuses Saakashvili of accepting money from Yanukovych friendly elements and thereby of betrayal of Ukraine. For these charges,which are supposed to be backed by an audio tape extracted from a wiretapped telephone, the ambassadors of the G7 have requested verification for.
Sunday 10th, Saakashvili’s supporters then gathered on the Maidan once again, as called upon by Saakashvili, in a scenery that reminds some observers of 2013. Between 20000 and 50000 people attended the demonstration and of these around 2000 marched afterwards through the streets. This is not a one time happening, since these supporters are camping on the Maidan already since mid October. However, their numbers were boosted by the recent, very public, events. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely for this protest to snowball into a new Maidan, since support is rather limited. Ukrainian perceive Saakashvili predominantly as foreign and his party has not gained more support in spite of his media presence.
This is not the main story
While these events have dominated international news about Ukraine, a far more important development took place at the same time. In the night from the 6th to the 7th, the ruling parties have proposed to allow the parliament to dismiss the head of the National Anti Corruption Bureau (NABU). The legislative proposal, which would upend the independence of the NABU, was promptly and harshly criticized by Civil Society and western observers alike, the latter going as far as to put out the threat of ending the visa freedom, and consequently withdrawn by the parliamentarians. Nevertheless, the western observers are becoming progressively worried about Poroshenko’s attempts to gain more power and Ukraine’s possible backsliding on reforms. It stands to question, how Saakashvili, who is free by now, will utilize these developments.
by Filipp Trigub