2021-10-02 09:14:17 Georgia Arrests Former Leader Mikheil Saakashvili
Georgia Arrests Former Leader Mikheil Saakashvili
MOSCOW, Russia — Mikheil Saakashvili, a former Georgian president and a prominent figure in post-Soviet politics, was arrested on Friday on politically motivated charges after returning to Georgia secretly after an eight-year exile.
Mr. Saakashvili’s return, like much of his presidency, had all the hallmarks of high-stakes political theater. For days, the former president, who had been living in Ukraine, had been taunting Georgia’s government, which is controlled by his political opponents, with hints of a return, including posting pictures of an airplane ticket on social media.
Despite a long-standing warrant for his arrest, it was unclear how or when Mr. Saakashvili entered the country. However, he did not appear to arrive at an airport, where he would have been arrested.
Mr. Saakashvili had posted videos of himself strolling in Batumi, a Georgian beach town on the Black Sea, prior to his arrest on Friday. He stated that he wished to encourage people to vote in Saturday’s local elections.
According to Shota Utiashvili, senior fellow at the Georgia Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and a former official in Mr. Saakashvili’s government, the police eventually found him in a small apartment on the outskirts of Tbilisi, the capital, where he was staying alone.
Mr. Utiashvili stated, “He knew he would be arrested but decided to come anyway” to support his political party, the United National Movement, before elections.
“The government said, ‘How can you have a party whose leader is afraid of justice?’” According to Mr. Utiashvili. “It’s a case that he’s a coward. ‘I am not a coward, and if you want to arrest me, here I am,’ he replied.
By Friday evening, Mr. Saakashvili had been transferred to a jail in Rustavi, about 15 miles from the capital. Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili confirmed his arrest.
Mr. Saakashvili led the first wave of anti-authoritarian street uprisings in the former Soviet Union, known as color revolutions, and he ruled Georgia as president from 2004 to 2013, during which time the country experienced a brief war with Russia. In the politics of the former Soviet states, he was associated with anti-Russian movements.
Mr. Saakashvili lived in Brooklyn for a time after resigning. He later entered politics in Ukraine, where a pro-Russian president was deposed in a 2014 revolution. He was one of about a dozen former Georgian politicians appointed to senior positions in the Ukrainian government to help overhaul the country’s bureaucracy.
He had a falling out with the Ukrainian leadership for a time, and in 2018, he was arrested on the roof of a building in Kyiv, where he had climbed to address supporters and escape the police. The dispute was settled following a change in Ukraine’s government.
He was the governor of the city of Odessa in Ukraine’s south, and he still holds an official position in the Ukrainian government as the head of the Office of Simple Solutions and Results, which he founded.
Back in Georgia, the new government accused him of abusing his position as president, and a court convicted him in absentia and sentenced him to three years in prison in 2018.