Saakashvili was illegally stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship. Formal grounds for deportation are mere cosmetics
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is now in Warsaw, having been forcibly detained and deported from Ukraine on February 12. He was not arrested, and not sent back to Georgia to face imprisonment on charges which many suspect are politically-motivated. That makes the cosmetics of the situation a touch better, but is still very far from being, as Ukrainian Border Guard spokesperson Oleh Slobodyan claimed, “in compliance with all legal procedure”.
Yes, Saakashvili could be returned under the law on readmission to Poland, as this was the country from which he had entered Ukraine. This had been agreed with the Polish authorities, after Saakashvili’s appeal against the Ukrainian Migration Service’s rejection of his request for asylum had been turned down. Not only had Saakashvili arrived across the border from Poland, but he is married to a citizen from another EU country, the Netherlands. If he does not already have a residence visa for his wife’s country of birth, he can certainly obtain one.
As a way of removing Saakashvili with at least formal semblance of legality, the solution chosen would have been the best, had the enforcement officers who came to detain him not applied what seemed like unwarranted force. They claim that they had to defend themselves, though the videos, both those circulated immediately and the CCTV footage do not suggest that significant resistance was shown.
It is just possible that the readmission law does not require the customary procedure on deportation – a court order, time to appeal, etc. In this case, however, Saakashvili had been living in Ukraine as a Ukrainian citizen, and had returned to the country, admittedly not with the authorities’ permission, over six months ago, leaving no justification for the failure to provide ordinary procedural guarantees in the case of forced deportation
The real problem dates back to July 2017, and President Petro Poroshenko’s action in stripping Saakashvili of the Ukrainian citizenship which he had so publicly bestowed just two years earlier.
The official reason given was that Saakashvili had supposedly concealed the fact that he was facing criminal proceedings in his native Georgia.
The first problem with this is that the criminal proceedings were common knowledge in May 2015, and throughout the period when Saakashvili occupied the post Poroshenko gave him as Governor of the Odesa Oblast.
An additional quibble here is that another highly controversial candidate for Ukrainian citizenship was Azov Battalion fighter Sergei Korotkykh. The photos of Poroshenko handing Korotkykh his citizenship had provoked a number of articles in independent Belarusian and Russian media. They exposed highly disturbing details about Korotkykh’s neo-Nazi and violent past, and criminal proceedings on very serious charges had been brought against him in Russia. This did not result in anything but attempts to dismiss the reports from the Ukrainian Security Service, and Korotkykh now heads a National Police unit on guarding buildings of strategic importance.
Another concern in July 2017 was that the President claimed that he had taken the decision to remove Saakashvili’s citizenship on the recommendation of the Committee on Citizenship. He had just arrived back from Georgia, and had significantly changed the composition of this committee just two days earlier.
The decision was announced while Saakashvili was in the United States, and was presumably supposed to spur the politician, who had by then become a vocal critic of Poroshenko, from returning to Ukraine.
It did not. Although the protests which Saakashvili led never came even remotely near to making the politician a serious rival to Ukraine’s President, they certainly appear to have been a major irritation. How else can one explain the multiple infringements that can only damage, not only the President’s reputation, but that of the country? One prominent MP, Mustafa Nayyem, called it the stupidest thing the President could have done. The only thing more idiotic had been the imprisonment by ex-President Viktor Yanukovych of his rival, the opposition leader Yulya Tymoshenko.
It was not just politically unwise, but also in apparent breach of Ukraine’s Constitution. This states quite unambiguously that “a citizen of Ukraine shall not be deprived of citizenship and of the right to change citizenship” (Article 25 1). While the President’s powers do indeed include “adopting decisions on the acceptance for citizenship of Ukraine and the termination of citizenship of Ukraine, and on the granting of asylum in Ukraine” (Article 106 § 26), this does not give him the right to arbitrarily strip a person of his citizenship against the individual’s will.
Ukraine’s Law on Citizenship expressly prohibits any such move if it would result in the individual becoming stateless, and this is precisely what has happened here. Even if Saakashvili can probably hope to get Dutch citizenship, on the basis of his wife’s nationality, he did not have it when Poroshenko took away his Ukrainian citizenship, leaving him effectively a stateless person.
Under such circumstances, and especially given that Saakashvili’s Georgian citizenship had been revoked after his decision to become a Ukrainian citizen, the motives behind the Migration Service’s refusal to grant him asylum must also be in question.
Since that first questionable act (in fact the third selective removal of Ukrainian citizenship), there have been a number of others, some that will almost certainly result in European Court of Human Rights judgements against Ukraine.
If the rather suspect detention of the politician’s brother, David Saakashvili, on September 2, looked for all the world like intimidation, it did not lead to any deportation.
There were very grave consequences of two effective abductions and forced removals of Georgian nationals associated with Saakashvili, first on October 21, and then November 17. In one of the cases, Mikheil Abzianidze was seized and deported, despite having a Ukrainian wife and child. Since he and the other men had been banned from entering Ukraine, any attempt to appeal against their deportation was effectively meaningless. The same right to a family life that the Netherlands will doubtless honour in Saakashvili’s case was violated by the Ukrainian authorities in the case of Abzianidze, with it disturbingly likely that this was purely because of his link with the politician.
While western observers have joined many Ukrainians in assuming that the President is behind the moves against Saakashvili, many of them have been carried out by the Prosecutor General Yury Lutsenko and other high-ranking officials.
Lutsenko presented apparently serious allegations, backed by intercepted telephone conversations, to justify the attempt to detain Saakashvili on December 5, 2017. The aborted attempt made world headlines, and though it raised potential questions about who Saakashvili was willing to cooperate with and take money from, the allegations were also viewed with scepticism by legal experts (details here).
Since Saakashvili has now been deported, it is clear that the charges were not an end in themselves. This is all very well, but what about Saakashvili’s close associate Severion Dangadze who was remanded in custody?
It was the previous regime of Yanukovych that had the reputation for using selective justice against opponents. Ukraine’s leaders are doing Ukraine no favours with all such questionable measures against Saakashvili and his associates.