Borderline Chaos: What’s Behind Ukraine’s Saakashvili Circus
10 September, 2017

Can the intrepid politician enter Ukraine? Is his passport valid? What on God’s green earth is going on? Hromadske explains.

UPDATE: On the evening of September 10, Mikheil Saakashvili triumphantly returned to Ukraine — albeit not following the standard procedures. A group of his supporters broke through the line of security forces guarding the border and literally pulled Saakashvili from neutral territory between Poland and Ukraine onto Ukrainian territory.

Following Saakashvili’s “breakthrough,” Ukrainian General Prosecutor Yury Lutsenko wrote on Facebook: “Fighting for power, Saakashvili’s supporters are destroying the state.”

“The law requires bringing those who organized the illegal border crossing, led these actions, or promoted criminal accountability,” he added.

The article below explains Saakashvili’s legal predicament before he broke through the border and the political conditions that led to the border standoff.

To the Twitter user who asked how being “carried by men who literally broke down the border” didn’t make the below list of ways for Saakashvili to return to Ukraine, we at Hromadske would like to say, “Touché.”

On September 10, former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili attempted to cross the Polish border and return to Ukraine. But there was a problem. In July, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko abruptly stripped Saakashvili — who served for over a year as governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region — of his Ukrainian citizenship.

Photo credit: Maksym Kamenev/HROMADSKE

At the time, Saakashvili was in the United States. Since then, he has flown to Europe and traveled across the continent on his cancelled Ukrainian passport. He also planned to re-enter Ukraine using this document.

Previously, the Ukrainian authorities promised to seize Saakashvili’s passport should he attempt to cross the border.

So far, however, that has not happened. Saakashvili’s attempts to cross the border by train have failed — the locomotive was never allowed to leave the station. Saakashvili is now headed to a border crossing in a bus.

Photo credit: Maksym Kamenev/HROMADSKE

What’s going on? Can Saakashvili enter Ukraine? And if he can’t, what should he do? Hromadske answers these questions.

Is Saakashvili’s passport valid?

In short, Ukraine’s State Border Service says no.

“There is a presidential order [on cancelling Saakashvili’s citizenship.] We also have have a directive from the State Migration Service [SMS]. These orders declare [Saakashvili’s] documents invalid. Therefore, they will be seized and handed over to SMS,” Vasyl Servatyuk, deputy SMS chairman, said.

However, Saakashvili believes that Poroshenko illegally stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship.

Photo credit:

“I am in shock! I just looked at a copy of the Presidential Administration document published by one of the leaders of [Poroshenko’s] party…[T]hat is not my signature and the document was not filled out by me...” Saakashvili wrote on Facebook. “This is a criminal violation.”

But lawyer and legal expert Olga Poyedinok believes that Saakashvili’s case could set an interesting legal precedent.

“The passport of a Ukrainian citizen is the only unquestionable document for entering Ukraine,” she said. “Mr. Saakashvili’s passport is no longer valid after he was stripped of his citizenship. For that reason, when he hands his passport through the [passport control] window, the Ukrainian border agent should seize it.”

Who decides whether to let Saakashvili into the country?

That’s up to the junior border service inspector who is working at the moment Saakashvili arrives, Deputy SMS Chairman Servatyuk said. He also promised to personally be at the border to monitor the situation.

Are there other ways for Saakashvili to enter Ukraine?

Poyedinok is convinced that there are. Saakashvili can try to enter Ukraine using certification as a stateless person. He can receive that document in any country that is a signatory to the 1954 UN Convention “On the status of stateless persons,” including Poland.

“However, in that case, the border service would independently decide whether to allow the stateless person into Ukraine,” she said.

The Presidential Administration also considers that option possible. Saakashvili should receive a temporary travel document as a stateless person in Poland, then get a visa in the Ukrainian Consulate. “Then, maybe, he could cross the border,” a source in the presidential administration told Hromadske.

The only other option for Saakashvili might be to apply for asylum in Ukraine. He can do that directly at the border crossing. However, the Federal Migration Service “can immediately reject” Saakashvili’s application if there are no direct threats to his safety in Poland, says Maxym Butkevych, coordinator of the “Without Borders” refugee organization.

Should the migration service choose to accept his application, Saakashvili would immediately come under the protection of the state until the completion of the asylum application process. In Ukraine, that process could take months or even years.

What awaits Saakashvili in Ukraine?

The State Prosecutor's Office and the Justice Ministry have confirmed that they received an extradition request from Georgia, where Saakashvili faces criminal charges for, among other things, “exceeding official powers.” The Justice Ministry will make the final decision on whether to extradite Saakashvili. So far, it has reached no decision.

What can Saakashvili do if he is not allowed into Ukraine?

Immediately after he was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship, Saakashvili said that he was prepared to live in the transit zone of Kyiv’s Borispil airport.

“They did good renovations there. My friend is the director. I hope that he will find me a comfortable corner,” Saakashvili told the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper. “I’m joking, but I’ll find an option.”

Photo credit:

However, after that, Saakashvili changed his plans and decided to cross Ukraine’s western border. It remains unclear whether Saakashvili is prepared to camp out on the neutral territory between Poland and Ukraine.

Saakashvili served two terms as President of Georgia (2004 - 2013), becoming well known for his liberal reforms, anti-corruption measures, and strong stance against Russia after it invaded Georgia in 2008.

In 2014, Saakashvili became an energetic supporter of Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution. At home, however, the political leadership turned on him. That year, the Georgian authorities opened a criminal case against the former president for “exceeding official powers,” vague charges that many consider political.

The following year, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko chose Saakashvili to head a commission on reform in Ukraine. Saakashvili, in turn, renounced his Georgian citizenship to avoid extradition to Georgia. Poroshenko then granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship and appointed him governor of the Odesa region to help fight entrenched corruption.

Saakashvili’s popularity in Ukraine quickly skyrocketed, but his anti-corruption efforts in Odessa met limited success. In November 2016, Saakashvili resigned as governor, alleging that President Poroshenko was supporting corrupt officials in the region.

On July 26, 2017 the Migration Service of Ukraine (MSU) moved to strip Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, alleging that he had provided incorrect information when applying for Ukrainian citizen. The next day, President Petro Poroshenko deprived Saakashvili of his citizenship at the recommendation of the Presidential Commission on Citizenship. This was widely viewed as part of the ongoing power struggle between the two.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian law enforcement also briefly detained Saakashvili’s brother, lawyer David Saakashvili. He was taken into custody for allegedly failing to leave Ukraine after his residency permit was annulled in March.

Although he was released that same afternoon, the “Movement of New Forces” political party (founded by Mikheil Saakashvili) alleges that the authorities had no official grounds to detain David and that they failed to provide him documentation proving he had no right to reside in Ukraine.