Former President Saakashvili Announces His Return to Georgia

ODESSA, Ukraine – Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili announced Thursday on the country’s largest independent news station that he intends to return to Georgia and participate in the upcoming October elections.

“No one should doubt or see my decision as a threat. I plan to return to Georgia and actively participate in the (political) process. I’m planning to continue my struggle both here in Ukraine and at home in Georgia,” Saakashvili said during a live broadcast on news station Rustavi2.

Saakashvili, who currently serves as governor of Ukraine’s economically vital Odessa Region, swept to power in his native Georgia following the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution that ousted the corrupt regime of Eduard Shevardnadze from power.

Revered by some for the rapid anti-corruption reforms he pushed through as Georgia’s president; he was reviled by those closely wedded to the old post-Soviet traditions of kickbacks and mafia-style business dealings.

Russia, in particular, harbored a deep-rooted hatred of Saakashvili as the Kremlin considered him enemy number one for his staunchly pro-Western policies and desire to move Georgia towards NATO and EU membership.

The rancour between Saakashvili and Russian President Vladimir Putin came to a head in August 2008 when the two countries fought a brief, but brutal, five-day war that resulted in the effective Russian occupation of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.

By the time Saakashvili’s United National Movement (UNM) lost power in 2013, some of his former allies accused him of developing dictatorial tendencies.

Saakashvili left Georgia shortly after his term as president came to an end in 2013. He first settled in New York as an adjunct professor at Tufts University, before moving to Ukraine during the 2013-2014 Maidan Revolution, where he became a vocal advocate for the ouster of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

After leaving Georgia, he was accused of abuse of power that related to the dispersal of a protest rally and crackdown on a TV station in November 2007.

Georgia’s Prosecutor-General later charged Saakashvili in absentia with organizing an attack on a lawmaker and threatened to arrest Saakashvili if he returned to the country.
Saakashvili later took on Ukrainian citizenship to become Odessa’s governor but was then stripped of his Georgian passport by his bitter rivals in the ruling Georgian Dream government.

He has repeatedly accused his political archrival – eccentric oligarch and Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili – of waging a constant intimidation campaign against him and his UNM party members.

On May 22, several members of the UNM were allegedly beaten by a group of Georgian Dream members as they attempted to vote in mid-term municipal elections in the country’s western Samegrelo region.

“The intimidation methods they (Georgian Dream) used during the recent midterm elections in Samegrelo were the same that Shevardnadze and (Aslan) Abashidze used in Georgia in the 1990s and Yanukovych later used in Ukraine,” Saakashvili said in his interview with Rustavi2. “Ivanishvili looks more and more like the type of thug that Abashidze was.”

Abashidze was a former 1990s warlord that ruled with an iron hand over Georgia’s Black Sea region of Adjaria before fleeing to Moscow in 2004.

Saakashvili warned that Ivanishvili would attempt to use his vast wealth (estimated at just under USD 5.5 billion) to rig the results of October’s elections and further steer Georgia back into Russia’s orbit.

“Ivanishvili has accumulated a lot of wealth in recent years. He has no intention of going anywhere and will not voluntarily step aside. It’s the same scenario as with Yanukovych. Ivanishvili will use all of his tricks to remain in power, so we need to be calm and be ready to defend democracy.”

By Nicholas Waller

26 May 2016 00:04