KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine says it will review a request from Georgia to arrest and extradite former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, one of the most colourful and divisive figures in the politics of both countries, if he re-enters Ukraine in the next few days.
Brought in to help drive reforms after the 2014 Ukrainian uprising that ousted a pro-Russian leader, Saakashvili has been at loggerheads with the Kiev authorities since quitting as governor of the Odessa region last year and accusing President Petro Poroshenko of abetting corruption.
Stripped of Ukrainian citizenship while on a trip abroad, he will try to re-enter Ukraine via the Polish border on Sunday, his staff and lawyers say, and expects to be greeted by supporters and lawmakers sympathetic to his cause. It is unclear how Ukrainian border guards will respond.
“The justice ministry is sending the request from Georgia ... to Ukraine’s general prosecutor for an extradition review,” Deputy Justice Minister Serhiy Petukhov told a news conference.
Saakashvili’s representative Olena Galabala said: “If there are any questions regarding the extradition of Saakashvili, then firstly they need to let him into Ukraine and then resolve this issue. Otherwise it looks like intimidation.”
Saakashvili took power in Georgia after a peaceful pro-Western uprising, known as the Rose Revolution, in 2003. He was president at the time of a short and disastrous five-day war with Russia in 2008, a conflict that his critics argued was the result of his own miscalculations.
The 49-year-old is now wanted on four separate criminal charges in Georgia, including abuse of office, which he says were trumped up for political reasons.
Loathed by the Kremlin, Saakashvili was once a natural ally for Poroshenko after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014. But he has become one of the president’s most vocal critics casting doubt on the Western-backed authorities’ commitment to tackle entrenched corruption.
Saakashvili has accused the Ukrainian authorities of using pressure tactics to deter him from returning to Kiev, where he has launched a campaign to unseat his former ally Poroshenko.
Saakashvili’s spokeswoman and his brother, David, were both questioned by authorities at the weekend.
“In this way they’re trying to influence me to change my mind about coming back,” Saakashvili said in a post on Facebook.
“You know me very badly - this just further strengthens my resolve to defend Ukraine and Ukrainians from the dirty dealers and their lawlessness.”
Interior ministry spokesman Artem Shevchenko said David Saakashvili’s permission to reside in Ukraine had been annulled because his work permit had been withdrawn.
“We didn’t detain him. The Kiev police ensured the delivery of the Georgian citizen to the migration services,” he told news agency Interfax Ukraine.
Poroshenko’s office says Saakashvili failed to deliver change while governor of Odessa. They have also said his citizenship was withdrawn because he allegedly put false information on his registration form. Saakashvili says the decision was politically motivated.
Saakashvili last year founded a party called the Movement of New Forces, whose support is in the low single digits and which has been seeking to unite reformist opposition forces.
Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Trevelyan