Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Photo: VOA
In an interview with Voice of America’s Ia Meurmishvili former Governor of Odessa and former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili shared his views on the circumstances and reasons behind his becoming effectively stateless. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship on July 26, less than three years after Saakashvili gave up his Georgian citizenship to serve as a governor of Odessa.
Below is a transcript, edited for clarity and length.
Ia Meurmishvili anchors VOA’s weekly show Washington Today and can be followed on Twitter @iameurmishvili or on Facebook.
Why do you think President Poroshenko stripped you of your Ukrainian citizenship?
I think there is no secret for any Ukrainian who has an impartial view of what is going on. It was a blatant attempt by the President to get rid of one of the main political opponents inside the country. It is a very Soviet behavior, very much reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s actions – first deprive somebody of the citizenship, than declare them crazy, and criminal.
It’s a pity. We are talking about the post-Maidan President of Ukraine, and a hero who gave rise to so many expectations… who miserably failed them.
You were his ally not too long ago and now you are comparing him to a Soviet leader?
Yes. He was an ally of 54 percent of Ukrainians, but look at his opinion polls right now. They are in single digits and diminishing even more. This is a person who deceived everybody he could deceive. He failed any expectations he could fail. It is very sad. I do not rejoice it. We are talking about the country that is fighting. I do not know how Ukraine can recover from this.
What do you make of the timing of this decision?
They waited until I was out of the country. Now they are saying that there is some criminal case against me and that there should be an extradition. If they wanted to extradite me they could have tried that case when I was inside the country. They should have gone through a judicial process with legal foundation. However, a legal foundation requires a legal procedure, which involves notifying the person, going through the process. If somebody needs to be jailed, jail him. If somebody needs to be extradited, extradite him, going through the courts. That is how the rule of law functions.
What we are seeing here is not the rule of law. We are seeing a miserable combination of scared President and his oligarchic friends, who are very annoyed with what I was doing. This is basically a conspiracy, and a plot to get rid of a political opponent. It has nothing to do with actions of a strong government.
Your party was created fairly recently. Do you think you have a kind of support from the Ukrainian people that Poroshenko thinks of you as a main opponent?
I certainly have a support. Recent polls say that I am clearly the most popular and most trustworthy politician in Ukraine. It is also very important what Mustafa Nayyem (Ukrainian MP) said, that I am the loudest voice of the Ukrainian opposition. That is what really counts - the loudest voice. Not that I am trying to be loud, but circumstances force us to be loud, they force us to go out of our way and help the struggling nation. I have this obligation towards the Ukrainian people not to stay silent. I will not stay silent and I will continue to fight.
In your video address, you mentioned that you would continue fighting for your legitimate right to return to Ukraine. How are you going to fight?
I am fighting every day. I am talking to you. I talk to multiple Ukrainian journalists and think tanks. I am trying to help the Ukrainian nation, the people of Ukraine. I have seen so much suffering, so much deprivation because of selfishness, greed, immorality of the ruling political class. How can I not try to help? This is my natural instinct. That has nothing to do with my political aspirations or ambitions. Of course, I might have ambitions, but that is secondary.
You said that by stripping you of your citizenship, President Poroshenko violated the constitution of Ukraine, as well as the international law. How so?
They violated the Constitution of Ukraine because it forbids the President to deprive anyone of their citizenship. They are calling it stopping the citizenship, but whatever you call it is against the Constitution. They also violated the 1961 Convention on Reducing Statelessness in the World. They referred to some legal foundations. However, any legal foundation would require legal process, but there was no legal process. Another thing is that they showed some document, which is fake. They showed a signature, which is not mine. It is very easy to verify.
Are you saying it is not the same document you submitted?
Of course not. The documents that I filed were not shown. We are demanding for them to be shown, because we need to show that everything was done legally. But the fact that they are showing this document is a clear, and blatant desire to do something very illegal. We are talking about forgery here.
Do you by any chance have a copy of your initial application?
I happened to trust people. I have filed so many documents in my life. I do not keep copies. I trust the state institutions. I trust people that they would do their jobs fairly.
Ukrainian government is saying that you did not indicate in your application that there were legal proceedings against you in Georgia. That is the reason they used to strip you of your citizenship. In the paperwork that you signed, did you indicate that there was a legal process underway against you?
I indicated everything rightfully. But that issue is not relevant. Nobody in the world recognizes those charges as legal. Even if they had been true - which they are not - they could not have deprived me of my citizenship. For an excuse, they produced that forgery. It is no longer a question if they acted legally. It is rather a matter that they acted criminally. The President based his decision on fake documents. This means that either the President is a criminal, or somebody else who is close to the President. That is something that people need to know. We have a clear criminal forgery. It is a clear violation of the law.
Are you basically accusing the President of Ukraine of committing a crime?
I see what I see. The President published a decree based on a fake document. He also published it in violation of the law, which forbids publishing personal data. Wherever they go, they violate every possible law. They do it secretly without a legal process. This is a serious stuff. If the President’s office can be so openly forging documents, it rings a very alarming bell.
There is also a moral side to this. He is acting like a coward. If he wanted to do it, they could have done it when I was in Ukraine.
Poroshenko visited Tbilisi a week before he made a decision revoking your citizenship. During his trip, he discussed the issue of your extradition to Georgia with media and Georgian officials. That makes me think that you probably thought that after his return to Ukraine your status in Ukraine may be in jeopardy. Did that calculation have anything to do with you leaving for the United States?
No. I travel all the time. The threat to citizenship has been there forever. I got used to it. Frankly, I did not think that he would do it so brutally immediately after coming back from Tbilisi.
Do you think there is a connection between this trip and his decision?
He did it two days before I was going back. He knew when I was going back to Ukraine. I had openly scheduled events in Ukraine related to my party. They did not want to confront me directly while looking into my eyes. They should have done it when I was in the country, not when I was safely far away in the United States. This way it only has one meaning – please do not come back to Ukraine. That is the prize I am not going to give them.
Do you have any legal status in the U.S.?
No. I have a legal visa in the U.S., a work visa.
Can I ask when it expires?
I think somewhere within the next year or so. I obtained it a few years ago when I worked here in D.C.
Do you have a green card from the U.S.?
No. I could have done it. I was offered to do it, but I did not want to take it. I obviously have a tourist visa. And, that is it. I never had any intention to stay in the U.S. and I am not intending to stay in the U.S. now. I love to visit the U.S. I love this country. Here I feel at home, but my home is Georgia and Ukraine for sure.
If you find a way to go back to Ukraine, are you concerned that you would be extradited to Georgia?
The Oligarchs would do just about anything. But that does not mean that we should give them a free pass to do whatever they want to do. That is my position. I want them to understand that we are not scared.
Are you considering taking a Dutch citizenship?
No. If I had wanted a Dutch citizenship, I would have taken it a long time ago. On the contrary, my wife is now a Georgian citizen. My kids are Georgian. Formally, I am not, but of course, I am in real terms. This thing will never be on the table for me.
The material was prepared for Civil.ge by the Voice of America. In order to license this and other content free of charge, please contact Adam Gartner.