Zelensky calls for jailed Mikheil Saakashvili to be sent to Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is demanding that the pro-West former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili — who’s in jail for abuse of workplace prices he denies — be sent to Ukraine for pressing medical care.

Zelensky claimed with out proof that Moscow, by way of the federal government of Georgia — the place Saakashvili served as president till 2013 — was “killing” the previous chief after video emerged of him wanting emaciated this week. Moscow has not commented on the latest allegations however has beforehand dismissed any involvement with Saakashvili as “the theater of the absurd.”

Saakashvili, in an op-ed in Politico in April, stated he’s now “dying” and has been “systematically tortured, physically and psychologically, and there is currently evidence of heavy metal poisoning in my body. I now suffer from a bewildering array of over 20 serious illnesses, all of which developed in confinement.” Calling himself a political prisoner, he obliquely blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his “current predicament” with out giving particulars.

It’s unclear why Zelensky, who has long sought the transfer of Saakashvili — a Ukrainian citizen — is dialing up his accusations now. Tbilisi has said Saakashvili is receiving medical care and isn’t a political prisoner.

Georgia, a former Soviet state, has treaded a superb line since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Its ruling Georgian Dream occasion has shut ties with Moscow and has refused to impose financial sanctions on the Kremlin, however its individuals have protested in solidarity with Ukraine and towards what many say is rising authoritarianism of their nation. Here’s what to know.

Who is Mikheil Saakashvili?

Saakashvili, 55, served as Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013. He swept to energy by means of the Rose Revolution, a pro-democratic motion that ousted the president. Saakashvili was then elected to workplace with 96 % of the vote in 2004. Educated within the United States, Saakashvili gained affect in Washington and the West whereas in energy and had aspirations for the previous Soviet nation to be part of the European Union and NATO.

In workplace, he and Putin had broadly reported private animosity after a quick, disastrous struggle with Russia in 2008, by which Tbilisi misplaced management of its South Ossetia area. Russia’s takeover has been legally acknowledged solely by a number of different international locations.

After serving two phrases, Saakashvili moved overseas in 2013, in a self-imposed exile within the United States and Europe throughout which he was hounded by allegations of corruption and warrants for his arrest. He grew to become a Ukrainian citizen in 2o15, giving up his citizenship in Georgia, which on the time didn’t enable twin citizenship. He briefly served as governor of the southern area of Odessa, in a interval when many Georgians have been sympathetic to pro-democracy actions in Ukraine, earlier than he stop.

He was stripped of that citizenship in 2017 by former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko as a part of a political feud and deported to Poland. Zelensky, Poroshenko’s successor, restored it in 2019 and appointed him to head an advisory board preventing the facility of oligarchs in Ukraine, as The Washington Post beforehand reported.

Why is Saakashvili in jail?

Saakashvili was convicted in 2018 in absentia to a six-year jail time period for abuse of energy whereas in workplace. He denies the costs, which he says are politically motivated. He was arrested after returning to Georgia to help native elections in October 2021, ending his eight-year exile. Human Rights Watch says the trial occurred exterior of worldwide authorized requirements.

In February, the European Parliament permitted a resolution 577-33 calling on Tbilisi to launch Saakashvili, noting that his “health has continued to deteriorate” and that he had “lost a substantial amount of weight.” It added that “continuing failure to improve the situation” of Saakashvili represented a “blow” to Georgia’s worldwide fame and would “hamper its European Union candidacy prospects.”

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What occurred to Saakashvili in jail?

The decision famous that the previous president went on starvation strikes whereas in jail however that a few of his medical signs have been “consistent with heavy metal poisoning while in detention, contributing to his rapidly declining health.”

Saakashvili attended a court docket look by way of videoconference Monday the place he lifted his shirt to reveal a gaunt torso to the digital camera.

Despite his modified look, he stated he felt “spiritually fit,” and a statement on his official social media accounts later stated he needed to dwell “to watch and participate in the eventual collapse of the Russian Empire.”

In February, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Georgia’s authorities of denying the previous president “adequate medical care, putting him at grave risk of death,” in a joint statement. They stated two impartial medical groups had concluded that Saakashvili “has developed a number of life-threatening health conditions while in custody” and misplaced greater than 110 kilos whereas in jail.

What has Zelensky stated about Saakashvili?

Following the court docket video, Zelensky referred to as for Saakashvili to be instantly transferred to Kyiv. In a nightly public address Monday, he blamed the Kremlin for what he termed Saakashvili’s “demonstrative execution.”

“The world once again saw how the Kremlin — unfortunately, at the hands of the current Georgian government — is killing Ukrainian citizen Mykhailo Saakashvili,” Zelensky stated, utilizing an alternate spelling. “Human life is the highest value, and we cannot allow Mykhailo to be simply killed.”

Zelensky referred to as on European governments to “save this man” and on Tbilisi to switch him to Kyiv for “the necessary treatment and care.”

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Zelensky additionally stated he had instructed Ukraine’s international minister to summon Georgia’s ambassador to Ukraine on Tuesday “to express our protest.” He would additionally give him 48 hours to go away Ukraine to “hold consultations with his capital” relating to the difficulty.

Ukraine’s international minister, Dmytro Kuleba, posted on Telegram that the summoned Georgian ambassador would face a “tough conversation” as he additionally referred to as for Saakashvili’s return.

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has referred to as for Saakashvili’s launch on well being grounds and for the Biden administration to put extra stress on Tbilisi.

Georgia’s and Russia’s international ministries didn’t instantly reply to requests from The Post. Georgian authorities have beforehand instructed rights teams that Saakashvili’s well being has deteriorated because of “self-harm” brought on by a number of starvation strikes and stated that he’s receiving sufficient medical care.

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Inna Lazareva contributed to this report.

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