Michael McFaul: "Now is the time for a worldwide campaign for the release of Saakashvili"
Michael McFaul on Saakashvili
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and a coordinator of the international working group on Russian sanctions set up by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, U.S. diplomat Michael McFaul, published his opinion on former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in The Washington Post, wherein he calls on Biden and European leaders to demand Saakashvili be saved.
In a piece entitled “The world must not let Georgia’s ex-president die in prison,” McFaul also writes that while the world is rightly focused on Vladimir Putin’s barbaric war in Ukraine, the Russian leader is pushing his own destabilizing, anti-democratic agenda around the world, including in small but strategically important Georgia, located between Russia and Turkey.
McFaul also says that:
● Saakashvili is being tormented in prison – according to some reports, he is close to death. The Biden administration and its allies must not allow this to happen. It’s time for a worldwide campaign to free Saakashvili in his homeland.
● In 2003, Saakashvili led the peaceful Rose Revolution that toppled a regime infamous for its corruption. As in all revolutions, the Rose Revolution also had controversial moments. In an effort to strengthen state power and tackle widespread corruption, Saakashvili sometimes violated the norms of democracy, but Georgia’s overall democratic course was never questioned during that era.
● Saakashvili and his team carried out one of the largest administrative and economic reforms in the post-Soviet world.
● Some of the methods used during the Rose Revolution were successfully replicated a year later in Ukraine. President George W. Bush developed a close personal relationship with Saakashvili, and one of the main streets in the center of Tbilisi was named after the President of the United States.
- Two actions in support of Saakashvili held in Tbilisi
- What is Georgia’s ex-president tried for?
- Will the President of Georgia pardon Saakashvili?
● Joe Biden, as Vice President, admired the Georgian leader.
● Successful Georgian democracy on Russia’s southern flank was anathema to Putin and he was determined to thwart Saakashvili. The Russian president especially did not appreciate his statements about Georgia joining NATO.
● Putin feared color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine because they threatened the legitimacy and stability of his autocracy in Russia. In August 2008, Putin revealed his intentions by invading Georgia. This was followed by recognition of two occupied regions of the country as independent states, and, consequently, the freezing of negotiations of Georgia’s membership in NATO.
● As Russian tanks were heading towards Tbilisi, some advised Saakashvili to run. President Saakashvili chose to stay, as Volodymyr Zelenskyy did last year in Ukraine.
● Putin and his puppets soon figured out how to use democratic institutions to bring Russian supporters to power, led by Putin’s alleged top representative in Georgia, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili (who made his fortune in Russia, not Georgia).
● Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream party succeeded in draining the power and independence of political parties, civil society and the press, which dramatically weakened democracy in the country.
● [Saakashvili] Returned in 2021. It was a mistake. The government quickly arrested him on charges of “abuse of power” and he has been in custody ever since. His legal team recently released a medical report suggesting he may have been poisoned.
● President Biden, in close cooperation with other European democratic leaders, should immediately put forward a demand to save Saakashvili. Biden and others should call on Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili to pardon Saakashvili on humanitarian grounds and allow him to receive medical treatment abroad, a measure already requested by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which also declared Saakashvili a political prisoner.
● Saakashvili’s death in prison would be a victory for Putin and a blow to Georgian democracy. No one understands this better than Zelenskyy, who last month urged the Georgian government to “show mercy” by releasing the ex-president.
● Zelenskyy did the right thing, and the United States and the European Union should follow suit. The free world has come together to defend democracy in Ukraine. The same should happen in the case of Georgia.
- Global rally in support of Saakashvili at Georgian embassies announced
- “Georgian government is responsible for Saakashvili’s health” – US State Department