Saakashvili’s allies also want to know who is financing his party and protests
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko commented today for the first time on Mikhail Saakashvili’s brief arrest. According to him, he is shocked by what happened in the center of Kiev.
“The army doesn’t hold the front in order for the enemy to operate deep in the rear. We are ignoring this crowd of Moscow-financed riff-raff, and I feel society’s support in this,” Poroshenko said.
What is Saakashvili accused of?
On 5 December in Kiev, employees of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office together with the Security Service detained former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on the roof of an eight-story building on Kostelnaya Street. They were unable to take him as prisoner however, as his supporters blocked the law enforcement officers’ vehicle and released the former governor of the Odessa region.
Saakashvili is accused of aiding members of a criminal organization, as well as supporting criminal activities to damage the interests of the state. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko presented audio and video recordings which he said prove that Saakashvili received over USD 300 thousand from Sergei Kurchenko. Kurchenko, a supporter of former President Viktor Yanukovych is now wanted by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and hiding in Russia.
According to Lutsenko, law enforcement is ‘doing everything’ to get Saakashvili to appear before the organs of justice. The Prosecutor’s Office has declared Saakashvili a wanted man. As Lutsenko spoke of this, Saakashvili was a mere hundred meters away from him.
What evidence is there?
According to Lutsenko the Saakashvili case was investigated by the Ukrainian Security Service. Saakashvili and his associates’ phones were tapped. On one recording which the counterintelligence service listened to, investigators believe Saakashvili spoke to Sergei Kurchenko.
The Ukrainian Special Services recruited a man who was an intermediary between Saakashvili and Kurchenko. He was supposed to transfer money to one of Saakashvili’s allies, Severiru Dangadze, leader of a branch of Saakashvili’s ‘Movement of New Forces’ party.
Lutsenko claims that Saakashvili received money from Kurchenko twice: first on 10 November and then again on 19 November. He has shown video recordings of these meetings, but the court still needs to prove their authenticity.
After receiving the information SBU detained Dangadze on 4 December. Late that night, a joint meeting between the SBU and the Prosecutor’s Office was held where they decided that they had had enough evidence to arrest Saakashvili. An operation was planned at the same meeting. Early in the morning of 5 December, special forces moved in on Saakashvili’s home.
The Ministry knew nothing about the operation. A source involved in the operation told Gromadsky that this was done to avoid any information leaks.
Saakashvili didn’t open his door. It took Special Forces about half an hour to break it down, but Saakashvili wasn’t inside. He had climbed out a window and onto the roof where he shouted to neighbors to call the police.
While events were unfolding on Kostelnaya Street, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General went to the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) to present evidence against Saakashvili.
Lutsenko told deputies that they had detained two couriers who received one and a half million dollars from Kurchenko which was supposed to be delivered to Saakashvili supporters.
The Prosecutor General said that this money was intended to help Saakashvili organize protests, and in return he had to ensure the interests of one of Kurchenko’s criminal organizations.
Lutsenko also said that law enforcement agencies have records of Saakashvili supporters receiving half a million dollars from Russia (part of the promised one and a half million).
According to the Prosecutor General, special services controlled the transfer and recorded the numbers of the banknotes.
“We were able to eliminate the danger of the situation escalating to the point of bloodshed. I think the SBU should be thanked first and foremost for calming the streets of Kiev and neutralizing Moscow’s plan for a ‘Russian Winter’ in Kiev,” Lutsenko said.
What was the reaction to the accusations?
Saakashvili has adamantly denied the charges against him.
“I don’t give a damn what Lutsenko said. They are lying bastards,” Saakashvili told Gromadsky.
Everything isn’t so simple though. It’s not only law enforcement agencies that are demanding a concrete response from Saakashvili, but also his own associates and allies.
In October, Deputy Mustafa Nayem stood next to Saakashvili at a protest in front of the Rada. He is one of those deputies that Ukraine considers a Euro-optimist – who is loyal to Saakashvili (they aren’t necessarily members of his party, and often don’t agree with his fighting methods, but sympathize with him in many matters).
Nayem wrote on his Facebook page that ignoring Lutsenko’s accusations is wrong:
“Ignoring the accusations made by the Prosecutor’s Office today is not the solution. It’s possible that the materials promoted by Yuri Lutsenko are fabricated. But ‘financing from Kurchenko’ is a case where one does not want to just guess. Was Dangadze one of Mikhail’s confidants? Did he or his associates have contact with Sergei Kurchenko? Has the Saakashvili team received support from the Russian Federation? Silence, slogans, and evasive answers are unacceptable. In a war with Russia, any unanswered questions, suspicions or facts that cannot be explained could be deadly.”
Borislav Bereza, another deputy, wrote:
“Some of the ex-Georgian president’s colleagues, realizing that something smelled fishy, asked him via Facebook to respond to these accusations. Tell us, Mikhail Nikolozovich Saakashvili, where did you get the money to finance your political force? …Wasn’t it of interest before? Wasn’t how much food costs in the tent camp near VR a concern? How much does it cost to heat tents around the clock? It would be very interesting to hear answers to all these questions, and not more hysterics implying that those who ask these questions are mercenaries of the oligarchs… Everyone is waiting for names and numbers. Even those who, until recently, stood on stage with Saakashvili, happily supporting his actions, are waiting.”
Mikhail Pogrebinsky, a political analyst and head of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflict Studies said that authorities are fighting with Saakashvili like they would a political opponent:
“I can’t imagine how Saakashvili could get money from Yanukovych. The authorities are fighting their political opponent. These people have no confidence in society, just like Saakashvili himself. They are on the same level of distrust. But the mood of opposition in Kiev is strong. It’s necessary to understand how much of the data Lutsenko provided is fictitious. Clearly Saakashvili can’t be accused of taking money. Many of Poroshennko’s friends and current authorities take money from anyone, but everyone turns a blind eye… They want to punish Saakashvili for trying to arrange a coup d’état. Hilarious! I think that Mikhail isn’t facing real time. He will at most be put under house arrest so he doesn’t drag people to the streets.”
Saakashvili is refusing to go to the Prosecutor’s Office, calling instead for investigators to come to him in the tent camp in front of the Rada in order to interrogate him.
“But we’re being patient. Regardless of how much rope is laid out, it will still lead investigators to him. That’s for sure,” Lutsenko responded.
Reactions of Western politicians
“We are carefully following the situation… We have good relations with Ukrainian authorities, but this doesn’t mean we agree with everything they do,” said Heather Nauert, a representative of the US State Department.
Former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul wrote on twitter:
“Of course I expect to hear more facts in the accusations against Saakashvili, but how the Ukrainian government coped (with the accusations) today was obviously not very good.”
Carl Bildt, former Swedish Foreign Minister and politician who supported EuroMaidan criticized the Ukrainian authorities even more harshly:
“The news from Ukraine makes you think. Political arrests would radically undermine the authority of Western countries. This is a security issue in the end.”
Another one of Bildt’s tweets:
“Detaining Saakashvili because he is some sort of Russian agent looks very amateur. Who believes this story?”
Saakashvili and his supporters are again in their ‘tent city’ around the Rada, which has been standing there since October.
Law enforcement began an assault at 7 o’clock in the morning, attempting to remove the tents, but quickly retreated. Several people were injured as a result of the clash.