On December 5th, reports were constantly coming in from Kiev on the fate of the ex-President of Georgia and ex-Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region, Mikhail Saakashvili. As is now known, Saakashvili was arrested by SBU officers only to be rescued by his supporters literally from the back of a police car. By the evening, Saakashvili was delivering a fiery speech in front of the Verkhovna Rada and calling for Poroshenko’s overthrow. Then he retired to the protest camp set up in front of the Ukrainian parliament.
On the morning of December 6th, an attempt was made to storm the protest camp and some of Saakashvili’s supporters were injured. The protesters have now reinforced the barricades and are setting up tires. Verkhovna Rada deputy Semen Semenchenko is instructing the camp’s self-defense force, while Saakashvili himself is now in Hotel Kiev with personal guards.
In order to acquire a clearer picture of the unfolding story, let us recall two facts from December 5th.
Firstly, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Yuri Lutsenko, delivered an emergency statement in the Verkhovna Rada which stated that Saakashvili and co.’s activities have been financed by representatives of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych. Saakashvili was also alleged to be supported by Sergey Kurchenko, a businessman currently in Russia. According to Lutsenko, Saakashvili has received around $500,000 from this oligarch, and Saakashvili’s main objective is a coup d’etat in Ukraine.
The second fact is that the US Embassy in Ukraine issued an official statement: “We are aware that Mr Saakashvili was detained and that protests are ongoing. We call for all sides to deescalate tensions and avoid violence. We are monitoring the situation closely and expect any investigation will be conducted expeditiously and in accordance with Ukrainian law.”
Saakashvili’s political biography is literally one of a nurtured American protege put into power, and his close ties to the American political establishment and his involvement in the war with Russia on August 8th, 2008 make allegations of him having ties to Moscow awkward and even absurd. What’s more, the content and tone of the American embassy’s statement do not suggest that we are dealing with a “pro-Russian” Saakashvili. In fact, the embassy’s statement can be seen as a demand, very similar to an ultimatum, put forth to the Ukrainian government to not harm a person who is seeking to overthrow them. Even earlier Kurt Volker made it clear that Saakashvili’s operations should be seen as aimed against corruption and as part of the democratic process in Ukraine.
Poroshenko is literally having his arms and legs tied, thus preventing him from using coercive resources to preserve his own regime.
When this article was being prepared, reports came in of a second statement by the US Embassy in Kiev calling for an objective investigation into Saakashvili’s activities that ensures his rights in accordance with Ukrainian and international law.
So the question is now: Will Poroshenko dare to defy the Americans? This is very unlikely. To reinforce this suggestion and before presenting our own forecasts, let us cite two informed people interviewed December 5th by Russia-24 channel – third convocation Verkhovna Rada deputy and head of the Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine, Vladimir Oleynik, and the ex-speaker of the parliament of Georgia, Nino Burjanadze (who knew Saakashvili very well during the “Rose Revolution”).
Both of these figures independently stated that Saakashvili and co. have the upper hand in the conflict with the Ukrainian state (the Poroshenko regime). Burjanadaze is convinced that the arrogance and audacity of Saakashvili’s actions suggest that serious forces stand behind him – probably the Americans. Otherwise, the characteristically cowardly ex-Georgian president would not have risked such an acute conflict with the regime.
Oleynik, meanwhile, citing his sources in Kiev, claimed that 100 of Saakashvili’s henchmen managed to beat back 300 officers of Ukraine’s SBU and Alpha special forces. All the while, Ukrainian law enforcement are openly afraid of using force against Saakashvili. They remember perfectly well what happened to Berkut following the confrontation on the Maidan. The victory of another “revolution of dignity” would lead them straight to the gallows.
Thus, both politicians agree that Saakashvili is winning in his confrontation with Poroshenko.
Back to Lutsenko’s speech in the Verkhovna Rada. Do Ukrainian parliamentarians believe that Saakashvili is “pro-Russian” when he was brought to Ukraine by none other than Poroshenko himself? I don’t think so. Lutsenko’s message was intended not necessarily for Ukrainian deputies, but for the Americans – “Saakashvili is not yours, he’s the Kremlin’s.” With this message, Lutsenko is counting on the naïveté of American diplomats.
But Poroshenko and co. have nothing left at their disposal. Their room for maneuver is extremely limited beyond either watching as Saakashvili prepares a coup or trying to disobey the Americans. Both options could be fatal.
I see two possible scenarios for the Ukrainian government. The most likely is a return to the status quo before the attempt to arrest Saakashvili. In this case, Saakashvili will be left physically alone and will be simply methodically bombarded with menacing verbal threats (such as how Lutsenko demanded yesterday that he turn himself into the police) and a campaign to discredit him as a Kremlin puppet. This scenario, however, is only tactical and runs the risk of simply letting Saakashvili prepare a government overthrow in the center of Kiev under the guise of a “legal” protest.
The second possible scenario is the physical elimination of Saakashvili by an unknown sniper. This was almost the case with ex-President Viktor Yanukovych when he fled Ukraine. Then Saakashvili’s murder would be blamed on the “hand of the Kremlin.” This scenario has two drawbacks: the invoked wrath of the Americans and the unlikelihood of Kiev managing to cover up all the traces of the murder. Post-Maidan Ukraine’s experience shows that it is not too capable of hiding its dark secrets.
Nevertheless, I do believe that the second option is, in the very least, feasible. I would thus give a 70% chance estimate to the first and 30% to the second scenario. Time will tell Saakashvili’s fate.
Originally published on fort-russ.com