Saakashvili Faces Criminal Probe After Illegal Ukraine Entry

(Bloomberg) -- Ex-Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili is facing a criminal probe after illegally entering Ukraine, though President Petro Poroshenko risks emboldening opposition forces by prosecuting his former ally.

Police are investigating after Saakashvili, who wants to challenge the revocation of his Ukrainian passport in July that left him stateless, and his supporters broke through a cordon on the country’s western border with Poland on Sunday. More than two dozen Ukrainian lawmakers and politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, traveled to join him. Police say scuffles injured several border servicemen.

Saakashvili Faces Criminal Probe After Illegal Ukraine Entry

“The violent breach of Ukraine’s border is a crime and those linked to it must bear responsibility,” Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman said Monday on Facebook. “I urge lawmakers and politicians not to whip up destruction and chaos.”

Saakashvili, 49, cuts a divisive figure in the politics of the former Soviet Union, battling corruption as president of his native Georgia before a five-day war with Russia and an eventual election defeat that prompted him to flee probes by the new administration. Drafted in by Poroshenko to tackle graft following Ukraine’s second pro-European revolution in a decade, the two men later fell out as Saakashvili sought to become a political force in his own right.

Saakashvili, who says his passport is still valid, was welcomed Sunday evening by the mayor of the western city of Lviv, having earlier failed to enter Ukraine by train. His supporters helped him breach the border at the Shehyni checkpoint, disembarking a bus before walking across neutral territory in the crossing zone and overpowering guards. His current whereabouts aren’t known.

Anti-Establishment ‘Battle’

Saakashvili quit as governor of the Black Sea Odessa region in 2016, accusing Poroshenko of contributing to corruption. He’s said the party he created will compete in elections in 2019, though it’s backed by less than 5 percent of voters. The party’s profile picture on Facebook shows Saakashvili face-to-face with Poroshenko in a golden king’s crown and calls for a “battle” against the system.

“The situation poses a dilemma for the authorities, as prosecuting Saakashvili and his supporters for crossing the border by force threatens to provoke a stronger backlash,” investment bank Dragon Capital said in a research note. “Ukraine’s divided opposition parties may now find a common platform to continue to press for early elections.”

Saakashvili now faces arrest and potential deportation to Georgia, where he’s wanted on charges including abuse of office. His lawyer, Markiyan Halabala, said he’s asked Ukraine’s State Migration Service to block extradition on the grounds that he won’t get a fair trial at home.