Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili today led a demonstration against members of Ukraine’s ruling elite and their failure to tackle systematic corruption and reform the country’s institutions.
During the protest, which took place in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, police clashed with Saakashvil’s supporters, who shouted slogans against President Petro Poroshenko as they attempted to gain access to the city’s international arts centre.
Officers forced protesters back with tear gas as they tried to enter the October Palace during the latest standoff linked to Saakashvil’s ongoing feud with Ukraine’s rulers.
Police said demonstrators, who had gathered in Kiev’s central Maidan square to hear speakers denounce Poroshenko and his allies, threw missiles as they attempted to enter the arts centre, where hundreds of people were enjoying a performance.
Saakashvili is said to have encouraged his supporters to seize the theatre and use it as a headquarters for their protest movement.
Speaking later, Saakashvili denied this version of events, and claim the violence was triggered as a result of the behaviour of the security services.
He said protesters were told they could use two rooms of the theatre building as a base for their demonstration, but were met with heavily-armed police who blocked their entry and provoked the ensuing clashes.
On realising what was happening, Saakashvili said he immediately instructed his supporters to pull back, claiming he is committed to peaceful protest and the avoidance of bloodshed.
Saakashvili has previously called for the resignation of Poroshenko, who he said would have been delighted that the protest descended into violence, but has recently shifted focus to lobby for the creation of a special anti-corruption court and new legislation that would allow for the impeachment of the president.
Taking to Facebook, interior ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko said Saakashvili was responsible for the demonstration resulting in violence, posting: “Despite all the provocations as a result of which Mikheil Saakashvili wants to spill the blood of Ukrainians, he has not succeeded.”
Nobody was seriously hurt during the clashes.
Saakashvili was once a close ally of Poroshenko, who gave the former Georgian leader Ukrainian citizenship so as he could be appointed as governor of Odessa region in 2015.
The two men fell out dramatically the following year when Saakashvili resigned from the post after failing to rid Odessa of corruption and organised crime, blaming Poroshenko personally for offering tacit support to the clans controlling the area.
Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship in July last year, prompting the third President of Georgia to double down on his campaign to channel widespread public frustration at deepening poverty across the country into a movement focussed on ending systemic corruption in Ukraine.