Following months of rising tension between the Ukrainian government and former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has finally resulted in Saakashvili’s deportation from Ukraine which spurred a massive backlash from his supporters who are calling for Saakashvili’s former ally Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s resignation.
Following a Ukrainian court ruling that Saakashvili was residing in the country illegally, Ukrainian Immigration officials informed Saakashvili on 12 February that he was going to be deported back to Poland. The courts had ruled that Saakashvili had illegally crossed to Ukraine on 19 September 2017 after the Ukrainian government had stripped him of his citizenship while he was travelling abroad. Earlier in the day on 12 February Saakashvili supporters posted a video which allegedly showed unidentified men in camouflage detain Saakashvili in a Kiev restaurant. Saakashvili’s lawyer, Ruslan Chornolutsky has called the incident a kidnapping rather than a detainment. It was reported that Saakashvili was thrown into a van and then transported from Kiev to Warsaw via helicopter. Polish authorities confirmed on 12 February that Saakashvili had been admitted into Poland at the request Ukrainian immigration authorities. In an interview with Polish Radio RMF FM, Saakashvili confirmed that he had been deported to Poland and that Polish authorities were treating him well. Saakashvili, through a Facebook statement, called the deportation illegal and said that the deportation has shown Poroshenko’s weakness and then called Poroshenko “a sneaky speculator who wants to destroy Ukraine.”
After the deportation on 12 February, thousands of Saakashvili’s supporters took the streets to protest the deportation and also demanded the impeachment of Poroshenko. Ukrainian police estimated that 3,000 protesters were in attendance while non-governmental sources claim as many as 10,000 protesters were in attendance Protesters carried banners with a red line drawn over Poroshenko’s face and chanted “impeachment”, “resignation” and “Poroshenko is a thief.” It was also reported that Ukrainian authorities shut down nine metro stations in central Kiev due to bomb alerts. However, claims have been made that the closures were to prevent other demonstrators from joining the protests.
On February 14 It was reported that Saakashvili had travelled from Poland to the Netherlands and to apply for Dutch residency. Saakashvili is married to a Dutch national. Oscar Hammerstein, another lawyer representing Saakashvili, said that the request had been arranged and approved by Dutch authorities. It was also reported that the Dutch justice ministry in 2017 made it known that they were willing to help Saakashvili and allow him to stay in the country on the basis of family reunification.
On 29 May 2015 Poroshenko granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship and then on 30 May 2015 Poroshenko appointed Saakashvili as Governor of Odessa Oblast. Relations soured between the two when Saakashvili resigned from his position on 7 November 2016 and joined the opposition against Poroshenko. Saakashvili accused Poroshenko of obstructing his attempts at government reform, fighting corruption and that the Ukrainian government lacked commitment to reform. Saakashvili has faced multiple criminal investigations and has been arrested by Ukrainian authorities multiple times. On 5 January A Georgian court sentenced Saakashvili in absentia to three years in prison for seeking to cover up evidence about the murder of a Georgian banker when he was president – a verdict which he denounced as illegal. Saakashvili has also been accused of abusing his power during his time as Georgian president.
An international team of prosecutors investigating the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014 released its findings on 28 September, stating that the missile, which downed the plane “came from Russia.”
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which has been investigating the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine and which includes prosecutors from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, disclosed Wednesday that the Buk missile that hit the plane was transported from Russia. According to chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen, “based on the criminal investigation, we have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 that came from the territory of the Russian Federation.” He added that the missile launcher, which fired one missile from the village of Pervomaysk, was later taken back to Russia. During a news conference, prosecutors played recordings from intercepted phone calls. They further stated that witnesses reported seeing the missile launcher move from Russia into Ukraine and presented pictures and videos, adding that the launch site was pinpointed by “many witnesses.” Prosecutors noted however that it was not clear whether an order had been given for fighters to launch the missile or whether they had acted independently. The investigative team has identified 100 people who were described as being of interest to them however they have not yet formally identified individual suspects.
An earlier inquiry by the Dutch Safety Board concluded that a Russian-made Buk missile had hit the plane. The Safety Board (DSB) report disclosed in October 2015 that the missile was fired from a 320 square kilometre area southeast of where the plane came down, with the head of the DSB disclosing that the area was under rebel control.
Pro-Russian rebels have been blamed by Ukraine and the West for shooting down the plane. At the time of the incident, Ukrainian government forces were involved in heavy fighting with pro-Russian separatists. Wednesday’s findings will challenge Moscow’s suggestion that the plane was brought by the Ukrainian military. In the past, Russia has denied any involvement, including allegations that the Buk missile launcher had come from Russian territory. Repeating those details on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “first-hand radar data identified all flying objects, which could have been launched or were in the air over the territory controlled by rebels at the moment,” adding that “the data are clear-cut…there is no rocket. If there was a rocket, it could only have been fired from elsewhere.” Investigators have noted that they did not have access to the new radar images on which Moscow was basing its latest statements. Separatist rebels have also denied their involvement. Eduard Basurin, military deputy operational commander at the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, told Interfax news agency, “we never had such air defense systems, not the people who could operate them…Therefore we could not have shot down the Boeing (flight MH17).”
After the attack, the European Union (EU) and the United States extended sanctions on Russia that had been initially introduced after the Ukraine conflict began. Earlier this week, Russia produced radar images, which it argued depicted that the plane could not have come from rebel-held areas. Critics however have pointed out that Russian officials have given three versions of events since the plane was shot down over two years ago.
All 298 people on board the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 died when the plane broke apart in mid-air while it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Most of those on board were Dutch citizens.
Ukraine’s security service reported this month that it had blocked channels that were being used by jihadists travelling to fight with the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and neighbouring Iraq, adding that they detained an ‘IS recruiter’ from one of the former Soviet republics.
In a statement, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) disclosed that “the Ukrainian security service, prosecutor’s office, police and migration service have blocked several channels for the transit of foreign fighters to the IS international terrorist group throughout state’s territory,” adding that the discovery was made in a wave of security sweeps that were carried out across several major cities in the country. The SBU further reported that an apartment in the government-held northeastern city of Kharkiv was being used as a temporary shelter by alleged IS members who intended to travel to both Syria and Iraq. The statement says that “this ‘transit point’ had four nationals from Asian states,” adding, “two of them had been earlier deported from Turkey in connection with their involvement in terrorist activity.” The SBU also disclosed that they held several fake passports from various countries and that two of them had been waiting to receive forged Ukrainian documents so that they could enter Syria through Turkey. The Ukrainian service indicated that the four were being financed and assisted by foreign countries, however they did not reveal which ones, adding, “two of the foreigners have already been expelled from the territory of our state…Investigations into the other two are continuing.”
The SBU also disclosed that it had also detained an “IS recruiter from one of the former Soviet republics that was being sought by Interpol” pan-European police organization. It reported that security agents had detained another “IS supporter” in the Kiev region who had undergone training in “Syrian terrorist camps.” The individual, who has not been named, is facing a court hearing and has not yet been charged.
In January and June the SBU disclosed that it detained four alleged IS fighters headed for Europe from Central Asia and Russia.
Ukraine has been riven by a 27-month pro-Moscow insurgency in its industrial east that has claimed the lives of more than 9,500 people and left around 400 kilometres (250 miles) of its southeastern border with Russia under rebel control. Ukraine’s security service has been under increasing pressure to show its strength as the pro-Western government in Kiev ties to meet President Petro Poroshenko’s pledge to apply for EU membership by 2020. Some EU nations and leaders however have called the bid far too optimistic as Ukraine not only lacks control of its separatist east and the Russian-annexed Crimea peninsula, but it also remains riddled with other security threats. This includes what appears to be the increasing use of Ukraine and its porous borders to ship IS fighters to stage attacks in Europe or to joint he group in Syria and Iraq.
The European Union (EU) has extended for another year the sanctions, which it imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
In mid-June, the 28 EU member states renewed a ban on economic ties with Crimean businesses, which include a block on EU tourism and investment in the Black Sea peninsula. Other EU sanctions target top Russian officials over the Ukraine insurgency.
The annexation, which occurred after pro-Russian forces seized Ukrainian bases in Crimea and then held a referendum, drew international condemnation. While Crimea has a Russian-speaking majority, the referendum was organized by the new authorities and was deemed illegal by the West. After the Crimea annexation, pro-Russian insurgents seized power in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine in April 2014. The EU, United States and some other countries then ratcheted up their sanctions against Russia.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia retained control of the important Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol. However Ukraine had control of the rest of Crimea until the 2014 crisis.
Oleg Kalashnikov, a former Ukraine deputy and a member of Party of Regions was shot dead in Kiev at the entrance of his apartment on 15 April. According to the Interior Ministry’s statement, police are investigating his death as a murder. Kalashnikov had participated in protests in support of the pro-Moscow former President Yanukovych. This incident is the latest in a series of deaths involving allies of deposed President Yanukovych. Seven other Ukrainian officials died under mysterious circumstances this year. According to the Ukrainian authorities, all of them took their own lives in the past weeks, something that has raised many suspicions. These suspicions are encouraged since the deaths took place in a really short timeframe, targeting people that were associated with ex-President Yanukovych and under mysterious circumstances with the majority of the victims being under investigation by the Ukrainian authorities.
The first in the line of these deaths was Oleksiy Kolesnyk, ex-head of Kharkiv’s regional government, who was found hanged on January 29. It was followed by Serhiy Valter, who was a major in the south-eastern city of Melitopol, and was found hanged on February 25. Similarly to Chechetov that was killed only three days later, he had been accused of abuse of office and he was under investigation. Oleksandr Bordyuh, a former police deputy chief in Melitopol connected to Mr Valter, was also found dead at his home the next day. Similarly, Mykhaylo Chechetov, who was the deputy chairman for the Party of the Regions, died after he allegedly jumped from a window in his 17th-floor flat on February 28. The authorities claimed that he left a suicide note. He was one of the most prominent politicians under Yanukovych’s rule. Before his death he was accused by the new government of abuse of office and fraud and he was under investigation. He had been arrested a few days earlier as part of the investigation against him related to a series of laws passed in a controversial vote in January 2014 to crack down on the massive Maidan protests. He was suspected that he falsified the results of the vote. He paid bail and went home on February 23. Several hours before his death, Ukraine’s prosecutor general told the local media that new charges were being prepared against him. Only nine days later, Stanislav Melnyk’s death followed. He was an ex-MP in Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and the manager of several businesses in the separatist-minded eastern city of Donesk, and he was found dead by his wife in his bathroom on March 9. The authorities reported that they retrieved a suicide note that was asking for forgiveness. He was also under investigation and was facing charges of abuse of power.
In the next couple of days, Oleksandr Peklushenko, a Ukrainian former regional governor and an ally of the ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych, was found dead on March 12. According to the Ukrainian authorities, he was shot in the neck and police claimed that initial enquires point to suicide. Peklushenko was the governor of the southern region of Zaporizhzhya from 2011 to 2014. He was suspected of arranging for demonstrators to be dispersed by pro-government thugs at the height of the protests against Yanukovych’s rule in January 2014, and he was facing charges of abuse of power. Sergei Melnychuk, who was a prosecutor in the southern port town of Odessa died ten days later on March 22. Police initially claimed that it was a suicide. But it soon emerged that alarmed neighbors had called the police after they heard noises that indicated a struggle coming from his house. Pathologists found that he had been badly beaten before he fell from his ninth-floor balcony. The same day, Odessa prosecutors registered his death as murder instead of police’s claims for his death being a suicide. They arrested a former police officer who they described only as ‘’citizen K’’.
On top of these deaths two other incidents were added to this puzzle. The first one concerned Yanukovych’s 33-year-old son who was found dead after his car apparently fell through ice on Russia’s Lake Baikal on March 20. The second and most recent one concerns the death of the journalist Oles Buzyna, who was widely known for his pro-Russian views. He was gunned down by masked assailants in a drive-by shooting, just one day after Kalashnikov was shot dead on April 16.
Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, dormant since his deposition, said in a statement that the death of Peklushenko and others was a consequence of ‘’political reprisals’’ by the new government, accusing it of employing terror practices against its opponents. The Opposition Bloc, the country’s major opposition party, also shares the same opinion calling these deaths as ‘’bloody terror against opposition politicians and journalists’’. Despite Kiev’s rejection of the allegations that claim that these incidents are connected, there have been calls for a thorough probe that will help extinguish any lingering suspicions that these top figures of the previous regime are being extrajudicially punished. The Ukrainian judicial authorities seem to endorse the government’s opinion that these deaths may be motivated by ‘’fear of being held responsible’’ since they were under investigation.
Police were initially quick to classify the majority of these deaths as suicides. However, in recent weeks and in the absence of credible investigations and the rapid succession of the deaths within the wider context of Ukraine’s political situation, there have been suspicions that some of these deaths were politically-motivated killings, since the majority of the deaths took place amid mysterious circumstances and there were open investigation queries against these political figures.