By Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams
KIEV (Reuters) – Former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili is set for a triumphant return to Ukraine on Wednesday a year after being deported in a feud with former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.
One of the most recognisable politicians in the post-Soviet world, Saakashvili had been brought in by Poroshenko to be governor of the southern Odessa region in 2015. They fell out and Saakashvili accused Poroshenko of corruption.
While the 51-year-old has announced he would stay out of politics, the timing of Saakashvili’s return means he could be a thorn in Poroshenko’s side as Poroshenko’s party gears up to fight a snap parliamentary election in July.
“Revenge is not my style – I am focused on the future,” Saakashvili told the news channel 112 on Tuesday. “I have no political ambitions,” he said, adding he’d come back because he missed Kiev, Odessa and borsch, a traditional beetroot soup.
Saakashvili, who said on his Facebook page that he would be flying in from Poland, was hired to run Odessa based on his track record of fighting corruption as president of Georgia after the 2003 Rose Revolution.
He resigned as governor in 2016 as his feud with Poroshenko escalated. Since then he has mainly been living in the Netherlands, his wife’s country of origin.
Poroshenko rejected Saakashvili’s corruption allegations and said he was trying to deflect attention from his poor performance as governor.
The Ukrainian authorities stripped Saakashvili of his citizenship when he was abroad but he barged his way through a checkpoint at the Polish border to get back into Ukraine in September 2017. He was deported five months later.
Saakashvili is now able to return after the new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who defeated Poroshenko by a landslide in last month’s presidential election, restored his citizenship.
An actor and comedian with no prior political experience, Zelenskiy won the presidency promising to fight entrenched corruption and to upend the political status quo.
On his inauguration day last week, Zelenskiy called a snap parliamentary election in July that will give him the chance to win seats for his new Servant of the People party.
“Saakashvili is due to return today, and I am sure he will unleash the dogs of political war on Poroshenko, and Ukraine’s old political elites,” said Timothy Ash at Blue Bay Asset Management.
“Presumably Zelenskiy thinks this will play well in the run up to parliamentary elections and buoy support for his Servant of the People party. There will be a lot of people very nervous now about Saakashvili’s return to Ukraine later today.”
(Editing by Stephen Powell)