'Inevitable' Ukraine victory to reshape region: Georgia's Saakashvili
published : 21 Mar 2023 at 22:45
TBILISI - Georgia's jailed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili told AFP on Tuesday Ukraine's victory in the war started by Russia was a foregone conclusion and would change forever a region long dominated by Moscow.
The once flamboyant pro-Western reformer has been in prison since his return from exile in Ukraine in 2021. Doctors have said he now risks death from a litany of serious conditions that he developed in custody.
Saakashvili, 55, held top government posts in Ukraine, where he lived in exile after his second term as Georgia's president expired in 2013.
He has been stripped of his Georgian passport and has acquired Ukrainian nationality.
"Ukraine's inevitable win will completely change the situation in Georgia and in the region," he said in interview notes sent to AFP through his lawyer from a Tbilisi hospital, where he remained after a 50-day hunger strike.
"Ukraine has become, for good, the region's superpower. Together with Poland, it determines everything in the region, including what happens in Georgia," read the notes written in shaky longhand.
Alluding to the recent mass anti-government protests in Tbilisi, he said: "In Georgia, the situation will be changed fundamentally, even before the final victory of Ukraine."
Youth-led protests in Georgia earlier in March marked the culmination of growing public anger over the government's perceived backsliding on democracy and alleged covert collaboration with the Kremlin.
- 'European nation, Russian government' -
"In Georgia, everything is crystal clear: People are united. We are a European nation with a Russian government," Saakashvili said.
"No autocrat can ever tame the generation which grew up in a free Georgia," he said, referring to the billionaire founder of Georgia's ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has made his fortune in Russia.
Ivanishvili is widely seen as the man in charge in Georgia despite having no official political role.
The European Parliament has called for personal sanctions against Ivanishvili over his allegedly destructive role in Georgia's political life.
Saakashvili said the Georgian government controlled by Ivanishvili "refuses to let me out for medical treatment abroad, on orders from Moscow".
In December, when Saakashvili appeared at a court hearing by video link, he looked gaunt, hollow-cheeked, and his hands trembled.
Once a jovial, corpulent politician who weighed 115 kilogrammes (253 pounds), he has lost more than 50 kilogrammes since his imprisonment in 2021 and is now a shadow of his former self.
"My weight has dropped to the level which, doctors say, may lead at any time to multiple organ failure," Saakashvili said.
US-based doctors have said Saakashvili risks imminent death from a number of neurological and gastrointestinal conditions if he is not taken abroad for medical treatment.
They said his health had deteriorated as a result of "torture" in custody.
- 'Russia will disintegrate' -
US toxicologist David Smith alleged in 2022 that tests had revealed Saakashvili had been exposed to poisoning by heavy metals while in custody.
The council of doctors set up by Georgia's rights ombudsperson has said the country's medical system has "exhausted all the available means" to treat Saakashvili.
In a recent report on Georgia's human rights record, the US State Department listed Saakashvili's alleged mistreatment in custody among matters of particular concern.
Georgian president from 2004 to 2013, Saakashvili was sentenced in absentia to six years in jail for abuse of power -- a charge he has rejected as trumped-up and politically motivated.
On March 2, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused the Georgian government of denying Saakashvili "adequate medical care, putting him at grave risk of death, permanent disability or other irreversible damage to his health".
The Council of Europe -- the continent's leading human rights watchdog -- has also called for his release, describing him as a "political prisoner opposed to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin".
Saakshvili was propelled to power on the wave of the peaceful Rose Revolution he led in 2003. Over his nine years at the helm, he oversaw sweeping reforms and forged close ties with the West.
When Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008, following spiralling tensions over Saakashvili's pro-Western orientation, Saakashvili warned the West that Ukraine would be the Kremlin's next target.
Now, Saakashvili told AFP on Tuesday, "the West has woken up and is united" against Putin's war on Ukraine.
"The West must... accept that the Russian Federation will disintegrate and prepare for this."