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Diplomatic Tensions Rise as Ukraine Demands Release of Ailing Ex‑President

By Jake Beardslee · July 4, 2023

In brief…

  • Georgia's foreign ministry criticizes Ukraine for calling the Georgian ambassador over imprisoned ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili's poor health, which has ignited a diplomatic dispute between the two countries.
  • Saakashvili's supporters claim he has been poisoned while in prison, resulting in a significant decline in his health, with his weight dropping to just 60 kilograms, half of what it was when he was arrested two years ago.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demands Saakashvili's repatriation, and the Council of Europe considers him a political prisoner.
Vladimir Putin with Mikheil Saakashvili, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent development that has raised concerns about the health and treatment of imprisoned former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, Ukraine’s call for the Georgian ambassador to attend consultations has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries. The Georgian foreign ministry has criticized Ukraine’s action, labeling it as an “extreme form of escalation.” Saakashvili, who is also a Ukrainian citizen, has alleged that he has been poisoned while in prison, causing his health to significantly deteriorate.

Appearing via video link from the prison hospital where he is currently confined, Saakashvili’s frail appearance was evident as he raised concerns about his well-being. He revealed his emaciated torso during the court video call, drawing further attention to his declining health. Saakashvili staunchly proclaimed his innocence, stating, “I have committed no crime. Georgia has never had a guilty president. I want everyone to understand this.”

Saakashvili’s supporters claim that his health has worsened since his arrest in 2021 and a subsequent 50-day hunger strike last year. They assert that he has lost a staggering 60 kilograms, raising concerns about his well-being. Last November, Saakashvili’s doctors diagnosed him with heavy metal poisoning, further adding to the alarm surrounding his condition.

The situation has been complicated by the fact that Saakashvili is also a citizen of Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has summoned the Georgian ambassador and demanded Saakashvili’s repatriation. Zelenskyy emphasized, “Once again, I call on Georgian authorities to transfer the Ukrainian citizen, Mikheil Saakashvili, to Ukraine.”

While the Georgian prison holding Saakashvili maintains that he is receiving appropriate care, the Council of Europe has labeled him a political prisoner. The international community is closely monitoring the situation, given the potential ramifications for diplomatic relations between Georgia and Ukraine.