Ex-Georgian leader who lost war against Russia thinks Ukraine will prevail

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Georgian former President Saakashvili prays for Ukraine during a court hearing in Tbilisi

TBILISI (Reuters) - Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia who fought and lost a short war against Russia to reclaim renegade regions, says Ukraine will defeat Moscow and has hailed Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy as a "new Churchill."

Saakashvili, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, lost control of around one-fifth of Georgian territory during a 2008 war in which Russian forces garrisoned two breakaway regions.

But the Georgian politician, who has extensive experience in Ukraine, having served as a regional governor there and as a senior official on a national reform body, told Reuters he believed that Ukraine could win its own war against Russia.

"Ukraine will emerge as one united nation," Saakashvili, 54, predicted in a handwritten note passed to Reuters via his lawyers from a prison cell in Georgia where he is being held on what he calls politically motivated allegations.

He did not provide specific reasons for why Ukraine would defeat Russia.

"Ukraine will distance itself from Russia for a very long time and together with Poland will become a major power broker in Europe," he said.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a "special military operation" that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour's military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

Saakashvili said he planned to return to work in Kyiv after seeking "urgent medical help" for what he said was ill treatment in prison, something the authorities have denied.

He said he believed Ukraine's president would emerge as a major postwar European leader.

"He (Zelenskiy) demonstrated exceptional Churchillian qualities which many people thought were long forgotten," Saakashvili said, comparing Zelenskiy's resolve to that of Winston Churchill, Britain's prime minister during World War Two.

"He is the new Churchill in this part of Europe and will determine not only things that will happen in Ukraine but in many countries around it, including Russia."

Zelenskiy, often appearing unshaven and in a khaki T-shirt while addressing his people in late-night television speeches, has drawn praise from Western leaders for his composure and steadfastness since Russian sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

By contrast, Russian state media casts him as a volatile American puppet whose country is being used to weaken Russia, a characterisation Zelenskiy rejects.

Saakashvili, who has worked with Zelenskiy in the past, was sentenced in Georgia to six years in prison in absentia in 2018 for abusing his office during his presidency. He is currently on trial for illegally entering Georgia. His defence has dismissed all charges against him as politically motivated.

Zelenskiy restored Saakashvili's Ukrainian citizenship in May 2019 after Petro Poroshenko, Zelenskiy's predecessor, had stripped him of it. Zelenskiy appointed Saakashvili to a senior role on the country's National Reform Council a year later. Saakashvili said he hopes to return to that post.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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