Ukraine’s President Sidelines Opponent by Stripping His Citizenship

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MOSCOW — Once they were prominent allies in opposing the Kremlin: President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine and the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. Mr. Saakashvili even went so far as to emigrate to Ukraine to serve as a regional governor under Mr. Poroshenko.

But they have now fallen out so badly that on Wednesday, Mr. Poroshenko stripped Mr. Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, leaving him stateless.

The conflict between them centers on Ukraine’s widespread corruption. After the 2014 revolution overthrew a pro-Russian president in Ukraine, Mr. Saakashvili and about a dozen other Georgian officials with experience rooting out corruption moved to Ukraine to join the new government. But before long, Mr. Saakashvili became disillusioned, saying that the country was doing too little to fight corruption.

He resigned his post and set up an opposition political movement, and in the process badly soured his relations with Mr. Poroshenko. That culminated in the decree Mr. Poroshenko signed on Wednesday.

Mr. Saakashvili responded in a post on his Facebook page, saying that Mr. Poroshenko had “crossed a red line” with the decree, and by failing to address corruption.

He said the president was risking stirring another popular uprising in Ukraine. And in the ultimate insult for opponents of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Saakashvili suggested that Mr. Poroshenko might have to flee to Russia.

“Now, doubtless, you, as was the case with your predecessor, will be tempted to try and hold on to power at any price,” he wrote. “You may try this, just remember, they are waiting for you in Russia! Ukrainians have twice dealt with this pestilence and they will not stop.”

Mr. Poroshenko’s office did not publish the decree stripping his onetime ally of citizenship, and there was some confusion over the legal basis for the action. Local media quoted officials saying that Mr. Saakashvili had failed to disclose on his citizenship application that he was the subject of a criminal investigation in Georgia.

The decree sent ripples through Ukrainian politics. The Georgians who moved to Ukraine to join the government after 2014 have been a powerful force behind the scenes, working to overhaul the country’s bureaucracy. To comply with Ukrainian law on government service, they had to renounce their Georgian citizenship and accept Ukrainian citizenship.

The decree sets a precedent that could open the way for the Georgians to be stripped of their citizenship and removed from their positions, stalling the anti-corruption activities.

One official in particular appears vulnerable, according to Serhiy Leshchenko, a lawmaker and anticorruption activist: Gizo Uglavy, the deputy director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

The bureau, which gained notice last summer when it revealed off-the-books payments to President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, has been locked in a power struggle with the Poroshenko administration.

The bureau was created to comply with International Monetary Fund requirements to fight corruption, and the president cannot fire its leaders. But the administration has maneuvered in other ways to curb the bureau’s power, including by removing its jurisdiction over the accounting records showing payments to Mr. Manafort.