Since September, former President of Georgia and now apatride Mikheil Saakashvili kept staging opposition rallies in Kyiv every weekend demanding the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko. This Sunday on 17 December, the protesters attempted to seize a building of Zhovtnevyi Palace, a building serving as a stage for cultural venues, to establish the headquarters for his movement. As the seizure failed and three embassies condemned it, Saakashvili called the unsuccessful attempt a provocation. He explained away that soldiers’ wives had rented a two-room office space in the Palace and the march headed to Zhovtnevyi just to support their application. Several parliamentary allies of Saakashvili have also condemned the seizure attempt.
Speaking to his yet another “Impeachment March” on 17 December on Khreschatyk, the central street of the Ukrainian capital, Mikheil Saakashvili encouraged its participants:
“Now we are walking from here to Zhovtnevyi Palace and there in Zhovtnevyi Palace will be headquarters of our coordination council. For us to be not only in tents at night. You can see that we don’t blockade anything, you can see that we don’t bother anyone, you do see that it’s all very peaceful. However much they talk about coups, we don’t stage any coups. We don’t go to seize the Bankova [Presidential Administration – YZ] or the Verkhovna Rada [Parliament – YZ]. We’ll go now to Zhovtnevyi Palace, the headquarters will be there. After all that, we will post symbolic pickets near the Verkhovna Rada and we will act.”
According to the police estimates, about 2,000 participated in the rally. RBC.ua news site counted 3-5 thousand. The organizers of the event didn’t mention any estimations regarding the rally turnout. Some 300 protesters headed to Zhovtnevyi Palace together with Mikheil Saakashvili and other organizers of the rally.
Head of the National Police Serhii Knyazev wrote on his Twitter:
“Dear protesters, I call on you to avoid provocations in Zhovtnevyi Palace, where a children’s party is underway now. It is going beyond the bounds of comprehension.”
The National Police Headquarters reported at 15:30 that part of participants of the rally at Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square came to the entrance of Zhovtnevyi Palace where a concert was performed. The protesters tried to force into the building, scuffling with law enforcers.
Several protesters broke the door and managed to enter the building.
Police used tear gas and dry powder extinguishers to disallow protestors from entering the building, protestors threw fire-crackers and used what police later called “unknown gas.”
Amid the seizure attempt, Saakashvili inspired the crowd, “Let’s enter easy, easily conduct the event, establishing the headquarters. But don’t break anything by any means, don’t harm anything. And don’t give a ground for provocations. Poroshenko is a provocateur.”
Later a cut of Saakashvili’s appeals emerged on his Facebook page, in the video, he calls to resist “their” provocations and even to avoid storming:
About 1,000 law enforcers were keeping order at the protest actions in central Kyiv. As of 19:35, the police reported that 15 national guards and 17 policemen were brought to hospital as a result of poisoning with an unknown substance, some of the law enforcers also had body contusions. Later the National Guard told that its 60 servicemen were affected in total, 15 of them were hospitalized. Among them, 13 were poisoned with gas, one sustained facial injuries, one had head trauma.
The police opened two criminal proceedings under two articles of the Criminal Code, one more proceeding was considered to be open.
Following the assault attempt with injured law enforcers, Minister of interior Arsen Avakov published a completely off-base joke at 19:43:
The concert of the Glenn Miller Orchestra at 19:00 in Zhovtnevyi Palace has started as intended. After the foolish ‘storming’ of the Palace by Saakashvili and his posse during the afternoon concert, jazz is wonderful! Police chief Knyazev has attended the concert. Misha didn’t want to tolerate it because he knew that “He who today is a jazz player, is future homeland’s betrayer” [a Soviet slogan from the Khrushchev times – YZ].
Police chief Serhii Knyazev posted photographs of the evening concert promising to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the next day:
Принципово пішов на вечірній концерт всесвітньовідомого оркестру Glenn Miller у Жовтневому палаці. Насолоджуюся гарною музикою. А завтра розставимо всі крапки над “і”: хто, що та навіщо. pic.twitter.com/7D71rXbFfi
— Сергій Князєв (@knyazevsergii) December 17, 2017
In his comment to NewsOne TV Channel, Saakashvili denied that he called to seize the Palace:
“In was a provocation of the first water. I want to say to the people who staged this provocation: don’t consider Ukrainians idiots. They will figure this all out. There are video footages showing that I repeatedly encouraged [people] to disperse and not storm it. My call was ‘don’t storm’.”
Later Mr.Saakashvili published his explanation of the incident at Zhovtnevyi:
“Today, during another large-scale, peaceful demonstration by our supporters in the capital of Kyiv and on the Maidan we made a detour to the International Center for Culture and Arts (the former October Palace) in order to support an application by the wives of Ukrainian military servicemen to obtain access to two rooms in the Center to serve as their office… After making this application for office space, we began to head toward the parliament building… Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies came out in incredible force and blocked access to the Center all with the apparent intention of provoking a conflict. This conflict then took place, though we immediately called for anyone involved in physical confrontation to withdraw, to leave the massed and masked ‘berkut,’ National Guard and police alone.”
The revolution headquarters emerged to be a rented two-room office space for soldiers’ wives.
The Canadian and British Ambassadors to Ukraine, Roman Waschuk and Judith Gough, as well as the U.S. embassy to Kyiv, condemned the attempts of the seizure of Zhovtnevyi Palace by the Saakashvili movement activists.
Attempts to seize and damage public buildings are an abuse of the right to peaceful protest / Спроби захоплення і нищення публіних будівель – це зловживання правом на мирний протест. https://t.co/1dZIBMX23O
— Roman Waschuk (@WaschukCanUA) December 17, 2017
I completely agree with my Canadian colleague. Спроби захоплення і нищення публічних будівель – це зловживання правом на мирний протест https://t.co/iNEXse9wt9
— Judith Gough (@JudithGoughFCO) December 17, 2017
We agree with our Canadian and U.K. colleagues. https://t.co/tg1u4zm90m
— U.S. Embassy Kyiv (@USEmbassyKyiv) December 17, 2017
Allies criticize Saakashvili
One of Saakashvili’s allies, Poroshenko critic MP Serhii Leshchenko (Poroshenko Bloc faction) lambasted the seizure:
“As a man who visited today’s Viche [popular assembly – YZ] as an ordinary participant who was among people, I am, mildly speaking, surprised with such an outcome. I hope Mikheil Saakashvili or those under the canopy of his name will have enough political instinct to change mind fast and leave Zhovtnevyi Palace. This action can break the rest of trust among political associates and antagonize the public.”
Another Poroshenko critic from Poroshenko Bloc faction, MP Mustafa Nayem has also condemned the seizure attempt:
“But I don’t get what the storming of Zhovtnevyi Palace was for. For a peaceful protest of thoughtful citizens it’s senseless, for power change and system changes it’s paltry. And revolutions don’t start with this.”
Another participant of so-called “Liberation Movement,” MP Yehor Soboliev (Samopomich) has also criticized the actions of Saakashvili:
“Before calling people from the stage, you should think where you call them. Every step should be calculated and timely explained to the people.”
Today, on 18 December, member of the political council of the party “Movement of New Forces of Mikheil Saakashvili” Ivan Lozovyi says that following the Zhovtnevyi Palace seizure attempt, Mikheil Saakashvili has set a moratorium on any kind of marches and rallies.