Meet Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia – a country which borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, and ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the breakup of the Soviet Union. Recent intense fighting between Russia and Georgia has left scores of people dead with violence escalating daily. Read his biography and see photos and a video below.

Georgia’s President, Mikheil Saakashvili, passionately pleads for a cease-fire and for help from the United States. He says they are a sovereign nation and have the right to exist peacefully without Russian interference and aggression. He says the Russians are destroying their towns and that women and children are the casualties.

“Georgians are looking with hope to America. We, on our own, cannot fight with Russia,” Saakashvili told the BBC. “We want immediate cease-fire and international mediation.”

The fighting broke out as much of the world’s attention was focused on the start of the Olympic Games and many leaders, including Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Bush, were in Beijing.

Russia battled Georgian forces on land and sea, reports said late Sunday, despite a Georgian cease-fire offer and its claim to be withdrawing from South Ossetia, the separatist Georgian province battered by days of intense fighting.

Georgia has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership — a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.

Mikheil Saakashvili Biography

Mikheil Saakashvili was born on December 21, 1967 in Tbilisi, capital of what was then the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in the Soviet Union. His age is 41. He is the President of Georgia.

His father, Nikoloz Saakashvili, is a physician who still practices medicine. His mother, Giuli Alasania, is a historian who lectures at Tbilisi State University.

Saakashvili graduated from the School of International Law of the Kiev State University (Ukraine) in 1992. He briefly worked as a human rights officer for the interim State Council of Georgia following the overthrow of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia before receiving a fellowship from the United States State Department via the Edmund S. Muskie FREEDOM Support Act Graduate Fellowship Program.

He received an LLM from Columbia Law School in 1994 and Doctor of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School the following year. In 1995, he also received a diploma from the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

After graduation, while working in a New York law firm, Saakashvili was approached by Zurab Zhvania, an old friend from Georgia who was working on behalf of President Eduard Shevardnadze to recruit talented young Georgians to enter politics. He ran in the December 1995 elections along with Zhvania, and both men won seats in parliament, standing for the Union of Citizens of Georgia, Shevardnadze’s party.

Saakashvili soon made a name for himself as chairman of the parliamentary committee charged with creating a new electoral system, an independent judiciary and a non-political police force. He achieved a high degree of public recognition, with opinion surveys finding him to be the second most popular person in Georgia, behind Shevardnadze. He was named “man of the year” by a panel of journalists and human rights advocates in 1997. In January 2000, Saakashvili was appointed Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

On October 12, 2000, Saakashvili became Minister of Justice for the government of President Shevardnadze. He initiated major reforms in the decrepit, corrupt and highly politicised Georgian criminal justice and prisons system. This earned praise from many international observers and human rights activists. But in mid-2001 he became involved in a major controversy with the Economics Minister Ivane Chkhartishvili, State Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze and Tbilisi police chief Ioseb Alavidze, accusing them of profiting from corrupt business deals.

Saakashvili resigned on September 5, 2001, saying that “I consider it immoral for me to remain as a member of Shevardnadze’s government.” He declared that corruption had penetrated to the very centre of the Georgian government and that Shevardnadze lacked the will to deal with it, warning that “current developments in Georgia will turn the country into a criminal enclave in one or two years.”

Having resigned from the government and quit the Shevardnadze-run Union of Citizens of Georgia party, Saakashvili founded the United National Movement (UNM) in October 2001, a left-of-center political party akin to the Social Democrats in Europe with a touch of nationalism.

Georgia held parliamentary elections on November 2, 2003 which were denounced by local and international observers as being grossly rigged. Saakashvilli claimed that he had won the elections (a claim supported by independent exit polls), and urged Georgians to demonstrate against Shevardnadze’s government and engage in nonviolent civil disobedience against the authorities. Saakashvili’s party demanded the ouster of Shevardnadze and the rerun of the elections.

Massive political demonstrations were held in Tbilisi in November, with over 100,000 people participating and listening to speeches by Saakashvili and other opposition figures. After an increasingly tense two weeks of demonstrations, Shevardnadze resigned as President on November 23rd and an interim government was put into place. The events of November 2003 were dubbed by Georgian media as the “Rose Revolution.”

On January 4, 2004 Mikheil Saakashvili won the presidential elections in Georgia with more than 96% of the votes cast, making him the youngest national president in Europe.

On May 10, 2005, while President George W. Bush was giving a speech in Tbilisi’s Freedom Square, Vladimir Arutinian threw a live hand grenade at where Saakashvili and Bush were sitting. It landed in the crowd about 65 feet from the podium after hitting a girl and did not detonate. Arutinian was arrested in July of that year, but before his capture he managed to kill one law enforcement agent. He was convicted of the attempted assassinations of Saakashvili and Bush and the murder of the agent, and given a life sentence.

On January 5, 2008 he won re-election as the President of Georgia with 53.8% of the vote.

Mikheil Saakashvili is married to Sandra E. Roelofs and has two sons, Eduard and Nikoloz. Apart from his native Georgian, he speaks fluent English, French, Russian and Ukrainian.

“President of Georgia Saakashvili about Russian Aggression” Video