MOSCOW — Mikheil Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia and once a prominent figure in the politics of post-Soviet countries, was arrested on Friday on charges he called politically motivated after returning secretly to Georgia following eight years in exile.
Mr. Saakashvili’s return, like much of his tenure in power, had the trappings of high-stakes political theater. The former president, who had been living in Ukraine, had been taunting the Georgian government, which is controlled by his political enemies, for days with hints of a return, including posting pictures of an airplane ticket on social media.
It was unclear how or when Mr. Saakashvili entered the country despite a warrant for his arrest that has been outstanding for years. But he apparently did not arrive at an airport, where he faced certain arrest.
Before his detention on Friday, a cheerful-looking Mr. Saakashvili had posted videos of himself strolling in Batumi, a Georgian beach town on the Black Sea. He said he wanted to encourage voting in local elections on Saturday.
In the end, the police found him in a small apartment on the outskirts of Tbilisi, the capital, where he was staying alone, according to Shota Utiashvili, senior fellow at the Georgia Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and a former official in Mr. Saakashvili’s government.
“He knew that he would be arrested but decided to come anyway” to support his political party, the United National Movement, before elections, Mr. Utiashvili said.
“The government was saying, ‘How can you have a party whose leader fears justice?’” Mr. Utiashvili said. “It’s an argument that he is a coward. He responded, ‘I am not a coward and if you want to arrest me, here I am.’”
By Friday evening, the police had transferred Mr. Saakashvili to a jail in Rustavi, about 15 miles from the capital. His arrest was confirmed by Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili.
Mr. Saakashvili led the first wave of anti-authoritarian street uprisings in the former Soviet Union, called color revolutions, and he governed Georgia as president from 2004 until 2013, a period that included a brief war with Russia. In the politics of the former Soviet states, he was aligned with movements resisting Russian influence.
After stepping down, Mr. Saakashvili lived for a time in Brooklyn. He later entered politics in Ukraine, after that country’s 2014 revolution deposed a pro-Russian president. He was among a dozen or so former Georgian politicians who were given senior roles in the Ukrainian government to help overhaul the country’s bureaucracy.
For a time, he fell out with the Ukrainian leadership and in 2018 he was arrested on the roof of a building in Kyiv, where he had climbed to address supporters and escape the police. The dispute was resolved after a change in Ukraine’s government.
He served as governor of the city of Odessa, in the south of Ukraine, and holds an official position in the Ukrainian government today as head of the Office of Simple Solutions and Results, an agency he created.
Back in Georgia, the new government accused him of abuse of office as president and a court in 2018 convicted Mr. Saakashvili in absentia and sentenced him to three years in prison.