Lis­ten to Volker

Kyiv Post - - Opinion -

For Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, Mikheil Saashav­ili could turn out to be what Yu­lia Ty­moshenko was to ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych: An ir­ra­tional fear that helped tor­pedo his pres­i­dency.

Yanukovych had such an ob­ses­sion with Ty­moshenko, and keep­ing her in prison, that he ig­nored years of in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion in per­se­cut­ing her. He com­mit­ted many other abuses of power in four years of plun­der­ing the na­tion, but his im­pris­on­ment (Ukraine has no in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary) of Ty­moshenko de­fined Yanukovych’s dic­ta­to­rial ways to an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence. She came within 3.5 per­cent­age points of beat­ing him in the 2010 elec­tion, so lock­ing her up, start­ing in 2011, was his way of get­ting her out of the way. She was only freed af­ter Yanukovych fled power on Feb. 22, 2014, dur­ing the EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion.

By the same to­ken, Poroshenko is not do­ing his al­ready tar­nished im­age any fa­vors with his heavy­handed treat­ment of Saakashvili, the ex-Geor­gian pres­i­dent who Poroshenko tapped to be gov­er­nor of Odesa Oblast in 2015. Poroshenko be­stowed Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship only to yank it in July af­ter Saakashvili be­came a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent.

Poroshenko cloaked his de­ci­sion in rule of law, much like Yanukovych with Ty­moshenko, and just as un­con­vinc­ingly. It’s hard to imag­ine who Poroshenko thinks he’s fool­ing. He would have been bet­ter off leav­ing Saakashvili the show­man alone with his low ap­proval rat­ing. In­stead, Poroshenko has given Saakashvili in­ter­na­tional voice as vic­tim of po­lit­i­cal per­se­cu­tion. Saakashvili gets un­der Poroshenko’s skin so much be­cause his crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent’s in­volve­ment in cor­rup­tion and ob­struc­tion of re­form is spot-on. Saakashvili is fear­less in speak­ing truth to power and showed it with his re­fusal to stay out of Ukraine.

It took the U.S. spe­cial en­voy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, to de­liver com­mon sense ad­vice to Poroshenko via Ra­dio Free Europe/Ra­dio Lib­erty:

“Fo­cus on the rule of law, fo­cus on in­sti­tu­tions and fo­cus on your own gover­nance of the coun­try, be­cause Ukraine needs to be a suc­cess­ful coun­try if it’s go­ing to with­stand this kind of ag­gres­sion from Rus­sia,” Volker said on Sept. 13. “There’s so many is­sues of re­form that need to be pur­sued inside Ukraine. There’s so many is­sues of eco­nomic re­form as well and the fight against cor­rup­tion.”

Right on.

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