Listen to Volker
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.”