Saakashvil­i doesn’t want state job, but ready to help Ze­len­skiy

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLEG SUKHOV [email protected]

Mikheil Saakashvil­i, one of the most po­lar­iz­ing fig­ures in global politics, is back in Ukraine.

The for­mer Ge­or­gian pres­i­dent and Odesa Oblast gov­er­nor ar­rived at Kyiv’s Bo­ryspil In­ter­na­tional Air­port from Poland on May 29, a day af­ter Ukraine’s new pres­i­dent, Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, re­stored his Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship.

Saakashvil­i has no in­ter­est in re­ceiv­ing a gov­ern­ment job or run­ning for par­lia­ment, the politi­cian said shortly af­ter his ar­rival. But he is ready to ad­vise and help Ze­len­skiy’s team and can­di­dates run­ning for par­lia­ment.

Af­ter re­turn­ing to Ukraine, Saakashvil­i praised Ze­len­skiy’s elec­tion as a new chance for re­forms in Ukraine. He said he stood ready take part in “build­ing a new Ukraine.”

“The peo­ple of Ukraine voted for the dis­man­tle­ment of the oli­garchic sys­tem and of the klep­to­cratic gov­ern­ment,” Saakashvil­i said.

But an­a­lysts ar­gue that Ze­len­skiy may be re­luc­tant to give the for­mer Ge­or­gian leader a spe­cific role. Af­ter all, in the past, Saakashvil­i has proven ready to be­come a critic of the ad­min­is­tra­tion he worked for.

Ge­or­gian to Ukrainian

Dur­ing his pres­i­dency from 2004 to 2013, Saakashvil­i spear­headed law en­force­ment and eco­nomic re­forms in Ge­or­gia that won him ac­co­lades in the West. To sup­port­ers, he was a ded­i­cated and ef­fec­tive fighter against cor­rup­tion.

In 2014, Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko in­vited the for­mer Ge­or­gian pres­i­dent to work his magic in Ukraine. He granted Saakashvil­i Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship and ap­pointed him gov­er­nor of cor­rup­tion-rid­den Odesa Oblast in 2015.

Then, in 2016, he re­signed from the gov­er­nor­ship, ac­cus­ing Poroshenko of stalling re­forms and sup­port­ing cor­rup­tion in Odesa Oblast.

That was the end of Saakashvil­i’s al­liance with Poroshenko. The two men would be­come po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies, and Saakashvil­i would be one of the Ukrainian pres­i­dent’s most vo­cal crit­ics.

In 2017, Poroshenko stripped Saakashvil­i of his Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship while he was out of the coun­try. The for­mer Ge­or­gian pres­i­dent has called that move il­le­gal (at the time, Saakashvil­i had no other cit­i­zen­ship) and po­lit­i­cal reprisal.

On Sept. 10, 2017, Saakashvil­i re­turned to Ukraine by break­ing through the Pol­ish bor­der, ac­com­pa­nied by a crowd of sup­port­ers. He went on to or­ga­nize protests against Poroshenko in late 2017 and early 2018.

In re­sponse, Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties opened a crim­i­nal case against Saakashvil­i and de­ported him from Ukraine with­out a court order in Fe­bru­ary 2018. Un­der Ukrainian law, de­por­ta­tion with­out a court order is il­le­gal.

Job prospects

Af­ter re­turn­ing to Ukraine, Saakashvil­i said he had not ne­go­ti­ated for the restora­tion of his cit­i­zen­ship or a job with Ze­len­skiy’s team.

He said that he did not in­tend to be­come prime min­is­ter or to get a top law en­force­ment job. Ukraine needs a “young Ukrainian prime min­is­ter,” he said. “I’m not here for any po­si­tions, I'm not look­ing for any po­si­tions.”

How­ever, Saakashvil­i said that he was ready to se­lect and help a new gen­er­a­tion of gov­ern­ment lead­ers in Ukraine and cre­ate a “plat­form for ideas.”

“I will help in ev­ery way to re­place the po­lit­i­cal class in Ukraine and the klep­to­crats who have robbed Ukraine,” he added.

But that hasn’t stopped peo­ple from spec­u­lat­ing. “The best line so far I have heard is for Ze­len­skiy to ap­point Saakashvil­i as the new pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral,” Bri­tish an­a­lyst Ti­mothy Ash wrote on May 28.

“This would surely put the fear of God into Ukraine's oli­garchic and po­lit­i­cal class — and par­tic­u­larly for­mer Pres­i­dent Poroshenko and his sup­port­ers, given there is much ‘un­fin­ished busi­ness’ be­tween Poroshenko and Saakashvil­i given the for­mer gave and then took away Saakashvil­i's cit­i­zen­ship and then de­ported him,” Ash con­tin­ued. “Ap­point­ing (Saakashvil­i) would be hugely pop­u­lar from a do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tive given the de­mand for mean­ing­ful re­form to ad­dress the anti-cor­rup­tion agenda — and Saakashvil­i al­ready de­liv­ered therein as pres­i­dent of Ge­or­gia.”

How­ever, “the ob­vi­ous neg­a­tive with Saakashvil­i is his whirl­wind/ loose can­non rep­u­ta­tion, which could ul­ti­mately come back to haunt Ze­len­skiy and his friends,” Ash added.

But Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Volodymyr Fe­senko told the Kyiv Post that Saakashvil­i was un­likely to get any gov­ern­ment job.

“Ze­len­skiy’s team un­der­stands the risks of ap­point­ing Saakashvil­i to im­por­tant jobs,” Fe­senko said, not­ing that Saakashvil­i could eas­ily turn from an ally of Ze­len­skiy into a critic and com­peti­tor. “They righted a wrong (by restor­ing Saakashvil­i’s cit­i­zen­ship) but they won’t go fur­ther.”

Rada elec­tion

Saakashvil­i also said he would not run in the July 21 early par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, but would help other can­di­dates, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of his Move­ment of New Forces party.

David Sak­vare­lidze, one of the party’s lead­ers, said on May 29 that it would take part in the Verkhovna Rada elec­tion. But its like­li­hood of suc­cess is far from cer­tain.

Fe­senko ar­gued that the party’s chances in the elec­tion were lim­ited. For his part, Sak­vare­lidze told the Kyiv Post that it could pass the min­i­mum 5 per­cent thresh­old to make it into par­lia­ment.

The Move­ment of New Forces had a 2.4 per­cent rat­ing af­ter Saakashvil­i’s de­por­ta­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2018 and

was not in­cluded in Rat­ing Group’s re­cent poll.

Sak­vare­lidze said that the Move­ment of New Forces was not in talks on plac­ing its can­di­dates on Ze­len­skiy's Ser­vant of the Peo­ple party’s list in the elec­tion.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Olek­siy Mi­nakov wrote on Face­book on May 28 that Saakashvil­i’s re­turn was ben­e­fi­cial for Ze­len­skiy be­cause he would at­tack Poroshenko and his party in the run-up to the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion.

Ze­len­skiy’s team

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Ukraine, Saakashvil­i thanked Ze­len­skiy for restor­ing his cit­i­zen­ship and lav­ished praise on him. He called Ze­len­skiy’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and his gov­ern­ing style po­lit­i­cal “rock-and-roll” and said that “this pres­i­dent will sur­prise many peo­ple in the good sense.”

“Pres­i­dent Ze­len­skiy showed that he’s ca­pa­ble of brave and fast de­ci­sions and that he’s an in­de­pen­dent politi­cian who doesn’t lis­ten to any­one,” Saakashvil­i said.

He added that “a lot of peo­ple wouldn’t want to see me in Ukraine” — a pos­si­ble ref­er­ence to Poroshenko, In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov, Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko and oli­garch Ihor Kolo­moisky. All four have clashed with Saakashvil­i.

“I did not come here to take re­venge on any­one, pun­ish any­one or de­stroy any­thing,” he said. “I came back here to do what I’ve al­ways been best at do­ing: to build. To do what they blocked me from do­ing in Odesa.”

He also ar­gued that the whole po­lit­i­cal class, in­clud­ing Avakov and Lut­senko, would soon be re­placed.

Crim­i­nal case

Saakashvil­i still faces a crim­i­nal case opened dur­ing his con­flict with Poroshenko.

In De­cem­ber 2017, the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice ar­rested Saakashvil­i and charged him with com­plic­ity in fugi­tive tycoon Ser­hiy Kurchenko’s crim­i­nal group for al­legedly re­ceiv­ing money from the busi­ness­man to fi­nance protests against Poroshenko.

The pros­e­cu­tors’ alleged ev­i­dence against Saakashvil­i was dis­missed by in­de­pen­dent lawyers as weak, and he was re­leased from cus­tody by Pech­ersk Court Judge Larysa Tsokol. She ruled that Saakashvil­i’s de­ten­tion by the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine with­out a court war­rant and any other le­gal grounds was un­law­ful.

Pros­e­cu­tor Kostyan­tyn Ku­lik, who was in charge of the case, told the Kyiv Post that Poroshenko had in­ter­fered in the Saakashvil­i case and tried to order pros­e­cu­tors to in­ves­ti­gate and ar­rest al­lies of the for­mer Ge­or­gian pres­i­dent. Poroshenko’s of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the mat­ter.

When asked about the case, Lut­senko wrote on Face­book on May 28 that he still con­sid­ered Saakashvil­i a “traitor.” Saakashvil­i said that he couldn’t take Lut­senko’s state­ments se­ri­ously.

Fe­senko said the Saakashvil­i case would likely be dropped un­der Ze­len­skiy. “I think no­body will push this case, al­though they might keep it in case they need it in the fu­ture,” he added. ■

For­mer Ge­or­gian leader and ex-Odesa Oblast gov­er­nor Mikheil Saakashvil­i is greeted by his sup­port­ers af­ter ar­riv­ing at Kyiv's Bo­ryspil air­port on May 29, 2019. He came back to Ukraine for the first time since Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties de­ported him with­out a court order in 2018. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Ex-Ge­or­gian Pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvil­i poses for a photo af­ter ar­riv­ing in Ukraine on May 29, 2019. He re­turned to Kyiv af­ter Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy re­stored his Ukrainian cit­i­zen­ship. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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