Welcome home, but…
On May 29, Mikheil Saakashvili flew back to Ukraine, arriving at Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport to a raucous welcome from supporters. Just a day earlier, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had restored the former Georgian president and ex-Odesa Oblast governor’s Ukrainian citizenship.
As many will remember, Zelenskiy’s predecessor, President Petro Poroshenko, granted Saakashvili citizenship in 2015 to allow him to push reforms and battle graft in the country’s highly corrupt Odesa Oblast. Roughly two years later, he stripped Saakashvili of citizenship after he quit the governor’s post and became one of Poroshenko’s fiercest critics.
Zelenskiy was right to reinstate Saakashvili’s citizenship. Stripping the Georgian-Ukrainian politician of citizenship was unjust and likely illegal, as it left him stateless. Moreover, it was politically motivated and set a precedent that should worry any citizen of Ukraine.
But this statement should not be viewed as an endorsement of Saakashvili as a politician.
Saakashvili is a provocative and erratic individual whose behavior after he lost his citizenship — breaking through the Ukrainian border, threatening to jump off a building, wrangling with law enforcement on a roof — damaged Ukraine by helping turn its politics into an absurdist spectacle.
Now, Saakashvili says he is not seeking government or political office, and only wants to help build Ukraine. We hope he will honor that promise.
Saakashvili’s tenure as Odesa governor was not particularly successful in terms of fighting corruption. This demonstrated that, despite his anti-corruption bona fides, his Georgian experience could not simply be transplanted in Ukraine.
Should Saakashvili choose to advise other politicians on anti-corruption and campaigning, that is his choice. But he should recognize that he can best contribute to Ukraine’s development as a private citizen — not in parliament, not in a ministry, not in the limelight.
At his worst, Saakashvili has been a distraction from the hard work of reforming Ukraine. He should not allow himself to take on that role again.