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Ukraine Wants to Pick Georgia's Brain on Reforms

Rumors are swirling in the Russian, Georgian and Ukrainian press that Georgia's former President Mikheil Saakashvili and his erstwhile economic guru, Kakha Bendukidze, might be sharing some how-to-govern tips with Ukraine's President-Elect Petro Poroshenko, who has a divided, poor and corrupt country on his hands. 

Poroshenko's ally, Kyiv-Mayor-Designate Vitaly Klitschko amped up the speculation when he commented in a televised interview that he had told both Saakashvili and Bendukidze that "Georgia is an example for us," and that both men had offered their services to Ukraine's newly elected president, "if necessary," ITAR-TASS reported.

In comments to CNBC on May 25, the ex-Georgian president said that he was heading to Kyiv and hoped "to help them with the first advices [sic] in the days to come." Both Russian and Georgian government officials already have gone into a tailspin over the thought. The Ukraine-friendly Saakashvili is the one bête noire both Tbilisi and Moscow have in common.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, newly willing to talk with Kyiv, was quick to advise Ukraine's new government not to stick Saakashvili in the middle of any discussion with Moscow. Meanwhile, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili, apparently still chafing from fights with Saakashvili's United National Movement (UNM), warned Poroshenko not to let Georgia's best-known Rose Revolutionary "anywhere near him."

Thoughts of Bendukidze, who has been in Kyiv outlining his economic advice, apparently are less alarming.

But the 46-year-old Saakashvili, in fact, may not be slotted for a Ukrainian comeback.

A UNM source told EurasiaNet.org that the Georgian adviser in question will not be Saakashvili, but someone "from his orbit." The aim, the source said, is for Ukraine to be able to capitalize on Georgia's own experience with anti-corruption reforms, "cleaning up public services" and introducing such measures as an e-procurement system for government spending.

From 2004 to 2013, many Georgians aside from the ex-president did manage to gain sizable work experience in stomping out petty corruption and slashing red tape, reforms for which Georgia now ranks as something of a pin-up country.

And in Ukraine, where a policeman is still seen as synonymous with a bribe, their advice might come in handy.

But with much regional media now drunk on drama, don't expect the speculation about which Georgian ultimately will be Ukraine's secret reform weapon to stop.

Postscript: On May 28, former President Saakashvili announced on Facebook that "I personally neither seek nor plan to have a formal position" with the new Ukrainian government. He added, though, that "dozens of experienced Georgian reformers" from "our team" are working in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities with local governments. Consultations already have begun with the central Ukrainian government on creating an online public registry and Houses of Justice similar to the ones established in Georgia, he said.

In a May 28 interview with Georgia's Imedi TV, Bendukidze, wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word "Free" (also the name of a Tbilisi university he established), confirmed that he would serve on a five-person council to advise Poroshenko's government on ways out of Ukraine's economic crisis.

Ukraine Wants to Pick Georgia's Brain on Reforms

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