Saakashvili on Ukraine, Idiots and Shevardnadze’s Cat
There is a cat story that Mikheil Saakashvili, now controversially appointed as Ukraine government’s top foreign advisor, likes to tell. Back in 2003, when the soon-to-be-Georgian-President Saakashvili first walked into the presidential office, he was greeted there by a cat, a purring testimony to the dysfunctional administration of his overthrown predecessor, the late Eduard Shevardnadze. Now, as Saakashvili is tasked to help modernize Ukraine and reach out to Washington for support, the ex-president says he is again having the Shevardnadze-cat moment.
“There was no functioning pest-control service back then, so the cat stepped in” to control the Georgian government’s rampant mice population, Saakashvili reminisced in a February 17 interview in Kyiv with Rustavi2 television. There was also a bucket to collect intermittently flowing tap water and a makeshift water-heater, he continued, in a lengthy prelude to his point about fixing Ukraine.
The previous cat-in-residence could not take the pressure and “committed suicide,” jumping to her death from the 11th floor, Saakashvili claimed. Screens were put up on the windows to make sure future presidential felines did not flip.
“It is more or less the same situation here [in Ukraine]. I have seen no cat so far, but … Ukraine is just in that shape” with its obsolete, Soviet-style state institutions, said Saakashvili, who now chairs Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s international advisory council.
“Poroshenko told that he needs me in Kyiv,” Saakashvili said, to do some of the same things that were done in Georgia: deregulation, elimination of corruption and red tape in state bureaucracy.
While Saakashvili and his team are credited for towing Georgia out of the pit of corruption and economic stagnation – things that Ukraine could use – accusations about having little regard for human rights and democratic due process, and also of milking businesses for his projects dogged Saakashvili throughout his 2004-2013 tenure.
Self-exiled from Georgia, Saakashvili refused to disappear from the political orbit. The Ukraine job has put him in a good place to devote himself to his favorite pastime — battle with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The Ukraine appointment left Tbilisi, and most probably Moscow, gasping from anger. Saakashvili is a bête noire in both places, though for different reasons.
Tbilisi has handed a note to the Ukrainian ambassador for hiring a man wanted in Georgia on various criminal charges. The Georgian general prosecutor's office claims that Kyiv has refused to extradite Saakashvili, but the daily Rezonansi talked with one Ukrainian deputy prosecutor who said that’s not so.
Chances are slim, however, that Kyiv would hand Misha on over. The deputy prosecutor, Vitaly Kasko, noted politics could motivate Tbilisi's request. In that, Ukraine's new first deputy prosecutor is likely to agree -- he's Davit Saqvarelidze, a former Georgian deputy prosecutor and MP for Saakashvili's party.
The two countries’ relations, though, already have been a little on the tepid side. Many Ukrainians believe that Georgia has only shown moderate support for Kyiv in its war with Russia-backed separatists, while Tbilisi feels snubbed that former Saakashvili-era officials keep popping up in Poroshenko’s administration.
Saakashvili’s top homegrown enemy, the billionaire ex-Prime-Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, often cast as the Georgian government’s grey cardinal, shares that disappointment, though cautioned against “tragically” depicting Ukraine’s appointment of Saakashvili and former officials. Ukraine, he reminded readers of the weekly Kviris Palitra, is an independent country. Nonetheless, he added, the Georgian government should “take into consideration” Kyiv’s actions.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili is doing just that. He reportedly called Poroshenko with details about the allegations against Saakashvili in an attempt to dissuade the Ukrainian leader from the appointment.
In his interview, Saakashvili again dismissed the charges against him as political score-settling and issued a reminder that he presided over massive economic growth.
“Only anthropological idiots can accuse me of stealing money,” Saakashvili said.
On hand in Tbilisi, US Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian and European Affairs Victoria Nuland refused to get into the Georgian-Ukrainian wrangling over Saakashvili, but advised that the two countries focus on supporting each other in European and Euro-Atlantic integration, Georgian outlets reported.
“You all need each other,” she said.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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