Will Saakashvili Drink Ukraine’s Poroshenko’s Tea?
With a potentially game-changing cabinet reshuffle underway in Ukraine, ex-Georgian President-Turned-Odessa-Governor Mikheil Saakashvili is having a déjà- vu moment. Today’s Ukraine, with its government in limbo and much in want for change, reminds him of pre-Rose Revolution Georgia, when, as a young and cheeky justice minister, he took on the late President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Back in 2001, Saakashvili, then justice minister, upbraided Shevardnadze for not doing anything to fix Georgia’s helter-skelter, corruption-infused governance system, and quit. Now, the former Georgian leader is back in controversial stride, calling out Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on political cronyism and stasis in Ukraine, and failure to meet popular expectations for change. Saakashvili has threatened to cross over into the opposition against Poroshenko, a former university classmate, and take his team along.
At an April 11 press-conference, Saakashvili, flanked by his staff and supporters, accused Poroshenko and Ukraine’s central authorities of undermining his efforts to stomp out graft, red tape and the reign of oligarchs in the Odessa region, a promised petri-dish for nationwide reform. “Reforms delayed are reforms denied,” he said. “Not a single promise given after Maidan [the 2014 revolution also known as Euromaidan] . . . has been fulfilled.”
“If you cannot help, at least don’t hinder,” Saakashvili said, addressing Poroshenko, who, he claimed, is obstructing regional reforms by opting to maintain a balance among rivalling forces.
One case in point for Saakashvili is the firing of Odessa’s regional chief prosecutor, Davit Sakvarelidze, another transplant from Georgia and member of his United National Movement. Saakashvili described as “capitulation” the replacement of Sakvarelidze with Mykola Stoyanov, an official accused of corruption and known for ties to disgraced Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.
Saakashvili demanded that young, bona fide reformers – incidentally, his allies --take over the Ukrainian government, up for grabs after the recent resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a Saakashvili-sceptic. He called on the Ukrainian parliament not to approve another pro-oligarch, “impotent” cabinet and help form a national unity government.
A day later, elaborating on his j’accuse against Poroshenko, Saakashvili told the ever-sympathetic Georgian TV channel Rustavi2 that the last thing Ukraine needs is another government that’s a product of back-deals and political compromise. Rather, Ukraine needs “a government capable of carrying out reforms at this important stage” for a country faced with the double whammy of rampant corruption and Russian-backed separatism.
“I have surrounded myself with the best team you can get in Ukraine… lots of young parliament members, regional leaders, non-profit leaders, people… who have an experience in governance but have not dirtied their hands,” Saakashvili said. “It brings to mind a little bit of how we, Georgian reformers, got together in the 1990s, how the National Movement was formed.”
The parallels don’t end there, in Saakashvili’s view. He said that the mayor of the city of Odessa, Gennady Trukhanov, is a separatist much like Aslan Abashidze, a strongman that Saakashvili ousted from Georgia’s Achara region after the Rose Revolution. “He even visually looks like Abashidze,” Saakashvili observed.
It is unclear how far the pre-Rose Revolution Georgia/post-Euromaidan Ukraine parallels can go. Shevardnadze brought Saakashvili into his government and it became the end of him. Poroshenko brought in Saakashvili, who is now levelling bold accusations again him.
But in comments to Rustavi 2, Saakashvili moderated his position toward the president and said he is talking to Poroshenko daily. With this, given the complex reality of Ukraine and Saakashvili’s place in it, he does not seem likely to be drubbing out Poroshenko and drinking his tea anytime soon.