Just two years ago, it looked as if Mikhail Saakashvili’s political career had ended: in February 2018, police officers and border guards took the former governor of the Ukrainian Odesa region out of a Kiev restaurant and deported him to Warsaw by plane. In the event of his return, the Attorney General Saakashvili threatened criminal proceedings for allegedly planned state overthrow.
But as soon as Volodimir Selenskij was sworn in as the new president in May 2019, he gave Saakashvili the Ukrainian citizenship withdrawn by his predecessor Petro Poroshenko. The judiciary closed the investigation and Saakashvili returned to Kiev. But it remained silent about him – until now: Saakashvili should now lead Ukraine on the course of reform as Vice Prime Minister – and help in the West to loosen badly needed billion-dollar loans.
Saakashvili gained the reputation as a reformer from 2004 to 2013 as President of the Caucasus Republic of Georgia. Saakashvili reformed the previously notoriously corrupt police force reduced bureaucracy and the number of civil servants and became a favourite of the United States in particular. But Saakashvili also showed the autocratic syndrome: ministers blackmailed business people, the judiciary and the opposition came under pressure. Saakashvili had a new presidential palace built and ruled like a little sun king.
In 2013, he quickly moved to New York after the end of his presidency because in Georgia the prosecutor wanted to know how Saakashvili, like “secret” expenses of just under three million euros for English cashmere coats and luxury watches, rental payments for helicopters and sailing yachts, incoming photo models and massage artists, as well as hair treatments and botox injections, justified.
Saakashvili reappeared in 2015: President Poroshenko gave him a Ukrainian passport and appointed him governor of Odesa. Saakashvili presented himself again as a fighter against corruption – but there were no successes. In late 2016, he resigned as governor and railed against the government up to Poroshenko – who deprived him of Ukrainian citizenship and had him deported.
Now it is President Selenskij who needs quick reform successes or at least their appearances – because without them there will be no billions from the IMF and the EU to save Ukraine from bankruptcy. Saakashvili is “internationally known and has demonstrated successful implementation of reforms”, Selenskijs Pressedienst justified Saakashvili’s nomination as Vice Prime Minister for reforms.
Formally, Parliament has to approve the appointment – possibly on Friday. Then the candidate wants to present his ideas for reform in parliament and Selensky wants to personally promote Saakashvili. The weekly newspaper Serkalo Nedelji According to many parliamentarians, they are not enthusiastic: they remember Saakashvili’s populism and his rhetorical failures. The political comet Saakashvili has long since burned up in Georgia. To date, four criminal charges against Saakashvili are open in Tbilisi, and Georgia has applied for the extradition of the ex-president in Kiev as often as unsuccessfully.