Foreigners in Ukrainian leadership are ‘humiliation’ – ex-Georgian prez turned Ukrainian governor

Governor of Odessa region Mikheil Saakashvili (L) and U.S. Senator John McCain © Stringer
Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was appointed as a governor in Ukraine and brought in several members of his Georgian team to take senior positions, says inviting a foreigner to lead the Ukrainian cabinet would be humiliating.

The statement, which sounds quite confusing coming from Saakashvili, was voiced by the disgraced former Georgian head of state during an interview with TV channel 112 Ukraine on Wednesday, when he argued against replacing highly unpopular Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk with a foreigner reformist.

They say we’ll bring in some foreigner reformer, get some mothballed Eastern European prime minister or minister. They may be good folk, and some of them I know, love and respect. But what do they have to do with Ukraine?” Saakashvili said.

That would be a humiliation of Ukraine, real shame,” he added.

The anchor noted that Saakashvili himself is a foreigner invited by President Petro Poroshenko to govern the Odessa Region. Saakashvili answered that he had taken part in both Maidans, referring to the popular Ukrainian uprisings of 2004 and 2013-2014, and so could be considered an “active Ukrainian politician throughout all this time”.

Saakashvili was appointed as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Region in May of 2015, after which he brought in several members of his old Georgian team, including Ukraine’s current national police chief Khatia Dekanoidze, who was Georgia’s education minister; Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze, who held a similar position in the Georgian government; Deputy General Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze, who held a similar position in the Georgian government as well, and was also Saakashvili’s lawyer; and Gizo Uglava, Ukraine’s current Head of the Anticorruption Bureau and Georgia’s former deputy general prosecutor.

Yatsenyuk’s government has several foreigners as ministers as well. Finance Minister Natali Yaresko was born in the US. Lithuanian businessman Aivaras Abromavicius is still officially Ukraine’s Minister of Economy and Trade, pending confirmation of his resignation, which he filed in February saying he would not be a party to embezzlement schemes. The move triggered a political crisis in Ukraine that has yet to be resolved.

The Ukrainian parliament failed to sack Yatsenyuk’s government after Abromavicius’s demarche, but the consensus in Ukraine is that he will vacate his chair as soon as a suitable replacement can be found. Former Polish Vice-Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who steered Poland through painful economic reforms in 1989, was proposed as a possible candidate by an aide of President Poroshenko, but declined the offer.

Saakashvili was the Georgia’s president from 2004 to 2013, having seized power through a bloodless public uprising. During his time in office, he conducted profound reforms in the country. The end of his tenure was marked by a sharp decline in popularity and shocking revelations concerning the persecution of his political opponents and other alleged crimes. He is wanted by Georgia’s law enforcement authorities on several charges, including embezzlement, but claims to be a victim of persecution.

Technically, Saakashvili is right to call himself Ukrainian rather than Georgian. Poroshenko had to grant Saakashvili citizenship in order to make him eligible for his present post, as it is a requirement for those holding a high office in the country. However, Saakashvili’s native country does not allow dual citizenship unless it is granted to a foreigner by the president, so Georgia’s former president was stripped of his Georgian citizenship.