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8 May, 2020 00:06

‘Reformer’ again: Controversial Georgian ex-president Saakashvili takes charge of Ukraine’s reform body

‘Reformer’ again: Controversial Georgian ex-president Saakashvili takes charge of Ukraine’s reform body

After weeks of rumor and speculation, Mikhail Saakashvili, the former Georgian president who is wanted for embezzlement at home, has been appointed as head of Ukraine’s executive council on reforms.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on Thursday confirming Saakashvili’s new political role.

Zelensky said that he “sincerely congratulated” the 52-year-old on this “new challenge,” adding that he trusts Saakashvili to be able to “provide impetus” to the body and help him with “implementing important changes in the life of the country.”

According to media leaks, Saakashvili was initially considered for the job of deputy prime minister, but there was no consensus on his candidacy even among members of Zelensky’s own party.

The National Reform Council, of which he has now taken charge, is a presidential advisory body – and does need “impetus,” as it last convened more than two years ago.

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Saakashvili has long argued that Ukraine is in dire need of change, saying in an interview earlier this year that the quality of life in the country was “much worse” than during Soviet times, warning that it may well split into five separate states if something isn’t done.

His supporters praise him for the reforms he carried out in Georgia during his 2004–2013 presidency, insisting that he seriously reduced corruption there. However, those claims are soured by the criminal charges of large-scale embezzlement, which forced him to flee Georgia as soon as his term in office was over. Saakashvili was also infamously responsible for sending Georgian troops to attack the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008 – which provoked a military conflict with Russia after its peacekeepers stationed there came under attack.

The US-educated politician's fortunes took an unexpected turn in 2015, when then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko granted him citizenship and appointed him governor of the Black Sea coastal region of Odessa.

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The move soon became a PR disaster for Poroshenko, as the rash and unpredictable Saakashvili began bashing the Ukrainian authorities in an attempt to win the sympathy of the public. He was sacked from the job in 2016, deprived of his passport and deported from Ukraine.

Zelensky, who easily defeated Poroshenko in the presidential election in April 2019 on a platform of radical reforms and rooting out corruption, restored Saakashvili’s citizenship last May, with the “reformer” returning to Ukraine the day after.

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