Georgia has recalled its ambassador to Ukraine for consultations after Georgia’s former President Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed as a chairman of the Ukrainian Executive Reform Committee, the foreign minister said.
“Georgia’s strategic partner’s decision to appoint a person, who is convicted by Georgian courts and prosecuted, raises questions,” David Zalkaliani told reporters on Friday.
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He said the decision did not mean breaking diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In 2018, Georgia convicted Saakashvili of abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the 2005 beating of an opposition member of parliament when he was president – charges the former leader dismissed as politically motivated.
Saakashvili also has a troubled history with Ukraine.
He was appointed on Thursday to the senior role on the body chaired by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The move marked another political comeback for one of the post-Soviet world’s most recognisable politicians, although it was not immediately clear how much influence Saakashvili would be able to exert over Zelenskyy’s administration.
He joins as Ukraine faces a recession caused by a nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and as the government tries to secure aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that is contingent on Kyiv’s reform performance.
According to a decree published by Zelenskyy’s office, Saakashvili will head an executive committee at the National Reform Council.
“Several bottles of excellent Georgian wine from my village broke through the lockdown and reached me today. In principle, today there is something to celebrate,” Saakashvili wrote on his Facebook page.
The former Georgian president had been sounded out for the post of deputy prime minister in April, but that move petered out after he held talks with legislators in Zelenskyy’s party who would have needed to confirm his appointment.
Saakashvili also served for a brief but turbulent spell under Zelenskyy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, and became an outspoken critic of Poroshenko’s government.
The council was set up by Poroshenko in August 2014 to drive reforms but it has not met since Zelenskyy’s election – which was supported Saakashvili – by last year.
Former Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, who served under Zelenskyy, said the council had become a decorative institution and the significance of Saakashvili‘s appointment would depend on whether the body would be given more heft.
The role in the council could bring Saakashvili closer to Zelenskyy and also allow him to speak his mind, Honcharuk said.
“In the national council, he is closer to the president. Moreover, as the deputy prime minister, Saakashvili would not have been able to criticise the prime minister. Now it will be much easier for him to do this,” Honcharuk told Reuters News Agency.