Ukraine and Georgia are two post-Soviet states that cooperated in recent years and established contacts in all areas, including the active participation in the Eastern Partnership programme. However, a significant factor worsens this bilateral co-operation, namely the actions and words of the politician Mikheil Saakashvili, former Georgian president and now Ukrainian citizen and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Reform Council under President of Ukraine.
Saakashvili has not given up trying to influence the policy of the state he had previously headed, although he lives and works in Ukraine now. That’s why he occasionally records video appeals to his supporters in Georgia. In one of the recent messages, he stated, in particular, that he considered the current Georgian government illegal and also intended to promote its change actively.
The Georgian side could not ignore such statements by the incumbent Ukrainian official. Parliamentary elections are scheduled there for October. And, in fact, Saakashvili warned that he would actively participate in the process.
On 10 July, Ukrainian Ambassador to Tbilisi Igor Dolgov was summoned to the Georgian Foreign Ministry. During the meeting, concern over the of Saakashvili’s statements addressed to the Georgian authorities was expressed to the Ukrainian side. That is not the first appeal of the politician, which testifies to the attempts to interfere in Georgia internal affairs.
Dolgov had to reassure the Georgian side that Saakashvili’s words were just an expression of his “personal views” and that Ukraine hoped that cooperation with Georgia would continue developing at all levels.
Besides, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine published its position on the situation, dissociating itself from the “unauthorized persons” statements regarding Georgia.
“Ukraine highly values the strategic partnership with Georgia and reaffirms its readiness to develop bilateral relations in the spirit of friendship and good neighbourliness.… The co-operation in the European and Euro-Atlantic integration field is strengthened. The two countries have common security challenges and problems of the Russian-occupied territories of both states. The partnership in these and other areas takes place between the authorities of two countries based on trust, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In this regard, we emphasize that the Ukrainian legislation clearly defines the list of officials and state bodies that are empowered to express the Ukrainian state official position. One should not consider public statements by unauthorized persons the state position,” the Ministry stressed.
To recap, the appointment of Mikheil Saakashvili’s to the post of Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Reform Council under the President of Ukraine dissatisfied the Georgian side and caused a diplomatic scandal. Georgia asked to give up Saakashvili’s appointment, and after it happened, recalled its Ambassador from Ukraine for the consultations. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry then called on Georgia “not to make bilateral relations dependent on the reform process in Ukraine.” President Volodymyr Zelensky called Georgia’s decision to recall the Ambassador a “mistake.”
The scandal was resolved. But here is another loud statement by Saakashvili, which may create tension in relations between the countries. Also, several criminal cases against the former president are being investigated in absentia in Georgia. A few sentences of imprisonment have been already given.
There is an assumption that Saakashvili’s return to Ukraine and re-granting Ukrainian citizenship to him by the new government was conceived as one of the ways to “deal” with the fifth president, Petro Poroshenko. A former friend and then a staunch enemy, Saakashvili was to become a kind of “political weapon” against the former Ukrainian Head of State. However, so far several people are doing quite well on this front, in particular Andriy Portnov, who was the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency. He has already initiated more than a dozen criminal proceedings against Poroshenko.
Both the fifth president of Ukraine and his party “European Solidarity” declare political persecution. The EU has already heard these appeals, promised to monitor Poroshenko’s affairs and warned the authorities against persecuting him on the political ground.
According to the experts, Saakashvili is kept “in reserve” now, but due to his inflammatory nature, his actions and words cannot be controlled. So, it is necessary to extinguish diplomatic scandals related to his statements in emergency mode.
On the other hand, the very fact of Saakashvili’s appointment by Zelensky shifts a part of the responsibility for the tensions in Ukrainian-Georgian relations personally to Ukraine’s Head. If the actual government fails to stop the inflammatory civil servant (which, according to those in the know, is almost impossible), Ukraine may lose a significant partner on the global stage, at least temporarily. In another case, Saakashvili will have to be resigned to disassociate official Ukraine from his statements.