Former Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvili — who deserved praise for remaking his country’s economy a decade ago — likes to refer to himself as “old revolutionary.” But that is not why he was invited to Ukraine four years ago after he lost his last election in Georgia.
He was invited to Ukraine by President Petro Poroshenko who went to university with Mr. Saakashvili. Mr. Poroshenko knew Mr. Saakashvili needed a home and had proven skills as a reformer. So Mr. Poroshenko gave him Ukrainian citizenship and the governorship of the important Odessa region of Ukraine, which needed some cleaning up. Mr. Saakashvili seemed capable of the task at the time.
Hopes were high across the Ukrainian society. Well, we were wrong.
Instead of a reformer, we got a revolutionary. Instead of getting a miracle-maker, we got a virus that has infected Ukraine’s political system, driven by a wounded ego and an insatiable desire for power. Mr. Saakashvili has been little more than an agent of disruption since he arrived in Ukraine, a country that can stand no more political upheaval. He illegally breached Ukraine’s border, has called for another Maidan-style revolution, mocked Ukrainian law and called for the seizure of public buildings.
Ukraine cannot afford another revolution, nor does it need one.
Ukraine is fighting an ongoing war against Russia, which has used military force to illegally seize Crimea and to occupy eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin also continues to weaponize disinformation and propaganda to try to destabilize Ukraine’s democratically elected government and its reform efforts. Moreover, it looks like Mr. Saakashvili was ready to make a pact with the devil, receiving financial injections from a Kremlin-backed oligarch.
He is playing right into Russia’s hands and the sad truth is that consciously or subconsciously Mr. Saakashvili has become an instrument of undermining Ukraine. He probably sees this and knows it, but — insultingly — does not care. The price of his actions does not matter to him. Neither do the consequences. The only thing that matters for Mr. Saakashvili is Mr. Saakashvili.
Ukraine in 2017 isn’t Georgia in 2003-2013 when Mr. Saakashvili was in charge there. It appears he can work miracles only when he has total control. He was an effective reformer in Georgia because he could do whatever he pleased, no matter the cost. Ukraine today isn’t like that, nor should it be. We endured two recent revolutions to prevent a return of this kind of strongman government. If Ukraine wanted an autocracy, we would have surrendered to Russia a long time ago.
Right now, Ukraine needs three things: peace in the east, support from the outside and a strong social contract between the government and Ukrainians. Mr. Saakashvili isn’t contributing to any of these goals. He says he is rebelling against corrupt institutions, but he isn’t. He is destroying public confidence. He isn’t fairly and responsibly criticizing. He is being reckless. He is a bull in a china shop. But it’s not dishes he’s shattering, it’s the lives of millions of Ukrainians and the stability of the entire region.
This is not to say that Ukrainian authorities are beyond reproach. Far from it. Too many mistakes are being made and reforms aren’t moving with the speed we would like them to. But most of these issues have nothing to do with Mr. Saakashvili.
One of those issues was a recent attempt to remove Ukraine’s key anti-corruption state attorneys. But Ukrainian society will no longer be Play-Doh in the hands of the political class. Ukraine’s reforms — as bumpy as they may be — are still ongoing. The Ukrainian people will no longer tolerate inertia and naked corruption.
In this emotionally charged time, the duty of the political class is to act responsibly. Let’s be honest: we haven’t always been up to this task. But this doesn’t diminish the enormous accomplishments by Ukraine in recent years nor does it ignore the work yet to be done. Ukraine needs leaders who are part of the solution, who are visionary, trusted, patriotic, ready to really serve their people, and are not sources of chaos and instability. Mr. Saakashvili does not fit.
• Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze is a deputy prime minister of Ukraine.
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