KYIV -- Georgia summoned its ambassador to Ukraine back to Tbilisi in a sign of its displeasure over Kyiv’s decision to name Mikheil Saakashvili to a government reform body.
Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani said May 8 that the nation’s ambassador to Ukraine, Teimuraz Sharashenidze, will be recalled to Tbilisi for consultations.
The decision comes a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy named Saakashvili, the controversial former Georgian president, to head the executive committee of Ukraine’s National Reform Council.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kateryna Zelenko said Kyiv needs Saakashvili’s experience and called on Tbilisi not to make its reform agenda hostage to the health of their bilateral relations.
"These [reform] challenges require new approaches and new solutions from the Ukrainian government. Mikheil Saakashvili is a citizen of Ukraine. He has extensive experience and significant achievements in implementing reforms,” Zelenko told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.
Ukraine’s National Reform Council was created in 2014 to carry out strategic planning and coordinate reforms. Zelenskiy campaigned last year on a reform agenda, winning the April 2019 vote by a landslide.
Saakashvili, 52, served as Georgia’s president from 2004 until 2013, during which he carried out political and economic reforms that were praised by some in the West. However, he was criticized, especially later in his two-year term, for an authoritarian style of ruling.
His party, United National Movement, was defeated in the 2012 parliamentary elections by Georgian Dream, a coalition formed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, a critic of the then-president. Saakashvili left Georgia shortly after his presidential term ended in late 2013 as some members of his party were arrested.
In January 2018, a Georgian court convicted him in absentia of covering up evidence in the case of the killing of a Georgian banker and sentenced him to three years in prison. In June 2018, another court convicted him of abuse of power and sentenced him to six years in prison.
Saakashvili has denied all the accusations and says the charges are politically motivated.
In 2015-2016, Saakashvili served as governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region. When he resigned, he accused Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, of corruption. Poroshenko, in turn, stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship.
As one of his first acts as president last year, Zelenskiy restored Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship, facilitating Saakashvili’s return to Ukraine.
Last month, Zelenskiy proposed appointing Saakashvili as deputy prime minister in charge of reform, but his candidacy was not put to a vote in parliament.