TBILISI/KYIV -- The government of Georgia, led by former President Mikheil Saakashvili's longtime foes, has voiced objection to his possible appointment to the post of deputy prime minister of Ukraine, saying such a move would negatively affect relations between the two countries.
Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said in Tbilisi on April 24 that it was "absolutely unacceptable" for Ukraine to appoint to a top post a person who has been convicted in his native Georgia and is wanted on charges of abuse of power.
"If such a decision is made we would recall our ambassador from Kyiv for consultations, at a minimum,” Gakharia told journalists.
In Kyiv, Ukrainian lawmakers representing the ruling Servant of the People party said they were divided over the government's proposal to give Saakashvili the post of deputy prime minister in charge of reforms.
Saakashvili, whose appointment needs to be approved by parliament, told reporters that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had asked him to conduct talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Ukraine, which desperately needs IMF loans to shore up its economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, is to face "the most difficult social and economic test since it won independence," he said.
If Saakashvili's appointment is approved, it would mark a remarkable political comeback for the 52-year-old, who served as Georgian president from 2004 to 2013.
In Georgia, he has been prosecuted by the government that came to power after his party's defeat in 2012 parliamentary elections.
Saakashvili was sentenced in 2018 to a total of nine years in prison in absentia after being convicted of abuse of power in two separate cases.
Prosecutors also said that he was wanted in his native country for allegedly authorizing a plot to kill an opposition politician who died in Britain in 2008.
Saakashvili, who has rejected all charges as politically motivated, started a new political career in Ukraine in 2015, when he was granted Ukrainian citizenship and appointed to the Odesa governor's post by Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko.
But when relations between Poroshenko and Saakashvili soured over reform efforts and the fight against corruption, the Ukrainian president in 2016 fired him as governor.
In 2017, Saakashvili created the Movement of New Forces opposition party and Poroshenko issued a decree that stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship, which was reinstated by Zelenskiy after his inauguration last year.
Ukraine and Georgia are seeking closer ties with the West, including membership in NATO, and both have strained relations with Russia, which has been involved in wars in both countries.