KIEV (Reuters) – Mikheil Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, is set to join a Ukrainian advisory body on reforms, two sources in President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office told Reuters.
Saakashvili’s appointment will mark another comeback for one of the most recognisable figures in post-Soviet politics, who also served for a brief but turbulent spell in Ukraine under Zelenskiy’s predecessor Petro Poroshenko.
A presidential decree confirming Saakashvili’s appointment to lead the executive committee of Ukraine’s National Reform Council, first reported by local media on Wednesday, is expected on Thursday, the sources said.
The council, which is chaired by the president, is an advisory body set up by Poroshenko in 2014 to carry out the strategic planning and coordinated implementation of reforms.
Saakashvili said last month that he had been offered the post of deputy prime minister, an appointment that needed to be confirmed by parliament. But momentum petered out after Saakashvili held consultations with lawmakers.
But news of his planned move needled Georgia’s government, which said it was “unacceptable” for Saakashvili to be deputy prime minister given he had been convicted of several crimes. It threatened to withdraw its ambassador to Kiev for consultations.
Saakashvili was brought in to run the southern Odessa region of Ukraine by Poroshenko, based on a track record of fighting corruption as Georgian president after the 2003 Rose Revolution.
But he resigned a year later, accusing Poroshenko of corruption, which Poroshenko denied.
The Ukrainian authorities stripped Saakashvili of his citizenship when he was abroad, but he barged his way through a checkpoint at the Polish border to get back into Ukraine in September 2017, only to be deported five months later.
He returned last year after Zelenskiy restored his citizenship in one of his first official acts as president.
A Georgian court sentenced Saakashvili in absentia to six years in prison in June 2018 for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the 2005 beating of an opposition member of parliament when he was president.
Saakashvili, who has denied all charges against him, was sentenced to a separate three years in prison in January 2018 after he was convicted of seeking to cover up evidence about the murder of a Georgian banker.
His supporters said the verdict was politically motivated, while Western countries expressed concern that the Georgian Dream government, which came to power after defeating Saakashvili’s party in 2012 elections, had used selective justice and political persecution against opponents.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tblisi; Editing by Matthias Williams and Alexander Smith)