Ukraine’s parliament is expected to approve the appointment of Mikheil Saakashvili as deputy prime minister. Georgia’s former President will likely serve as a figure creating a balance between various oligarchic groups who are linked with different foreign powers.
In May 2015 Saakashvili was granted Ukrainian citizenship by President Petro Poroshenko and was also appointed as governor of the Odessa region on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. After complaining about lack of political support from Kyiv, he resigned in November 2016. At the time, he first entered a confrontation with the prime minister, later with the interior minister and finally with President Poroshenko himself. He will now join the administration of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is heavily linked with powerful oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. The billionaire oligarch is apparently hostile to US President Donald Trump, which is why there are indications that Saakashvili’s main task will be to create a counterbalance to the fraction within Ukrainian leadership that is close to the former US vice-president Joe Biden. It is worth noting that Rudolph Giuliani, the lawyer of the U.S. President Donald Trump, in May last year canceled his trip to Ukraine after he found that President Zelensky is surrounded by “representatives of Kolomoisky and the enemies of President Trump”.
According to Pavlo Klimkin, former Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, it is likely that Saakashvili’s main function will be to create media spin and to play a part in the bickering between key business groups. In other words, if Saakashvili is backed by the elements of the Trump administration, it is likely that President Zelensky will have to balance between the former Georgian leader on the one hand, and the interests of oligarchs who are linked with the previous US administration on the other. In any case, since Ukraine is a country with limited sovereignty, it is very improbable the appointment of Saakasvhili is Zelensky’s own choice.
Andy Hunder, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, believes this is only a short-term appointment, as Saakashvili hopes to return to his native Georgia. This may happen after autumn’s parliamentary elections if his political party does well. In the meantime, Saakashvili’s new role in Ukrainian politics could “cast a shadow over the friendship between the two countries.” Georgia’s Foreign Ministry has reportedly decided to recall its ambassador from Ukraine after it was announced that Saakashvili could become the Ukrainian deputy prime minister. In the long term, relations between the two former Soviet republics will remain relatively good, as they have the same enemy – Russia.
Some analysts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin will benefit from the appointment of Saakashvili as the deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, since the former Georgian President is expected to bring strong anti-Russia sentiment to Ukrainian political life, which could encourage Moscow to send more help to its proxies in Donbass. However, Ukraine has already been infected with something that Georgian political analyst Ghia Abashidze described as the “anti-Russia virus”, and it can hardly get worse. Moscow will likely provide support to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic regardless of political figures who act as policy makers in Ukraine. For Russia, Donbass is significant due to its energy resources, primarily coal. After the transformation of the global petrodollar system, coal is expected to command a high price. Therefore, Saakashvili’s new role in Ukrainian politics has very little to do with Russia, unless his foreign backers plan to push Ukraine into another conflict which at this point seems very unlikely.
Saakashvili is also expected to be in charge of talks with the International Monetary Fund. Ukraine is seeking financial assistance from foreign backers, including an $8 billion fund from the IMF to cushion its economy which is expected to shrink by nearly five percent this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ukraine’s Finance Ministry expects two disbursements worth $3.5 billion will be provided by the IMF under a new program by the end of 2020. It is worth noting that one of the key conditions for IMF loans was a law on a land reform that the Ukrainian parliament recently approved. The legislation is expected to allow local oligarchs, as well as foreign companies, to buy fertile Ukrainian black soil and arable lands. Such a policy proved to be catastrophic in many countries worldwide, as it turned local farmers – former landowners – into low paid wage laborers for multinational corporations.
It remains to be seen what reforms Saakashvili will try to implement, and how successful he will be. It will also be interesting to observe his relations with his long-time opponent Arsen Avakov, who is believed to be the most powerful figure in Ukrainian government. One thing is for sure – oligarchs and foreign actors will keep playing the most important roles in Ukrainian politics.
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Seems like Ukraine will not have much of a future. Zelensky was elected on an anti-corruption campaign, but I hardly see that his administration has actually been able to make much progress.
Behind the scenes oligarchs seem to be the controlling interests.