“Saakashvili is more likely to hinder than to help”

Mikhail Saakashvili has returned to serious politics. Can Saakashvili's successful Georgian reforms have the same effect in Georgia like in Ukraine?

“Saakashvili is more likely to hinder than to help”
Photo: 5.ua

Mikhail Saakashvili has returned to serious politics in Ukraine. On May 8, the country's President Vladimir Zelensky appointed the former Georgian President and former Governor of Odessa under Poroshenko to the post of head of the Reform Committee under the National Reform Council of Ukraine. Why Zelensky has taken Saakashvili to his team, whether the successful Georgian reforms of Saakashvili can have the same effect in Ukraine and whether the former head of Georgia will stay in the Ukrainian leadership — read in the interview with famous Ukrainian political expert Mikhail Pogrebinsky.

Mikhail Borisovich, we know how the majority of Russians treat Saakashvili — negatively because of the armed conflict in South Ossetia in 2008. And how do ordinary Ukrainians feel about it?

Public opinion polls show a very low rating for Saakashvili. Of course, we can say that a lot of people know him, but there is almost no good attitude towards him — Saakashvili has never had more than 2-3 percent of the rating. Maybe by May 2020 the picture has changed — after all, Saakashvili's name has not been put in public opinion polls since last year.

What can be attributed to the low percentage of confidence of Ukrainians in Saakashvili? That he is not their, that he has a tough character?

It can be connected with the fact that he did not demonstrate anything good for Ukraine — people see that Saakashvili is a scandalous person, that he promises a lot of things, but really nothing is working out for him. Yes, he was given five years ago to prove himself as the Odessa governor, but in addition to some suspicious stories related to the region's near-port business, in addition to some conflicts with oligarchs and eventually with President Poroshenko, people have nothing else in their memory about him — there was too much information on television and in social networks about conflicts involving Saakashvili. But as for some information about the success of Saakashvili as a reformer... It persists, but only in narrow circles, and specifically, among people associated with grant structures, but no more.

Why does President Zelensky need Saakashvili now? This indicates the alarming state of the Ukrainian economy, which only reforms will save and specialists in reforms like the former President of Georgia?

The economy of Ukraine, of course, is being in a bad state, but this is not a reason to invite a person with such a reputation as Saakashvili. Zelensky's motives for inviting Saakashvili were, I think, not related to the current state of the Ukrainian economy. Our internal political kitchen, connected with the personnel confusion in the head of the president about who should be taken to his team, has passed a certain phase — as you know, last year an absolutely incompetent guy was appointed to the post of Prime Minister (we are talking about Aleksey Goncharuk — editor's note), who was recommended by people apparently connected with Soros, Pinchuk, people associated with grant structures, and such people influence the position of the ambassadors of the “Big Seven”.

Photo: vk.com/vladimir_zelenskiy95
I think that Zelensky was recommended to invite Saakashvili — the man who has a reputation for successful reformers for the “Big Seven”, for the American and European establishment

As a result, a government was formed, where a large role, disproportionate to the role of the head of the grant government in Ukraine, was played by Prime Minister Goncharuk, but it soon became clear that he was completely incompetent in this role. It took a very long time for President Zelensky to realize that Goncharuk was incompetent, but then there was a scandal with unflattering statements by Goncharuk about Zelensky, and the president began to purge the government's ranks of “Soros followers”— people raised by Soros' grant structures. Zelensky really got rid of many people in important roles — he got rid of them over the past two months, which was done despite the obvious dissatisfaction with the ambassadors of the “Big Seven”. But in order not to aggravate the ambassadors' dissatisfaction with Zelensky's actions, I think that Zelensky was recommended to invite Saakashvili — the man who has a reputation for successful reformers for the “Big Seven”, for the American and European establishment. Thus, Zelensky made a certain exchange — I, they say, fired some people and I want to fire someone else — for example, the minister of justice, because he is from the same company as Goncharuk, but at the same time, he invites Saakashvili as a kind of compensation, as a demonstration that he does not refuse market reforms, takes a person with the reputation of a successful reformer who will be engaged in reforms.

You have already mentioned our economic situation, but the situation has no conditions for the inclusion of reform mechanisms, because we in Ukraine are in a steep dive, are in economic decline, and here it is necessary to restore order, that is, to restore those structures which in principle can function and not to engage in destruction and the creation of new ones so now you need to go to stability of economic institutions.

Yes, Saakashvili did carry out reforms in Georgia, and I observed this because he was invited as president among experts and journalists to Georgia to show how he successfully acts as a reformer. During our visit in Georgia, we had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Saakashvili and talk with him and with members of his team, and some people from Saakashvili's team made a good impression on me — for example, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Eka Zguladze, who was later invited to Ukraine for the same position. I personally saw what Saakashvili did in the reforms, why it worked and what turned out to be a failure in these reforms, what the price of these reforms is, and so on. I am well aware that the reformist things that can be considered successful for Georgia are absolutely impossible to implement under Saakashvili in Ukraine by definition.

Saakashvili implemented many things in Georgia on the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund — IMF) — yes, something successfully, but Georgia is, first of all, a small country, and secondly, external assistance for Georgia was very noticeable, and in Ukraine this is impossible. If the reforms are the same as in Georgia, it will not do anything but harm Ukraine, and it will certainly do harm — Saakashvili is a very conflicted person, and he does not understand what is happening to the Ukrainian economy today, he does not know what the reasons for its decline, deindustrialization, and so on. Everything that Saakashvili can offer will not be implemented — Zelensky more or less understands this, but at the same time, it gives Zelensky new features of the image — like I am also a reformer, too.

Photo: imf.org
Saakashvili implemented many things in Georgia on the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund — IMF) — yes, something successfully, but Georgia is, first of all, a small country, and secondly, external assistance for Georgia was very noticeable, and in Ukraine this is impossible

What powers will Saakashvili have, what power? What can we see in the next three or four months, for example, when we turn to the Ukrainian topic — Russian TV likes it, you know?

This is still difficult to answer because there is no provision for the institute that Saakashvili now heads. I think that now Saakashvili will write a regulation about this body, but all Saakashvili's wishes about his capabilities and powers will not necessarily be supported by the government. Most likely, this committee will have the level of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine — everything is decided by the president, so as the president wants to make a decision, so it will be.

But I do not think that Saakashvili will get real powers — this is, of course, only my assumption, but it is based on previous experience and understanding of what such a person can expect, given that there is opposition within the Zelensky team over the appointment of Saakashvili to this position, and I am not talking about the fact that in Ukraine, irritation is accumulating that Zelensky does not fulfill his clear obligations that he took on a year ago.

Economic reforms are a matter on which Zelensky clearly said nothing a year ago, except for all sorts of irresponsible nonsense. But he definitely said that there will be a verdict on Poroshenko, that he will be engaged in the fight against corruption for real, that he will be engaged in peace in the East of Ukraine, but nothing of this was done at all, however, in these matters, if Saakashvili is involved in them, he will not only not help, but will be the fifth wheel in the cart, that is, he will rather hinder than help. I'm not even talking about the issues of relations with Russia — for Moscow, the appointment of Saakashvili may soon indicate the impossibility of any negotiations with Zelensky as a person who is not capable of negotiation.

You were not surprised that Zelensky's proposal to appoint Saakashvili as Deputy Prime Minister for Reforms split his parliamentary faction and he withdrew his decision. What did it say?

When this idea first appeared, and everyone was sure that everyone in Zelensky's team would approve of this idea, I was the only one who said that I had doubts that Zelensky would be able to put Saakashvili in an important position — I even said that the probability that the president would not be able to impose Saakashvili on important roles in the government was 70 to 30. I was right.

Photo: facebook.com/sluganarodu.official
In the ruling party Servant of the People as well as I know what kind of reformer Saakashvili is, although they do not know him personally, unlike me — they know from those who “manage” these deputies

Why didn't Zelensky succeed? In the ruling party Servant of the People as well as I know what kind of reformer Saakashvili is, although they do not know him personally, unlike me — they know from those who “manage” these deputies. For example, in Zelensky's party, there is a group associated with Kolomoisky, there is a group associated with Akhmetov and other oligarchs who closely monitor Ukrainian politics and understand that Saakashvili is an unmanageable figure, that it is not difficult to agree with him but impossible, that Saakashvili claims only the first roles, and the second roles will irritate him and eventually lead to a conflict with the president, with his party, and the deputies did not want this. There is also resistance to the Saakashvili figure in the government — the thing is that Saakashvili is a heavyweight politician, and there is not a single heavyweight politician in the government, and why should the prime minister and other people who make decisions there, a person who will prevent them from carrying out what they need? I think that it was very easy to predict — a weak president can't force the right vote!

Let's return to your point that many of the reforms that were successfully implemented in Georgia during the Saakashvili era will not have a positive effect in Ukraine. Because of what?

Let's take the Georgian reform of the traffic police, related to corruption, which is also in Ukraine. How was this problem solved in Georgia? Soros or someone like him from the US business community allocated in 2004 for this reform a huge amount — 10 million dollars, if I'm not mistaken. This allowed the Georgian leadership to quickly dismiss the old guys from the traffic police and hire new ones — it was easier to do this in Georgia — there were several hundred people working as guards (in Ukraine, tens of thousands work as such), and the Americans' money was enough to pay Georgian young guys — car inspectors a salary of around $ 300. Dismissed traffic police officers were previously paid $50 — of course, they could not survive without bribes! Young people who took positions in the traffic police were forced to value their position highly — for a bribe, they could now immediately be fired, and 300 dollars in Saakashvili's time in Georgia was good money. Can such a reform be done in Ukraine? This requires a lot of money, so this reform is unrealistic. Only the sphere of traffic police needs not millions, but billions of dollars!

The situation with customs is identical — there are very few customs officers in Georgia, there are only one and a half customs offices in the whole of Georgia, which are absolutely controlled, unlike the Ukrainian ones, where tens of thousands of people live on all sides of the border. In Georgia, as I was told by taxi drivers, it was simply impossible to steal a car under Saakashvili — before him, after stealing a car, you could take it out through South Ossetia and sell it in Russia, but since there was only one road on which the car could be taken to Russia, it was enough to put control on it under Saakashvili and the problem was solved!

Yes, in Georgia, there was a benefit from deregulatory reforms in relation to business and for the level of the small (I emphasize — small) economy of this country led to the growth of a good number of investments in it. However, as a result, the same Batumi turned into a pocket Turkish-Arab place where there is no or almost no Georgian property, but the city is very beautiful. But the scale of the economies of Georgia and Ukraine makes it unrealistic to use the tools that were used in Georgia in Ukraine. Reforms always cost money, but where can Ukraine get big money?

Photo: facebook.com/arsen.avakov.1
Saakashvili is a hotheaded man, and Avakov is also a hotheaded man, both are Caucasian people, and I had the opportunity to study the Armenian-Georgian friendship from both sides

So what can Saakashvili do for Ukraine if he is not the main person?

In some small areas that do not decide the fate of the Ukrainian economy, using an authoritarian style (and Saakashvili is still a real authoritarian person, even a dictator, not Yanukovich, Yushchenko or Poroshenko), you can carry out reforms. By the way, I want to mention, if Saakashvili is the head of the state — then you definitely won't have real fair law enforcement system — it did not exist at all under Saakashvili in Georgia. If he had to solve the problem in any sphere, ruled by an oligarch, mafia or corrupt official, associated shadow processes, Saakashvili just arrested this man and forced to give his assets that already the state took, if not Saakashvili and his team. And I know this not from anyone's words — I communicated in Georgia with one of the oligarchs, who, by the way, remained friends with Saakashvili.

But let's go back to your question — perhaps, Saakashvili will do something in terms of fighting monopolies — for example, in Ukraine, there is no work of the Antimonopoly Committee because everything there is connected with oligarchs: it is clear that this department needs to change the person, and then, perhaps, the lawlessness that suits Akhmetov in the energy sector, largely controlling it and thus arranging his business, will disappear. Now Akhmetov is closing the NPP units, as a result of which Ukraine loses cheap electricity and is forced to buy expensive ones from Akhmetov, and I think Saakashvili may well stop this lawlessness.

Photo: vk.com/vladimir_zelenskiy95
My guess is that by the end of the year, Zelensky's rating will fall by at least half compared to what it is today, and will be in the region of 25-30 per cent, which will mean that the majority of the population will want him to resign

Many of our readers know about the long-standing conflict between Saakashvili and another influential person in Ukraine — Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov: Saakashvili's accusation of corruption of Avakov led to mutual swearing and throwing glasses at one of the meetings of the country's leadership. Saakashvili recently said that he did not fight with Avakov, but with the system, and did not want to be in the centre of conflicts. Is the conflict over?

Of course, due to the possible appointment to the government, Saakashvili had to say that he did not need to conflict with anyone, but Saakashvili is a hotheaded man, and Avakov is also a hotheaded man, both are Caucasian people, and I had the opportunity to study the Armenian-Georgian friendship from both sides: Georgians still do not recognize that Christianity appeared in Armenia earlier than in Georgia, and although this is a generally recognized fact, they do not recognize it. Therefore, it is very difficult to imagine that Avakov and Saakashvili will now behave differently — especially since Saakashvili can attend government meetings because the president gave him such powers, and since he can take part in Cabinet meetings, it means that he can also have a voice in these meetings, that is, he can speak, say about someone that they are corrupt and they should be in prison.

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