Ex-president of Georgia accepts top Cabinet job in Ukraine

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Georgia’s former president on Friday accepted a top Cabinet job in Ukraine — a move that angered his home country.

Mikheil Saakashvili, who served as Georgia’s president from 2004-2013, told reporters that he accepted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s offer to become a deputy prime minister in charge of reforms. He said that Zelenskiy specifically asked him to conduct talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Ukraine desperately needs IMF loans to shore up its economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ukraine is to face the most difficult social and economic test since it won independence,” Saakashvili said, describing the nation’s economic situation as “catastrophic.”

The job offer to Saakashvili angered the government of Georgia led by his political foes. “Saakashvili’s appointment by the country that is our strategic partner is categorically unacceptable for us,” said Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

Gakharia noted that Saakashvili has been convicted by a Georgian court and a warrant has been issued for his arrest, adding that Georgia will recall its ambassador from Kyiv if the appointment is made.

In 2018, a Georgian court convicted Saakashvili on abuse of power charges that he and his allies described as politically motivated. Saakashvili was hailed for streamlining the government and fighting corruption, but his popularity was eroded by a crackdown on protests and the 2008 war with Russia that led to the loss of two separatist provinces.

Saakashvili’s appointment, which is expected to be approved next week by the parliament dominated by Zelenskiy’s party, marks a remarkable political comeback for the former Georgian leader.

Saakashvili started a new political career in Ukraine in 2015 when then-President Petro Poroshenko appointed him governor of the Odessa region. The two fell out a year later, and the president stripped Saakashvili, who led anti-government protests, of the Ukrainian citizenship.

Zelenskiy, the comedian who unseated Poroshenko in last year’s election, quickly restored Ukrainian citizenship for Saakashvili.

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