Saakashvili slams Yatsenyuk over Ukraine 'reforms', denies wanting his job

By bne IntelliNews September 4, 2015

bne IntelliNews -

Former president of Georgia and current governor of Odesa Mikheil Saakashvili has slammed Ukraine's embattled Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk over the lack of reforms and his ties to oligarchs in a TV interview on September 3. But Saakashvili denied aiming to become prime minister himself, despite an electronic petition being posted to the presidential website calling for his appointment. 

"I cannot call reforms what the government calls reforms. I have heard Arseny Yatsenyuk many times. He calls it a reform that [utility] tariffs have been hiked," Saakashvili said. "I don't call this a reform, I call this a result of the economic crisis," he added, arguing that higher utility tariffs would benefit corrupt officials.

Only hours before the half hour long interview, given on prime time to a TV channel owned by President Petro Poroshenko, an online petition was posted on the presidential website calling for Saakashvili to replace Yatsenyuk as prime minister. Saakashvili, 47, denied he wanted the job. "I don't intend to become prime minister, but I don't want the county to be ruled by oligarchs," he said.

However, Saakashvili is widely regarded as a possible candidate to replace Yatsenyuk as prime minister, and his half-hour long interview criticising Yatsenyuk will fuel such perceptions. 

Yatsenyuk, one of the leaders of opposition protests that unseated former president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, has taken the brunt of popular discontent for Ukraine's economic collapse, harsh austerity conditions and lack of reforms. According to the latest opinion polls, only 2.8% would vote for his People's Front party in elections, less than a year after scoring 22% in national elections.

Saakashvili is widely considered to have successfully reformed Georgia after becoming president in 2003, but was forced to flee the country after losing power in 2012. In May 2015, Poroshenko gave him Ukrainian citizenship and appointed him governor of Odesa region with a mandate for reforms.

Saakashvili harshly criticised continued corruption under Yatsenyuk, alleging that corruption in the customs and tax services was the result of officials appointed by Yatsenyuk. 

"I have not only not seen any plugging of corruption holes, but I have seen many of them grow in size. In front of my eyes, corruption has taken new forms and perhaps it has moved from the lower level, where it always existed, to a higher level. But it continues," Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili underlined that failure to reform was the fault of the prime minister, not the president. "It is the goverment that rules the country," Saakshvili underlined, saying that his attempts at reforms in Odesa were being "sabotaged" not by local clans, or Russia, but by "central government organs".

Saakashvili slammed Yatsenyuk over alleged close links to oligarchs. He quoted Lithuanian-born economy minister Aivaras Abromavicius as telling him that "yes the government is in the interests of the oligarchs, but we are only ministers, we can't do anything."

"Yatsenyuk regularly makes decisions in favour of [oligarchs Ihor] Kolomoisky and [Rinat] Akhmetov," Saakashvili said.

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