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Saakashvili Lashes Out At Poroshenko, Quits As Odesa Governor

  • Christopher Miller

KYIV -- The boisterous former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has resigned as governor of Ukraine's turbulent Odesa region, accusing the Ukrainian president of dishonesty and the central government of sabotaging crucial reforms.

"This is going on quite openly," Saakashvili told an outdoor press conference streamed live on Facebook from the port of Odesa.

Then, in an apparent allusion to the continuing war pitting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine against the central government in Kyiv, he added that the "Odesa region is being handed over not only to corrupt people, but also to enemies of Ukraine."

Saakashvili, a firebrand reformer who was Georgian president from 2004-13, was appointed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to govern the Black Sea coastal region in May 2015.

He has repeatedly clashed with Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov, who is a former ally of ousted pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

Saakashvili relinquished his Georgian citizenship to assume official responsibilities in Odesa.

He had expressed increasing frustration with Poroshenko in recent months over reported efforts to root out corrupt officials and said in his resignation speech on November 7 that he was tired of broken presidential promises.

Looking straight at news cameras, Saakashvili directed a question at the president: "How much can you lie and cheat?"

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) presents Saakashvili as Odesa's new governor on May 30, 2015.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) presents Saakashvili as Odesa's new governor on May 30, 2015.

Poroshenko's press office did not respond to Saakashvili's accusations, saying in an e-mailed statement to RFE/RL only that "the cabinet will submit Saakashvili’s resignation to the president, [and] he will accept this resignation."

"The issue of why Mr. Saakashvili filed his resignation will be reviewed in an appropriate manner," the president's office added.

A presidential aide who spoke with RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to comment before an official statement was released said he was surprised by the timing of Saakashvili’s announcement but not by the accusations leveled at Poroshenko, given other recent critical remarks.

Saakashvili said that “the last straw that broke my patience” was Ukrainian officials’ income declarations made public last week. The data exposed vast gaps between the fortunes of politicians and those they represent at a time when Ukraine is pleading with the West for financial assistance.

The declarations placed Poroshenko and several lawmakers from his political party -- the Petro Poroshenko Bloc Solidarity -- on a list of the richest individuals in Ukraine, with millions of dollars' worth of assets in cash and property.

News of Saakashvili's resignation came as little surprise to Ukraine's reformist politicians and former cabinet members, some of whom said they viewed it as more evidence that the reform drive inspired by the Euromaidan unrest in 2013-14 was dying off.

Aivaras Abromavicius, the Lithuanian-born Ukrainian who served as the minister of economy in the technocratic government formed after the Euromaidan revolution, told RFE/RL that those pushing for change "have met a lot of obstruction."

"Ukraine’s leadership and management style is not suitable for the type of challenges the country is facing and the time we’re living in," said Abromavicius, who resigned along with his team at the ministry in February, complaining of corruption. "There needs to be more encouragement and empowerment of people who came to power after revolution. Those people have not been given real chances."

For the notoriously corrupt Black Sea region, Saakashvili's resignation "is not going to improve matters on that front in Odesa," Abromavicius continued. "A lot of young, energetic reformers rallied around him in Odesa. But clearly, as has always been the case, that there's not been enough support from the central government.

"There’s so much more that all of us could have done with the right type of support," Abromavicius added.

Poroshenko allies have defended the president, saying Abromavicius and other critics have sought to lay the blame for their own failures on the ruling party.

Saakashvili vowed to reporters on November 7 to "start a new stage of the struggle" in Ukraine, although he did not provide details.

"I will do everything it takes until we win a complete victory to free Ukraine from this scum, from this corrupt dirt that capitalizes on the blood of our soldiers and victims of the [Euromaidan], who betrayed the idea of the Ukrainian revolution and whose only motivation is to line their own pockets!" he said.

The Euromaidan unrest cost many entrenched Ukrainian officials their jobs -- including West-wary President Yanukovych -- but it also ushered in instability that neighboring Russia seized on by sending troops to seize Crimea early in 2014. Moscow denies arming and supporting separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine, despite considerable evidence to the contrary.

Saakashvili, who attended university in Ukraine, won over some Ukrainians early on with lofty talk of reform and fierce criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose forces he took on unsuccessfully as Georgia's president in a lightning war in 2008 in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

One of Saakashvili's most widely acknowledged achievements as president of Georgia was a widespread crackdown on corruption and police reforms, although detractors there have accused him of going too far. He faces criminal charges in Georgia that he says are politically motivated.

Days before parliamentary elections last month in Georgia, he told a crowd of his former party’s supporters via video that he would return to his home country to set the record straight after their election victory. Instead, his former party was dealt a crushing defeat.

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    Christopher Miller

    Christopher Miller is a correspondent based in Kyiv and covers the former Soviet republics. He can be reached at millerjchristopher@gmail.com

     

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