Mikheil Saakashvili, the governor of Odesa Oblast and ex-president of Georgia, submitted his resignation on Nov. 7.
Saakashvili, who became governor in May 2015, attributed his resignation to what he described as the sabotage of his reforms in the region by the central government, including President Petro Poroshenko. He also accused the president’s inner circle of being corrupt.
Saakashvili’s resignation was preceded by that of his protege, Odesa Oblast police chief Giorgi Lortkipanidze, on the same day. Another Saakashvili ally, Davit Sakvarelidze, was fired as chief prosecutor of the region and deputy prosecutor general in March.
Two other appointees of Saakashvili, Maria Gaidar and Sasha Borovik, resigned as deputy governors of Odesa Oblast in May, though they stayed on as advisors.
Poroshenko’s press office said the president would approve Saakashvili’s resignation if the Cabinet authorized it, and that it would analyze the reasons for his intention to resign. However, Poroshenko’s representatives declined to comment on the governor’s accusations of corruption among officials and sabotage of reform.
“I’ve decided to resign and start a new stage of my struggle,” Saakashvili said. “… I’ll do whatever is necessary to get rid of this corrupt scum that profiteers on the blood of our soldiers and the victims of EuroMaidan – the scum that betrayed the idea of the Ukrainian Revolution.”
Borovik told the Kyiv Post that the governor’s move was “politically smart” and a “sign of despair.”
“It has been impossible to get anything done, and he started to engage more and more in the struggle with local elites and the Mafia without any real power on his own,” Borovik said. “Now he should lead the opposition of the pro-reformists to the president and his camp, as well as to the People’s Front and the oligarchs.”
Sakvarelidze said on Nov. 7 that Saakashvili would not leave Ukraine and would continue political activities in the country. Saakashvili started a reformist political project called the Movement for Cleansing last year, while his supporters launched the reformist Hvylia (Wave) party in July.
Sergii Leshchenko, a lawmaker from the Poroshenko Bloc, said on Nov. 7 that Saakashvili would try to unite Hvylia with another reform-oriented party, the Democratic Alliance. He also said that Saakashvili’s efforts had been blocked because he rejected Poroshenko’s offer to head the presidential bloc.
“Saakashvili’s resignation is the logical completion of the exodus of reformers,” Leshchenko said. “… It resulted from the expulsion of everyone who refused to be part of the corrupt consensus.”
In his resignation statement, Saakashvili lashed out at Poroshenko and his allies. Those named by Saakashvili deny the accusations.
“I’m sick and tired,” Saakashvili said. “Is there any difference for Ukrainians whether it’s Poroshenko or (ex-President Viktor) Yanukovych spitting on them? Is there any difference if they are robbed by (Yanukovych ally) Yury Ivanyushchenko or (Poroshenko ally Ihor) Kononenko? Is there any difference whether (Poroshenko’s deputy chief of staff Vitaly) Kovalchuk or (Yanukovych’s chief of staff Andriy) Klyuyev embezzles everything?”
Saakashvili argued that ex-Prime Minister Arseniy “Yatsenyuk’s people were edged out by Poroshenko’s people, but they keep running the same corruption schemes.” Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and State Fiscal Service head Roman Nasirov, whom he believes to be “strongholds of corruption,” have remained in their jobs, he added.
He said that Poroshenko supported two clans in Odesa Oblast: “the criminal clan of (Odesa Mayor Gennady) Trukhanov and the corrupt Izmail clan of (politician) Igor Urbansky.”
According to an Italian police dossier obtained by the Slidstvo.info investigative journalism project, Trukhanov was a member of a criminal gang in Odesa in the 1990s. He denies the accusations.
Saakashvili also accused lawmakers Oleksiy Goncharenko from the Poroshenko Bloc, Serhiy Kivalov from the Opposition Bloc and Oleksandr Presman from the Vidrodzhennya party of robbing Odesa, under both Yanukovych and Poroshenko.
Sabotage of reforms
Saakashvili said the central authorities were blocking all of his reform efforts in Odesa.
“The regressive forces are attacking everything progressive. All new initiatives are being nipped in the bud,” he said. “… I’ve never been deceived so much in such a cynical way in my life.”
One of the reasons for his resignation cited by Saakashvili was that his team’s efforts to create a graft-free customs terminal in Odesa, called the “open customs area,” had been blocked by the central government. Initially the terminal was scheduled to be launched in May, but it has still not opened yet.
“The money for the repairs (necessary for the terminal’s launch) was stolen,” he said. “As usual, we were deceived. The president promised to support us, but didn’t lift a finger to launch this project. For how long will they keep lying and deceiving?”
Yulia Marushevska, a Saakashvili ally and head of Odesa Oblast’s customs, told the Kyiv Post that her team had held a transparent competition for jobs at the new terminal and drafted legislation to launch it. However, Nasirov and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman have failed to pass a necessary Cabinet decree, authorize changes to customs software and build the terminal’s building, she said.
Nasirov has denied the accusations of sabotage, while Groysman’s press office could not comment immediately.
Marushevska said she had not resigned yet. “My further actions depend on whether they will let me reform the customs office or not,” she added.
Another reason for Saakashvili’s move is that the facility to provide administrative services in Odesa, which was opened by him last year, has been closed.
Saakashvili said on Nov. 2 that the center had been shut down because legislation backed by the Poroshenko Bloc of lawmakers in parliament and other parties made it impossible to use the facility’s revenues to fund its employees’ wages.
The facility, which is modeled on similar Georgian ones, was intended to drastically speed up the provision of government services and make them customer-friendly and corruption-free. The services included the issuing of passports, as well as the registration of businesses, non-governmental organizations, real estate, ownership rights, land plots and place of residence.
The central government has also been dragging its feet on appointing three out of Saakashvili’s four deputies, who were selected in a transparent competition, Saakashvili said.
He also claimed that instead of allowing his team to hold open and transparent competitions for the jobs of district heads in several of the oblast’s districts, the central government had allegedly chosen loyalists in rigged competitions.
“They have resurrected old schemes and started selling the jobs of district administration heads,” Saakashvili said.
Last year Saakashvili’s team held transparent competitions in other districts of the region, choosing Western-educated professionals to replace local bureaucrats.
Saakashvili has also complained that the authorities were under-financing one of his landmark projects, a highway linking Odesa with the city of Reni on the border with Romania. In June he moved into a tent on the highway to oversee the construction work.