Saakashvili – Odessa GovernorMay 30, 2015
The last entry published concluded with these thoughts: “Some may now wonder over the fate of Regional Governor Igor Palitsa after such a shambles – (if indeed you consider him culpable and not the Chairman of the Oblast Council), particularly so as he is a “Kolomoisky man”, rather than a “President’s man”. The truth is, however, that his fate is already sealed despite having done a fairly reasonable job – certainly far better than his last two predecessors, and in far more challenging times.
That he is still in post is simply down to the fact that the President has run out of close and trusted friends/acquaintances and ex-Vinnytsia chums to fill the Odessa Oblast (or any other) Governor’s post. Nobody within the Odessa Oblast Administration has any idea who will eventually replace Igor Palitsa. Thus Mr Palitsa remains in situ, for he is at the very least a dependable patriot of Ukraine from President Poroshenko’s point of view, even if not a “President’s man”. However, whatever Mr Palitsa does, his days are numbered -and those days are synchronized to the ability of the President to find “his man” that is both willing, capable, and trusted, to run Odessa Oblast – notwithstanding likely to be accepted by the constituents.”
A matter of hours after publishing, it became clear that former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was to become the next governor of Odessa Oblast.
After many months of trying to find a suitable role for Mr Saakashvilli, President Poroshenko eventually found one. Perhaps the writing was on the wall when Mr Saakashvilli was walking the city centre streets of Odessa last Saturday – Day of Vyshyvanka (Ukrainian shirt day). That he wasn’t lynched possibly a positive sign.
Undoubtedly this appointment will bring with it very mixed opinion both within and without Odessa – predominantly based upon personal likes or dislikes about Mr Saakishvilli and his history/legacy in Georgia.
However, like or dislike the man, what matters for both Odessa and Ukraine, is the results he is expected to bring regarding reform. As such, when the dust settles, what will matter most is whether Odessa works with him or against him. One has to suspect, when that dust does settle, that it will work with him.
He (and whatever team he appoints around him) will have several difficult battles ahead – the most obvious being with the notoriously corrupt customs at Yushni, Illichovsk and Odessa ports. By extension, that will also bring him head to head with organised crime and the Odessa mafia, as well as some other nefarious vested interests within the ports – such as the current Mayor. There is also the small matter of Odessa traditionally being the unofficial supply route to Transnistria.
The second, in replacing Igor Kolomoisky’s man, Igor Palitsa (who generally didn’t do a bad job, but simply wasn’t the “President’s man”), he will still be faced by a very active Igor Kolomoisky defending his interests in Odessa. Mr Kolomoisky has control over a quite large minority within the deputies of the Odessa Regional Oblast – enough to make the 67 votes required to pass any motion somewhat difficult when added to a few dissenters, or those deputies under the influence of Rada MPs Cisse, Gyliev and Pressman who are not “Poroshenko friendly”.
The potential confrontation with Messrs Cisse, Gyliev and Pressman provides a possibility of division rather than unification, particularly in the south of the Oblast where they have their power base – places where thus far fantasy organisations such as “The People’s Council of Bessarabia” have targeted. There are then also people such as Sergey Kivalov to deal with.
The third, is the expectations of those that will desire swift reform, and the prompt arrival of rule of law. There will be those that will expect swift action against well known corrupt but current public servants and notorious businessmen. Will he take on City Hall and the snake-pit within as created by the current Mayor?
Whilst there are fairly frequent visits by the international diplomatic corps to Odessa, those are likely to increase – after all, how many provinces have an ex-President as a governor? (As a result, I will perhaps eat out for free more often too, as your author is generally given audience when such enlightened people visit Odessa). Mr Saakashvilli need take great care not to up-stage those in Kyiv.
Undoubtedly Odessa can expect Mr Saakashvilli’s best efforts to “hammer” reform into the Oblast, albeit his political energy being politely phrased as “a locomotive and standard setter for regional reform” – or similarly worded. Equally, Odessa will become an Oblast that all other Oblasts will watch with either expectation or trepidation.
Nobody will be surprised to see many sudden changes in the regional institutional leadership either – particularly as “lustration” in Odessa was very much a non-event.
On a more positive note, Odessa has been extremely lackluster in chasing down things like EU grants, adopting meaningful international relationships, promoting itself, and attracting FDI. That, one has to suspect, is likely to change both by design and by default.
Thus, whilst the presidential political priority was to replace a “Kolomoisky man” with a “President’s man”, when the dust settles following this appointment – and it is important to let the dust settle – time will tell whether what is a politically risky, and perhaps even divisive appointment, may actually work – or the certain ire it will cause within the Kremlin may rear its head in a very nasty way indeed here.
For sure, whatever the outcome, this blog will not be struggling for content!