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Opening a civil front – Odessa

June 6, 2015

With all the headlines that accompanied, and will continue to accompany, the appointment of Mikheil Saakashvili as the new Governor of Odessa Oblast, it is easy to forget about his predecessor, Igor Palitsa.

Mr Palitsa was and is Igor Kolomoisky’s man that was tasked with not only insuring Odessa remained pro-Ukraine, but also with looking out for Mr Kolomoisky’s interests in the Oblast.  He accomplished both whilst holding the office of Odessa Governor.

But what of Mr Palitsa now?  A return to the business world, or perhaps that and something more?

Like many exceptionally wealthy Ukrainians of influence, Mr Palitsa has a “foundation” or “fund”.  Messrs Yatseniuk, Firtash, Pinchuk etc., all have one, and so does Mr Palitsa.  His is called the “Новий Луцьк” or “New Lutsk”.  Mr Palitsa does indeed hail from Lutsk, so why not operate a fund/team of civic activists to better your home town?

For those that keep a watchful eye on Ukrainian civil society, this is not really a surprise.  Co-opting or infiltrating civil society is an oligarchical element no different to “owning” MPs across all political parties, as well as heavily funding individual parties in and of themselves.

The theory being, and one which is normally correct, that it is easier to influence from within that without.

Naturally, such “funds”, “foundations” and “civil society” entities also insure society is duly appreciative of their sponsors – becoming so particularly as new community playgrounds etc., suddenly appear prior to election campaigns.

Indeed, such “civil society” groups can also shape (local) public opinion with relative ease, no differently from the media or politicians.

As the clip above demonstrates perfectly – it’s all about framing the issue first and in a way that those behind the curtain want them framed to gain the “right answer”.

What has this to do with Odessa now Mr Palitsa is no longer resident, yet Mr Kolomoisky’s interests remain?  With both Mr Kolomoisky and Mr Palitsa no longer governors, despite “owning” a minority of deputies in the Oblast and City Administrations, is there sufficient weight to protect those interests?

Mr Saakashvili is wasting no time in cleaning out all those that served in top positions under Mr Palitsa.  Deputy Governors Kuchuk and Chegodar have been sacked/lustrated, many heads and deputy heads of departments are either resigning or desperately trying to justify why they shouldn’t be sacked.

The power – or not – of the City Mayor will soon be visible in a city administration reshuffle at the end of June.  Of particular note will be who the new Deputy Mayor will be, and who they align with/”owns” them.

If the Kolomoisky people lose influence within, and Mayor Trukhanov currently is a Kolomoisky man (Kolomoisky sponsored his mayoral campaign), will he remain so?  Will he even remain Mayor?  If he loses power and the administration behind the curtain to a new no-aligned Deputy Mayor, Mayor Trukhanov will become no more than a decorative figurehead.

The question then, what additional levers/influences can be created to pressure and maneuver forces less friendly to protect or promote the relevant Kolomoisky/Palitsa  interests in the “Saakashvili epoch”?

It appears, that despite spending only a year in Odessa, Igor Palitsa has become so attached to the city/Oblast that he is going to open an “Odessa Foundation”.  The aim of this “foundation” is to solve “issues” in Odessa.

All of this is to be done soon – and a potential influence/lever inserted into the machinery.

Why were these “issues” not addressed when he ran the Oblast?  Apparently when a government official (as Governor), nobody (unbelievably) wanted his assistance.  Now he is no longer a government official, he can rally businesses and civic activists under the “Odessa Foundation” banner to deal with social and economic issues.  Seemingly now he is less powerful (by way of official position) more people will ask for his help and leadership.

It would appear that not only local politics and governance may be subject to a few external shocks.  Local civil society seems destined to receive a new, and very well funded, actor.  A “civil front” is about to be opened.

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