Expecting trouble within the Solidarity ranks – Zhmak and Shpilevoy

September 12, 2015

One of the first questions that came to mind when Governor Saakashvili was appointed, was how long he would stay?

When introduced to the public on the day of his appointment by President Poroshenko, the president stated he expected to see progress in Odessa within a year and that matters would be assessed then – a statement that immediately suggested that, given the size of the task and the limited tools a Governor has, Mr Saakashvili’s tenure was not necessarily going to be that long.

Indeed, as has been opined here several times, the appointment of Governor Saakashvili was perhaps much more to do with an attempt to reinvigorate public opinion behind the president, and by extension the president’s party, prior to the local elections.  The issue being Odessa is strategically important for Ukraine and thus for the presidential party.  As City Hall looks to be far beyond presidential party control either by majority or coalition, the Oblast mattered.

Thus it remains to be seen just how well the Saakashvili “pull factor” works for the presidential party (Solidarity) on 25th October, and if that “pull factor” has turned around – or at least put a bottom under -the general disappointment in the government’s performance.

Whether the Saakashvili “pull factor” combined with his highly public “whack-a-crook”/”knock down a wall” PR will do the trick will be seen on 25th October.

The anticipated 10th October opening of the one-stop-shop for business may well boost a few votes too – although the voting constituency of Odessa are not naive and are cynical enough to see through a Saakashvili deal with Messrs Kauffman and Granovsky for space in the plush and very modern Platinum Bank HQ next to the Oblast Administration for the one-stop-shop, in exchange for not publicly lynching them along side Denys Antoniuk in the Odessa airport nefarious affairs.

(Messrs Kauffman and Granovsky actually own Odessa Airport (via a very dubious privatisation) through the usual murky corporate structures that have (naturally) been employed to take ownership of the airport. Ukrainian company OOO Odessa Airport Development (registered in Kyiv) is owned by UK company Odessa Airport Development Limited, whose shares are owned by Valafichita Holdings (Cyprus) and Letnon Ltd BVI. Behind those sit Messrs Kauffman and Granovsky.)

If as suspected, Governor Saakashvili was first and foremost placed in Odessa to “pull” votes to the presidential party that may otherwise (and perhaps still will) be run close by the Opposition Block on an Oblast scale (not the City which has more diverse competition), then the question about how long Governor Saakashvili remains governor post 25th October is open to question.

If the political plan is the long anticipated (since summer 2014) early Rada elections in Easter 2016, then that would just about fit with President Poroshenko’s remarks when unveiling the Governor Saakashvili and assessment after one year (either sacked or moved to high office in Kyiv implied).

If the much tauted government reshuffle this Autumn sees Arseny Yatseniuk sent to the NBU or EU Ambassador following his party’s assimilation into Solidarity, then perhaps Kyiv beckons earlier and the ability to change laws rather than suffer laws for Mr Saakashvili will present itself.

In short, Governor Saakashvili may remain Odessa Governor for another 6 weeks, or another 9 months, political timetables and election results depending – but he is clearly itching for a position of real power from which to take on people like Ihor Kolomoisky.

Whatever the case there will be a “post-Misha” Odessa and the structures and their sustainability currently being created will matter.

Thus we once again come to the fairly recently appointed Saakashvili Number 2 in the Governor’s Administration, Vladimir Zhmak – of whom thus far nothing good has been written at this blog.

Was it a poisonous seed planted by first deputy chairman of the Odessa Regional State Administration Vladimir Zhmak, the source of much recent discord and disinformation from within and amongst the Governor’s administration? (In fact Mr Zhmak is perhaps deserving of his own entry at some point.)

There are two current very corrosive issues regarding Mr Zhmak that are causing considerable friction within the Solidarity political ranks in Odessa – as well as within the “western educated” teams being built within the Governor’s administration and the Oblast Rada itself.


Not only does Mr Zhmak appear to be the source of a lot of disinformation and discontent amongst the ranks, (some may call it “active measures”), regular readers should perhaps be unsurprised if Mr Zhmak appears as the Number 1 name upon the Solidarity Party list for Odessa – de facto (and perhaps de jure in due course) making him the leader of Solidarity in Odessa, despite his rapidly increasing unpopularity within the Solidarity rank and file.

(Wiser head’s such as Sasha Borovik have refused point blank to be put on the party list – thus giving them an unwritten “walk away” clause as and when Mr Saakashvili heads to Kyiv and they either don’t want to go with him, or work under any new Governor/Prefect.)

Full disclosure – Your author was asked his opinion by those who sit around the Governor’s top table, and your author opined that regardless of the shadow influence some will have far beyond any official positions, Mr Zhmak should not be Number 1.  A local with some “moral authority”, namely a scientist or cultural figure would be a much wiser thing to do.  Undoubtedly other opinions will be very similar, and undoubtedly other opinions will be sought!

Mr Zhmak however, would become Mr Saakashvili’s “chosen” elected man in Odessa as Number 1 on the local election list.  Mr Zhmak naturally knows how to cut a grubby deal behind the curtain – he was until only a few months ago, a high flier within the Russian State oil company Rosneft before Governor Saakashvili appointed him Oblast Number 2.

Quite clearly the genuinely local Solidarity political deputies are not at all happy with that outcome and internal disquiet is gathering momentum.

To make matters even worse, Mr Zhmak has just appointed Konstantin Shpilevoy to head the Administration anti-corruption body.

Konstantin Shpilevoy stood as an Opposition Block candidate in the Rada elections last October.  During the Yanukovych regime he worked as a “fixer”.  By “fixer” read official problem solver via corrupt methods for large sums of cash.  Just as one example of many, the disastrous former-Mayor Kostosev paid him a large sum to stop an investigation into a very corrupt land deal involving some beach front land.  In another example, Mr Shpilevoy “leaked” information about somebody to a local media outlet (Dumskaya) which was duly published, to then approached the person about who he instigated the “leak” for money to solve his problems.

Naturally this appointment does not sit well within the Solidarity rank and file of Odessa – for all know Konstantin Shpilevoy to be a corrupt swindler of the Yanukovych regime, and last year as an Opposition Block candidate (who fortunately lost).  In short he is somebody who should in no way be associated with the current Oblast administrations, and least of all within the anti-corruption body.

Mr Zhmak, and now undoubtedly assisted by Mr Shpilevoy’s appointment,  will some within the anti-corruption body leave on principle (anticipate people like Alexie Chorny etc), are starting to corrode the Solidarity Party in Odessa and undo the institutions that have been newly and fairly transparently created – so much so that some of the conspiratorial within the ranks will start to wonder whether the (recently) ex-Rosneft man is not simply a Kremlin agent used to split the local party from the centre.

It all seems to be quietly falling apart behind the scenes within the Solidarity Party in Odessa at a local governance level – immediately prior to the local elections.  If the facade of unity can last until election day, it seems highly unlikely to last for very long after it.

The problem for the young and reform minded Oblast deputies is that there will be nowhere to go within the Oblast Rada where they can remain “unsullied”.  The same can be said for those genuine reformers within the current Governor’s administration who will be equally disaffected by reason appointments and events.

The problem is not going to be Governor Saakashvili leaving (for nobody expects him to stay), the problem is clearly going to be the people he will leave behind – both good and bad, and where they fit into a structure that is meant to be sustainable.

It may appear to some (who are cynical) that structures and placements are being created to be controlled from Kyiv by an ex-Governor that has moved up the ladder.  Nobody has ever accused Mr Saakashvili of being a democracy advocate, he has always been labeled a reformer/moderniser, perhaps a power vertical starts in Odessa?


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