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A new Customs Chief for Odessa – Yulia Marushevska

October 15, 2015

In what is clearly a “win” for Governor Saakashvili when it comes to the shuffling around behind the curtain, Yulia Marushevska the current Deputy Head of the Odessa Regional State Administration, on 16th October, becomes the new Customs Chief for Odessa.

(For some unknown reason she is also the only “top table” individual that sits around the Governor your author has never met – despite somehow having her mobile number.)

Yulia Marushevska

To be extremely blunt, it is a position the Governor has fought to fill with somebody entirely unconnected to the organised crime of Odessa, any of the local elites, or to those in Kyiv that have assumed the nefarious roles vacated by the Yanukovych regime when it comes to end beneficiaries of the racketeering at the ports.  His public ire when the last Chief was appointed by Kyiv was very pointed.

Needless to say, and to call it as it is in the most fundamental of terms, Ms Marushevska is now a fairly powerful instrument for Governor Saakashvili in his attempts to confront, and put parameters upon, the ingrained and rampant criminal activity that is at the heart of the ports.

That said, knowing several people around Ms Marushevska, it appears she is also her own woman and firmly set in her vision of a future Ukraine (and Odessa).  Whether the opinion and the image of those around her project of Ms Marushevska is based upon unwavering loyalty to and/or admiration for her, or for other reasons, not having met her, your author cannot say.

However, the question has to be asked as to whether she will also retain her role as Deputy Head of the Odessa Regional State Administration.  Certainly that role is time consuming (and with Governor Saakashvili, meaning long hours and the need to frequently clear up the metaphorical mess behind him).  The role of Customs Chief will also mean long hours and be more than a challenge.  Holding down both roles seems somewhat untenable.

It also has to be said that the Governor’s team is not only competitive in trying to attract his attention and get decisions – or mitigate them – it is also something of a hotbed of political maneuvering and oneupmanship.  This, especially so since the arrival of First Deputy Chairman of Odessa Regional State Administration, Vladimir Zmack.

Such competition for progession and “access to the body” is natural of course, it is no different to Whitehall or the influence gathering games within “The Beltway” and the White House itself.  However whilst Whitehall and the White House such maneuvering is managed with a certain amount of (rather loose) decorum, Governor Saakashvili is a whirlwind and the maneuvering within his administration and around his “top table” appears prima facie to mirror that, thus being far more chaotic and far less elegant.

The question is therefore whether Ms Marushevska saw an opportunity to take a dignified step back from the chaos into a still very influential role, whether she has been outmaneuvered by those who may want her out – or want her current role – or whether she is on a “power-grab” and will keep both roles (as entirely unfeasible as that would be considering the amount of time and dedication both positions require)?

The latter “power-grab” can be discounted.  Whilst accepting that Ms Marushevska is undoubtedly ambitious and capable, there is little chance the others around the “top table” would allow such a move to occur – and it is even less likely Governor Saakashvili would consolidate too much “access” to him in a single individual.  PR and power dynamics are two areas of political life Governor Saakashvili understands quite well.

Ergo, the question is really whether Ms Marushevska elegantly stepped out of the frenzy that surrounds Governor Saakashvili of her own free will, whether she was pushed/maneuvered out and Governor Saakashvili (not one to abandon his “chosen people”) found a suitably high profile and useful position for her, or whether she suspected that she would be maneuvered/pushed out in the near future and thus engineered the move herself if not entirely willingly, then at least wisely.

Perhaps becoming the new Customs Chief immediately prior to the new customs systems due to begin in November will prove to be extremely fortuitous rather than calamitous.

Whatever the case, probably sooner rather than later, a new Deputy Head of the Odessa Regional State Administration is likely to be announced – and inferences regarding any new appointee will probably be drawn.

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