WHO IS Mr. Saakashvili in Odessa
Mikheil Saakashvili, ex-President of Georgia, has unexpectedly announced about his resignation from Odessa Governor’s post, thus causing a clamorous scandal and stormy debates both, in Ukraine and Georgia
This is the most high-profile one in the series of ‘Georgian’resignations in Ukraine. Saakashvili’s close associate, Gia Lortkipanidze, resigned from the post of the Chief of MoI Odessa regional directorate, early on November 7. Saakashvili commented on his resignation as follows: “Now, the corrupt officials and scoundrels of all stripes can celebrate the victory.
Year-and-a-half ago, in November, Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, appointed Mikheil Saakashvili, ex-President of Georgia, as the Governor of Odessa region.
So, an experiment with retrying the experience of well-known ‘Georgian reforms’ seems to have come to an end. However, Saakashvili’s resignation may also mean quite the contrary, the beginning of a new political period in Ukraine.
Saakashvili as Odessa landmark
That’s how Saakashvili called himself on the number of occasions- “Am I a new Odessa landmark?
His year and a half term in office was accompanied by clamorous scandals. In particular:
• He was pulling down with escalators the fences of the local oligarchs’ villas.
• He replaced almost all key law-enforcement officials in Odessa region (which led to a grand scandal).
• He was bringing to Odessa the U.S. top officials.
• He was carried out unexpected raids in the regional ports, where he was replacing the directors
• He stepped into confrontation with the leadership in Kyiv.
• He was making scandalous appointment in Odessa administration.
• He arranged his office on the roadside.
• He achieved the adoption of his own version of the wine law
• And observed a failure of Saakashvili’s team at the local elections.
Throughout Saakashvili’s term in office as Odessa Governor, there have been debates on: where’s the root of the problem – in the situation in Ukraine or in Saakashvili himself?
To help answer this question, JAMnews offers an overview of the reforms, carried out by Saakashvili within a year and a half period of being the governor of Odessa region.
Administrative office reform
On May 29, 2015, on the very first day Saakashvili entered the office, he downsized the staff of Odessa regional administration from 800 to 500 people. At the same time, he promised to dismiss 100 more people.
The new patrol police, that are supposed to gradually replace all the militia in the region, started operating in Odessa one year ago. Gia Lortkipanidze, Saakashvili’s close associate and ex-Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia, was appointed the head of this structure. Konstantin Mchedlishvili, also a member of the ‘Georgian team’, was appointed the head of the region’s MoI Internal Security Directorate. The latter was formerly an adviser to Kyiv mayor, Vitali Klitschko.
Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko personally arrived in Odessa to attend the first patrol police swearing in ceremony.
There was a clamorous scandal over the dismissal of the head of Ukraine’s largest sea port in Ilyichevsk, near Odessa. On July 23, 2015, Saakashvili personally brought to the port the dismissal order and simultaneously launched an audit of the port activity in connection with suspicion of corruption.
Saakashvili’s version sounded as follows: the port was headed by the people of Ukraine’s key oligarch, Igor Kolomoyskiy, and they offered him ‘to agree the easy way.’ However, when they failed to reach an ‘agreement’, they took to the offshore zone the port’s two major harbor berths, thus depriving Ukraine of the annual income amounting to dozens of millions of dollars.
He appointed Yulia Marushevskaya, the Maydan activist, as the chief of Odessa customs. By that time she’d worked for 4 months as Saakashvili’s deputy and had never dealt with the customs matters.
Yulia Marushevskaya’s famous speech during the Maidan days in Kiev
Replacement of All heads of districts
Almost immediately after coming into power (in the beginning of June 2015), Saakashvili announced a competition to replace all heads of districts of Odessa region. 6,452 person applied for 26 positions. The appointments of some of them became rather scandalous events, mostly because part of the newly appointed heads had nothing to do with Odessa at all.
Administrative Service Center
Ukraine’s first Administrative Service Center, similar to the Public Service Hall system that is successfully operating in Georgia, was opened in Odessa.
The Center’s idea is that any resident of Odessa can get any certificate (birth certificate, passport, marriage certificate, death certificate, etc.) in shortest time possible and without a corruption chain of ‘going from one office to another’. All services available in one beautiful, huge building, previously owned by the bank.
President Poroshenko also arrived in Odessa to attend the opening ceremony on October 16, 2015.
The war against fences
Saakashvili announced a ‘crusade’ against the fences around the oligarchs’ villas on the sea beaches. After the excavators pulled down on his order the fences, including that of the Ukrainian billionaire, Vasily Khmelnitsky, Odessa Border Guard Service and Ukrainian Security Service administration officials took down the gates on their own beaches, that had been closed for ‘mere mortals’ for years.
Mikheil Saakashvili introduced some bans on the concerts of some of the Russian singers in Odessa. In particular, he canceled the concert of Stas Pyekha, who turned out to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s confidant. And then the concert of the Russian rap singer, Timati, who sharply criticized the new Ukrainian government, referring to Ukraine as ‘a younger brother, who got hooked on drugs.’
Give land to people
Based on the locals’ complaints, Saakashvili launched a probe into the regional authorities’ actions with regard to distribution of coastal land. In Kryzhanovka village near Odessa, it was revealed that the entire coastline was owned by next-of-kin and friends of the local rural administration. Contrarily, local residents could not obtain a single meter of land from the authorities. Saakashvili kicked up a fuss and promised to ‘jail’ the guilty.
The road to Europe
Odessa-Reni highway, the key road in Odessa region, leading to Europe (Romania) had not been rehabilitated for 35 years. This 261-km long highway, which is frequently referred to as the ‘Gateway to Europe’, was in such a devastating condition, that the drivers bypassed certain road sections through the fields.
Saakashvili launched a campaign in 2015 and the rehabilitation started on October 7. And again, Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko arrived on the ground and personally oversaw the road rehabilitation process together with Odessa Governor, Mikheil Saakashvili.
Ukrainian winemakers’ best friend
As Saakashvili stated a few months ago, he had been requested to render assistance to Odessa winemakers. A license for the right to sell wine products amounted to UAH 500,000 per year [about US$ 20,000] and many private wine producers couldn’t afford paying that price.
In September 2016, Saakashvili invited journalists for wine-related festivals three times, whereas on October 7, he brought President Poroshenko to Belyaevka village, Odessa region, to the home of the local winemaker. And there, in front of the cameras, Poroshenko signed the law exempting ‘small wine producers’ from payment of license fee.
From that day on, Saakashvili has been known as ‘Ukrainian winemakers’ best friend.’
Reverse side of the reforms
There is a reverse side. Some of the loudly announced reform projects have remained just words and ink on paper, whereas some of them didn’t go the way Odessa Governor had declared.
Administrative office staff was slightly downsized
Saakashvili failed to cut down the regional administration staff below the mark of 500 people.
Police have remained militia
Police reform in Odessa hasn’t been finished for several reasons.
• Old militia have been operating alongside new police, since there are simply no people to replace them with. There aren’t any professionals.
• New patrol police barely interact with old militia, but they just can’t work without them.
• New police operate as patrol and inspection service. Investigation, institution of criminal proceedings, submission of cases to court or to the prosecutor’s office, these are the matters that old militia dealt with.
• The militiamen don’t like policemen. That’s because those, who have worked in militia for many years and who keep performing their basic functions, get several times smaller salaries than those young policemen, who put on the uniforms just a few months ago.
The fact that ‘Georgian team’ had no sufficient knowledge of the region, also played its negative role. For example, Giorgi Lortkipanidze, the new chief of the regional police, appointed Oleg Makukha as a new chief of city militia in early summer 2015. Whereas on August 27, he arrested him for taking a US$20,000 bribe. And the Russian flags were found during the search in Makukha’s apartment.
In addition, since last year, the new patrol police officials have been also arrested in Odessa for bribe-taking.
Port has remained as it was
The aforesaid scandal around Ilyichevsk sea port hasn’t resulted in anything. The results of Saakashvili’s promised audit of the port’s activity have not been made public, whereas the port is headed by ex-deputy of the former director.
Yulia Marushevskaya could be rarely seen anywhere and possible corruption subtext of her appointment as the head of Odessa customs service is widely discussed in Odessa.
Ukrainian media points to the following line:
• Marushevskaya is the wife of Markiyan Protsiv, a commercial director of one of the biggest Ukrainian TV channels-24TV;
• Protsiv is a friend of Andrey Sadovoy, the leader of Ukrainian Samopomosh (Self-help) party and, simultaneously, the Mayor of Lviv city.
• A rapid career growth of a young activist with philological academic background is probably the result of agreements between the Ukrainian president and Samopomosh party.
Administrative half-service center
Opened in Odessa on October 16 last year, the Administrative Service Center hasn’t been finally granted any legal status. First it was expected that relevant legal amendments would be passed, then there was a confusion over the center’s funding.
At present, the Center only accepts the citizens’ documents, delivers them to the profile agencies, and afterwards picks them up and gives back to the citizens. At the same time, a few millions of Grivnas are ‘consumed’ for leasing the Platinum Bank’s building.
As Ralf Leongard pointed out in his article for the ‘Hvylya’ electronic media outlet: “Oligarchs Boris Kaufman and Adnan Kiwan are, so to say, doing pretty good business with Saakashvili’s help and, at the same time, give him a chance to lead a costly life in luxury apartments and with private plane flights.
Return of fences
Back in the beginning of last autumn, Saakashvili said that he had been recommended to stop pulling down fences on the beaches using excavators and to do everything legally, through court. As Odessa governor reported at the meeting with the residents of one of the districts, he was submitting a list of illegally seized seaside areas to the prosecutor’s office and was giving 2 weeks to remedy the violations, warning that afterwards he would come with the construction equipment again. It was a year ago. Since that time, the process of pulling down fences has stopped and the new fences have been erected to replace the demolished ones.
The fencing around the coastline, seized by Odessa-based ‘Infox-Vodokanal’ water supply company, has been also restored. The company, which supplies city houses with water, has arranged on the sea shore a water quality control lab, with a pool, marble alcoves, the copies of Greek statues, a pond with Japanese ‘goldfish’, as well as a couple of villas with a berth for ships . The ‘lab’ area has been enclosed by a 4-meter fence.
After cancellation of the Russian performers’ concerts in Odessa, they have become the ‘sufferers, who paid the price for Russia’, which only increased their popularity in their homeland.
The ‘Black Star’ store (clothes), which is owned by Timoti, is still peacefully operating in the heart of Odessa. And there is a huge photo of the rapper at the store entrance.
Land is not for people
The campaign against illegal distribution of coastline land plots to the relatives and friends of the heads of local administrations ended in nothing. Natalia Krupitsa, the head of Kryzhanovka administration, where Saakashvili had kicked up a fuss and strained his voice quarreling with the supporters of the head of the local administration, was really dismissed, as he’d promised, on suspicion of embezzlement of UAH2, 7 million [about US$ 119,000] the day after Saakashvili’s visit.
However, she was released on bail the same day. Despite the criminal proceedings instituted against Natalia Krupitsa, she was later successfully re-elected the head of the district administration.
The situation in other district of the region turned out to be far more exotic. According to Odessa region law-enforcers, the land plots were also distributed among the relatives there. Giorgi Lortkipanidze, the regional militia chief, and Maria Gaydar, Saakashvili’s adviser from Moscow, who arrived to the district administration building, had to wait for the head of district outside, in cold for 3 hours. Then the head of the district finally arrived and reported that the administration had been robbed the night before. The safe with the documents that were subject of militia’s interest, had been stolen among other things. And there the matter dropped.
In the beginning of June 2015, Saakashvili met with representatives of Odessa-based patriotic organizations – ‘Evromaydan’, ‘Samooborona’ (self-defence), ‘Avtomaydan’ and Russia’s banned ‘Right Sector’. He shook hands with everyone and said, he was glad he could count on them. They, in turn, handed him a list of individuals, suspected of having liking for the separatists and the Russian leadership.
At the end of August, Odessa patriots from the ‘Avtomaydan’ movement, having been inspired by Saakashvili’s exemplary demolition of illegal fencing, drove up on a bulldozer to the fence of a luxury building, popularly known as ‘Harry Potter’s House’. The house was constructed on the sea shore and its fenced area was blocking the beach and preventing citizens’ access to the sea.
The official name of this ‘castle’ is the ‘Training and Recreation Complex of the International Humanitarian University of Odessa National Law Academy.’
Whereas unofficially, it is regarded as the private property of the University President, Sergey Kivalov, who is referred to as an oligarch, who allegedly owns three Odessa-based TV channels and a huge construction business in the region.
Kivalov is also unofficially referred to as the ‘key ideologist’ of Odessa-based ‘Antimaydan’, a movement against the incumbent authorities. Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office reported on launching investigation against Kivalov for his article ‘It’s time to prepare the Constitution for Odessa region”, which was viewed by many as a call for infringement on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The activists bulldozed the gate of Kivalov’s ‘castle’, just the same way Saakashvili had done it. Afterwards they were detained by the police. Criminal proceedings in relation to property damage were instituted against the bulldozer driver.
The fence was immediately restored. Saakashvili came to the ‘castle’ the other day and Odessa patriots expected, he would take some actions. However, Odessa governor just played tennis on Kivalov’s court, located in the vicinity of his house.
Then the leaders of Odessa-based ‘Avtomaydan’ and ‘Right Sector’ movements were arrested. The patriots claimed, they had been betrayed. They held a protest rally in Odessa, making radical statements addressed to Saakashvili and official Kyiv.
A sporadic rally was organized outside Odessa-based Primorskiy court, where the arrested leaders were facing trial. The rally participants were burning tires like on Maydan.
“The way the youth speak about Poroshenko and Saakashvili, I think they haven’t said such things even about Yanukovych. Traitor are hated more than enemies. Thus, a revolution may occur, which will be much more serious than the previous one, said Alina Podolyanka, an activist of Odessa-based ‘Evromaydan’.
Since last summer, in his statements Saakashvili had been criticizing the Supreme Rada and the country’s leadership, blaming them for hampering the reforms and playing up to the oligarchs’ interests.
The change of government in Ukraine in 2016 and resignation of Premier Yatsenuk, who has had a conflict with Saakashvili, raised Saakashvili’s political profile.
David Sakvarelidze, Saakashvili’s companion-in-arms and ex-Prosecutor of Odessa region, stated that a new political party was being formed in Ukraine and that Saakashvili would be one of it’s key figures.
Until May 24 this year, the analysts assumed that Saakashvili was setting sights either on the Ministers’ Cabinet or the Supreme Rada (and the party was being formed for that very reason). However, end of May this year, Saakashvili surprised everyone, when in the interview to the Georgian Rustaivi 2 TV he claimed: “Let there be no doubt…I am going to return to Georgian and get actively involved in the ongoing processes..
After his resignation from the Governor’s post the future has become even more unpredictable.