The US will prime the pump to help fix Ukraine’s corruption-sodden Odessa oblast, now run by former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, and is looking to California to rev things up a little. The Golden State’s highway police will be coming to Odessa to help create a new generation of cops, meant to replace the legendarily payola-prone, post-Soviet police.
The plans were announced jointly on July 6 by US Ambassador to Kyiv Geoffrey Pyatt and Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been tasked with a break-it-or-make-it reform mission in struggling Ukraine.
In describing the initiative, Ambassador Pyatt claimed that Ukraine faces two battles: “One is the war with Russia…The other is the war against corruption, the war for the reform, the war to move Ukraine towards the standards of modern European democracy that the Ukrainian people have sought,.” Odessa is the frontline for that second war, he added.
A successful police overhaul is seen as crucial for success in Odessa, where questions had been raised about the region’s allegiance to the government in Kyiv and its ability to shed the ossified system of dubious business interests. Gaishniki or officers of GAI (Russian acronym for State Auto Inspection) is used metonymically for a highway robber in much of the post-Soviet world, their disappearance is expected to make a noticeable difference on Ukrainian roads and symbolize a break with the Soviet and early post-Soviet past.
“You will see that none of it is going to be there by the summer’s end,” Saakashvili vowed in June. “Here will be a new patrol police, which will be very different both in its IQ, manners and quality of service.”
He may have lost his Georgian citizenship, but even as a regional governor in Ukraine, ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili appears to be planning a comeback in Georgia.
In an hour-long interview with the ever-Misha-friendly Georgian TV channel, Rustavi2, broadcast on June 2, the former Georgian leader shared grand plans for Georgia’s future and shook his fist at back-home foes.
Yes, he said, I shall return, and “we will” bring jobs, education and dignity to Georgia, which, he claims, has "become uncool" (gabandzda) under a government of amateurs and sycophants to billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Yes, the seaside metropolis of Lazika, which so far exists only in Misha’s head, will be built for all the separatists to see and to be dazzled by its skyscrapers.
And, yes, he said, drawing on “very good experience in Ukraine with how to make oligarchs return their money,” he will wreak vengeance upon Ivanishvili, whom, he alleged, without offering detailed proof, supposedly has run off with billions at taxpayers' expense.
But when directly asked if he plans to lead his homeland again, Saakashvili, wearing a Georgian-flag lapel-pin, demurred. “People will vote for the man or the group who best fits their vision of what kind of country they want to live in,” he said.
Voters may have gone for Ivanishvili and the Georgian Dream back in 2012 “because they were given a hope for a better life,” he conceded, but not because, “as [Ivanishvili] thinks . . . he is so handsome and magnificent, so eloquent and educated . . . .”
The pull of sakartvelo (Georgia), though, does not come as a surprise to some regional observers.
Some ex-presidents write their memoirs after leaving office. Others hit the speaking circuit or take up painting.
Leave it to Georgia’s 47-year-old ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, never one to do things by the book, to become, it appears, the first former head of state to give up his own country’s citizenship so that he can act as a regional governor in another country.
But Saakashvili, showing up for work in jeans on Sunday, May 31 as the new head of the Ukrainian region of Odessa, takes it in stride. Those who consider “silly” his decision to run Odessa and adopt Ukrainian citizenship should stop and think, he told Georgia’s Rustavi2 TV station.
“Under the rules established by [ex-Prime Minister Bidzina] Ivanishvili, you know what Georgian citizenship is for me today? This is six square meters [in Tbilisi’s prison #9] . . .That’s what Georgian citizenship is for me. “
The one-sentence decree on President Poroshenko’s site does not elaborate about the appointment, but in remarks to the Odessa region’s administration, Poroshenko described the 47-year-old former Georgian head of state as someone with the reformist background needed for the region, news agencies reported.
During Saakashvili's 2004-2013 tenure as president of Georgia, Poroshenko said, Georgia became "more transparent, effective thanks to [his] anti-corruption reform; more attractive for foreign investors" and a place where citizens' rights were defended.
Saakashvili, a Ukrainian-speaker, reportedly called the appointment "an honor." He described the Ukrainian government's "main aim" as "to leave behind the artificial conflicts that have been artificially imposed on this amazing society," Agence France Presse reported.
A message on his Facebook page features “I [heart] Odessa” along with a Soviet-era film's song to the port-city of over a million.
There is a cat story that Mikheil Saakashvili, now controversially appointed as Ukraine government’s top foreign advisor, likes to tell. Back in 2003, when the soon-to-be-Georgian-President Saakashvili first walked into the presidential office, he was greeted there by a cat, a purring testimony to the dysfunctional administration of his overthrown predecessor, the late Eduard Shevardnadze. Now, as Saakashvili is tasked to help modernize Ukraine and reach out to Washington for support, the ex-president says he is again having the Shevardnadze-cat moment.
“There was no functioning pest-control service back then, so the cat stepped in” to control the Georgian government’s rampant mice population, Saakashvili reminisced in a February 17 interview in Kyiv with Rustavi2 television. There was also a bucket to collect intermittently flowing tap water and a makeshift water-heater, he continued, in a lengthy prelude to his point about fixing Ukraine.
The previous cat-in-residence could not take the pressure and “committed suicide,” jumping to her death from the 11th floor, Saakashvili claimed. Screens were put up on the windows to make sure future presidential felines did not flip.
“It is more or less the same situation here [in Ukraine]. I have seen no cat so far, but … Ukraine is just in that shape” with its obsolete, Soviet-style state institutions, said Saakashvili, who now chairs Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s international advisory council.
The Turkish and Brazilian soap operas and scandal-sheet talk shows that deluge Georgian TV might need to move aside. To help guide Georgia’s national narrative in the “correct” direction, the all-powerful Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili is making a new, “real-life” political drama series and also will host a political talk show.
The TV saga’s proposed title, 9 + 1 Years, has already drawn jocular comparisons to "9 & 1/2 Weeks," the erotic 1980s Hollywood drama that was a smash hit in the ex-USSR. But in fact, it refers mostly to the 2004-2013 rule of ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, still ex-Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s arch-nemesis . (The film may also focus on the Georgian Dream's first year in power, from 2012-2013; hence, the +1.)
The Ivanishvili-Saakashvili battle is certainly worth a dramatic interpretation, but 9 + 1 Years is expected to be a one-sided take on just how hellish Saakashvili’s nine years in power supposedly were. “Nine Years” has become a mantra that the ruling, Ivanishvili-created Georgian Dream Coalition repeats to outshout just about any kind of attack on its governance record, be it failure to fix the roads or the lethargic economy. To many observers, it also reflects the government’s failure to develop and articulate any other vision for Georgia’s future; a problem that is noted both inside and outside Georgia.
Georgia has just had a telenovela moment when a vengeful ex comes out of the woodwork. A certain Inga Pavlova, a Russian citizen who claims to be the former wife of Georgia’s perceived shadow-ruler, billionaire ex-Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, has emerged from the shadows to accuse Ivanishvili of bigamy and financial funny business.
In a video posted this weekend on YouTube, the little known Pavlova announced that she intends to sue Ivanishvili, who continues to tower over Georgian politics, for supposedly using her name without her knowledge to set up companies and for divorcing her without compensation.
But Pavlova did not just air her personal grievances. She also questioned Ivanishvili's political record and praised his arch-foe, ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is wanted in Georgia on several criminal charges and continues to shake his fist at Ivanishvili from self-imposed exile.
Ukraine thinks it could use a little bit of Misha — that is, ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili — to fix its dyed-in-the-wool corruption problems. And not only Misha. Several former officials from Saakashvili’s 2004-2012 administration also reportedly have been offered important jobs in Ukraine’s post-Maidan government.
One of Saakashvili’s former cabinet members, though, may indeed be contemplating a move to Kyiv. On December 2, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted that he had granted Ukrainian citizenship to Aleksandre Kvitashvili, a former Misha-era health minister who had been offered the same position in the Ukrainian government.
Kvitashvili could not be reached by EurasiaNet.org to confirm whether or not he has accepted the post.
Thousands of Georgians on November 15 took a stand against “Russia’s creeping annexation" of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a Tbilisi rally that was as much patriotic as it was partisan. The demonstration, led by the opposition United National Movement, provided a venue for many to vent their anger with Moscow’s latest plans for integration with the two separatist regions, but also offered a chance for ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili force to make a push for a comeback.
“You don’t sell your homeland for parsley,” bristled one middle-aged woman who attended the protest, speaking in reference to the Georgian government’s efforts to restore trade relations with Russia. “Nobody is doing anything to help me and my children go back to my home in Abkhazia. They are just letting it slowly slip away to Russia. All the government is worried about is how much greens and wine we can sell to Russia.”
The perceived failure by the Georgian government to come up with a meaningful response to Russia’s proposed pacts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia has stoked such resentment. That, in turn, has opened a window of opportunity for the United National Movement (UNM), Georgia’s largest opposition movement, to take ownership of the territorial integrity issue, which now rates as the country’s second-largest national concern after unemployment.
Never one to miss a rally, Saakashvili, now wanted in Georgia on several criminal charges, addressed the crowd from Ukraine via large screens. Staying true to his flamboyant speaking style, he described his arch-foe Bidzina Ivanishvili, the ex-prime minister and founder of the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, as a “provincial dictator,” and described “Ivanishvili’s Georgia” as debased and degrading, to use polite terms for the actual words used.
Georgia’s jailed, former Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili was sentenced to three years in prison on October 20 for his alleged role in a haunting 2006 murder case. Once the all-powerful muscle of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration, Merabishvili was found guilty of obstructing justice in the high-profile death of a 28-year-old banker, Sandro Girgvliani.
The court ruled that Merabishvili used his office to cover up evidence against his employees who abducted and beat Girgvliani, and left him to die. Grigvliani’s death, which followed an altercation in a Tbilisi cafe that involved Merabishvili’s wife, grew into a national scandal that would haunt the Saakashvili administration for years to come.
Merabishvili’s wife, Tako Salakia, and many interior ministry officials were present at the fateful birthday gathering, when Girgvliani showed up with a friend and got into an argument with the group. Several interior ministry officials allegedly later abducted Girgvliani and his friend, Levan Bukhaidze, and took them to the city’s outskirts to beat them. Girgvliani is believed to have died of his injuries or have frozen to death; Bukhaidze escaped.
Girgviliani’s mother, Irina Enukidze, engaged in a long and daring battle with the authorities, accusing them of covering up the murder. Her claims mushroomed into what became, essentially, the first large-scale public pushback against Saakashvili’s administration. With opposition parties and opposition-minded media by her side, she called for the resignation of Merabishvili and the arrest of his wife; both of whom she was convinced had given the order to teach Girgvliani a lesson.