Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili tendered his resignation as governor of Ukraine’s southern Odessa region on Monday, accusing President Petro Poroshenko of cynically obstructing his attempts at reform and supporting corrupt clans.
Saakashvili, who is widely credited with cracking down on graft when he led Georgia from 2004 till 2013, was appointed Odessa governor in May 2015 in a surprise move by Poroshenko.
Saakashvili has since repeatedly accused the Kiev leadership of lacking a real commitment to reform and his political allies said this had made him a target of political infighting.
“I can’t stand this, I’ve had enough. I’m tired of this. And I want to say: nobody in my life has lied so much or so cynically to me,” Saakashvili said, apparently in reference to Poroshenko and the central authorities.
Vowing to continue to fight corruption which he said went to the very top of Ukraine’s establishment, he told reporters: “I have decided to tender my resignation and start a new stage of the fight. I am not giving up.”
In another rebuke of his erstwhile patron, he said: “In reality, in Odessa region, the president personally supports two clans.”
Poroshenko’s office issued a statement saying he would accept Saakashvili’s resignation if submitted by the cabinet.
“The issue of why Mr. Saakashvili filed his resignation will be reviewed in an appropriate manner,” it said, without making any further comment on the former Georgian leader’s remarks.
Speaking alongside Odessa customs chief Yulia Marushevska, Saakashvili said the work of reform-minded public officials in Ukraine had been thwarted by higher authorities interested in preserving the status quo.
Fellow Georgian, Davit Sakvarelidze, who was fired from his post as a senior prosecutor for Ukraine in March, said Saakashvili’s outspokenness had guaranteed his departure.
“All local clans are mixed together and work as one. It became impossible to act against them. Saakashvili will not leave Ukraine and will be active politically. You’ll find out about this soon,” Sakvarelidze was quoted as saying by website Gordon.
Saakashvili, a bitter opponent of Russia, was among several foreign politicians and technocrats to be given key posts by the pro-Western leadership in Kiev after the Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich fled in the face of mass street protests.
They were brought in as part of a drive to eliminate entrenched corruption and improve transparency in a country riven by cronyism, economic mismanagement and a separatist war in eastern Ukraine.
Since then, many have resigned or been dismissed.
In February, Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian, stepped down, saying vested interests were blocking his ministry’s work.
Later, a government shake-up booted US-born Finance Minister Natalia Yaresko and Western-backed Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk out of office. The appointment of Poroshenko ally Volodymyr Groysman as prime minister was seen as a move by the president to consolidate power.
Pro-European lawmaker and activist Serhiy Leshchenko said Saakashvili’s resignation illustrated an anti-reformist trend in the country.
“It is part of a broader development happening in Ukraine – an attack on anti-corruption fighters and people who back reforms,” he said.
Others thought Saakashvili’s accusations should be taken with a pinch of salt.
“Knowing him, he tends to exaggerate,” said Ukraine’s former health minister Alexander Kvitashvili, another Georgian who has tendered his resignation citing corruption.
“All of us have resigned at some point here. I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful when you come out with statements like that. Yes maybe he didn’t get the support he needed, but the situation is very complicated and nothing’s black-and-white,” he told Reuters.
Mikheil Saakashvili was the Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Oblast (region) from May 2015 and was the third President of Georgia for two consecutive terms from 25 January 2004 to 17 November 2013. Saakashvili is the founder and former chairman of the United National Movement Party.
Involved in Georgian politics since 1995, he became president in January 2004 after President Eduard Shevardnadze resigned in the November 2003 bloodless “Rose Revolution” led by Saakashvili and his political allies, Nino Burjanadze and Zurab Zhvania. He was re-elected in the Georgian presidential election on 5 January 2008. He was widely regarded as a pro-NATO and pro-West leader who spearheaded a series of political and economic reforms. In 2010, he had a 67% approval rating despite being criticized by the opposition for his alleged authoritarian tendencies and electoral fraud.
On 2 October 2012, Saakashvili admitted his party’s defeat in Georgia’s parliamentary election against the Georgian Dream coalition led by the tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili. He was barred by the constitution of Georgia from seeking a third term in the 2013 presidential election, which was won by the Georgian Dream’s candidate Giorgi Margvelashvili. Shortly after the election, Saakashvili left Georgia. Saakashvili is wanted by Georgia’s new government on multiple criminal charges, which he denies as politically motivated.
Saakashvili energetically supported Ukraine’s Euromaidan movement and the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. On 30 May 2015 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed Saakashvili Governor of Odessa Oblast (region). He was also granted Ukrainian citizenship.
Some non-Georgian sources spell Saakashvili’s first name via the Russian version of the name Mikhail. In Georgia, he is commonly known as Misha, a hypocorism for Mikheil.
On 28 July 2014, criminal charges were filed by the Georgian prosecutor’s office against the former President Mikheil Saakashvili over alleged “exceeding official powers” during the 2007 Georgian demonstrations as well as a police raid on and “seizure” of Imedi TV and other assets owned by the late tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili. Saakashvili, then in Hungary, responded by accusing the Georgian authorities of political score-settling and attempts at appeasing Russia. The United States expressed concerns over the case and warned that “the legal system should not be used as a tool of political retribution”. The European Union stated that it took “note with concern” and it will “closely monitor these and other legal proceedings against members of the former government and current opposition in Georgia”.
On 2 August 2014, Tbilisi City Court ordered pre-trial detention in absentia for Saakashvili and the co-accused Zurab Adeishvili (chief prosecutor in 2007) and Davit Kezerashvili (defense minister in 2007), with a preliminary hearing appointed for September 2014.
Saakashvili stated on 1 June 2015 that he had given up (three days before) Georgian citizenship to avoid “guaranteed imprisonment” in Georgia. The Constitution of Ukraine forbids the extradition of Ukrainians to other states.