Mikheil Saakashvili California Dreamin’ about Odessa's Police
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.”
The California Highway Police will help instil those skills by coaching a new cadre of police officers later in July. Police 2.0 was already launched in Kyiv on July 5, with new troops vowing to take no bribes. The makeover emulates the experience in Georgia and is spearheaded by another former Georgian official, First Deputy Interior Minister Ekaterine Zguladze.
But other Georgian initiatives in Ukraine appear to have had a tougher time. Health Minister Aleksandr Kvitashvili, who held the same post in Georgia under Saakashvili, resigned on July 2.
He has cited to press conflicts with the ruling parliamentary faction that could stop his legislative initiatives. Some Ukrainian outlets have claimed that Kvitashvili stepped on too many interests in his attempt to cut down on corruption within the health ministry.
Earlier attempts to reach him for comment were not successful.
Saakashvili claimed that Kvitashvili was not aggressive enough in tackling corruption.
Kvitashvili and Zguladze both, along with a handful of other Saakashvili-era government glitterati were recruited by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s government to replicate Georgia’s earlier anti-corruption and anti-red tape reforms. Zguladze said that higher salaries will help discourage graft.
As far as salaries go, the US is stepping in to underwrite Saakashvili’s team of corruption-busters in Odessa. The amount has not been made public. “We are funding an Anti-Corruption Action Team of Ukrainian and international experts in the Governor’s office, and launching a new anti-corruption grants program to broaden and deepen our cooperation with civil society partners,” the US embassy said in a statement.
The embassy said that the $15 million would go “to help stand up Patrol Police Forces in Odessa, Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, and across Ukraine.”
The announcement touched off a round of requisite clamor in the Russian media of implied or openly stated allegations of US sponsorship of Ukraine’s cause against Russia. Washington however is prepared, to quote Ambassador Pyatt, to go “all in” to support “the anti-corruption surge of the Odesa Oblast Administration.”
Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, and author of Tamada Tales.
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