There was little doubt Mikheil Saakashvili had a second political act in him after leaving the presidency of Georgia in 2013. But few would have predicted he would be politically reborn as a governor of Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Odessa.
Expectations diverge broadly about what effect Saakashvili’s appointment will have on Odessa, a complex, problem-riddled area potentially vulnerable to Russian pressure.
Fixing Odessa, a bit bigger than the US state of Maryland, is seen as vital to keeping the embattled country together and on a Westernizing track. Giving that responsibility to Saakashvili, who enjoys a reputation both as a successful reformer and a loose cannon, is also viewed as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s most controversial move yet.
Three days into his new job, the former Georgian leader has remained uncharacteristically restrained about his plans. As he did in Georgia, he intends to slash government staff and hire more young people, stamp out corruption and upgrade infrastructure. But he has provided no specifics.
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Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to EurasiaNet.org's Tamada Tales blog.