Ukraine Names Georgia's Ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili Governor of Odessa
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.
"That's how I want to see Ukraine. That's how I would want to see Odessa," a statement on the president's website quoted Poroshenko as saying.
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.
Apparently slipping back easily into a politician's typical pastimes, Saakashvili earlier this month was filmed in Odessa dressed in a traditional Ukrainian shirt, busy kissing children and posing for photos with beaming locals.
A diehard foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saakashvili since February has served as head of President Poroshenko’s council of foreign advisors. A string of former Georgian ministers and officials from his time in office in Georgia now hold senior posts within the Ukrainian government.
But under Georgia’s own citizenship law, which does not allow dual citizenship, Saakashvili could now lose his Georgian citizenship. In late 2014, he had declined a post as deputy prime minister of Ukraine for that reason.
Saakashvili himself vigorously enforced the anti-dual-citizenship prohibition in the past.
Members of his United National Movement party, which he still heads, told Georgia's Rustavi2, a pro-Saakashvili TV station, that they are waiting to see whether or not the Georgian government will grant him dual citizenship.
The Georgian government, which wants Saakashvili on various criminal charges, has not yet commented on the appointment
The ruling Georgian Dream coalition, however, has made its displeasure known. Addressing himself to the “dear Ukrainian people,” parliamentary majority leader Davit Sangelidze on May 30 called the appointment “a very serious mistake.”
Controversy continues over Saakashvili's reforms in Georgia, where many Georgians now have stronger memories of alleged civil-rights abuses than they do of his corruption-cleanup.
His reputation as a tough corruption-buster intent on making his country part of the European Union attracts not only Ukraine, though. Moldova also has solicited his reform-advice recently.