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Saakashvili as governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region may put fuse to Dniester powder keg

June 01, 2015, 17:59 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Oleg Buldakov

MOSCOW, June 1. /TASS/. Kiev’s decision to appoint former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as governor of the Odessa Region was surely a US-approved move and may have a variety of far-reaching implications, both internal and external ones. For one, it may cause the smoldering conflict in Transdniestria to flare up with renewed force, Russian experts believe.

Last Saturday Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared he had made Mikheil Saakashvili the new governor of the Odessa Region.

Saakashvili fled Georgia after his successor, Georgy Margvelashvili, took office in November 2013. The Georgian Prosecutor’s Office charged him in absentia under several articles of the Criminal Code, embezzlement of five million dollars of government money being one of the accusations. Later, he was put on Georgia’s wanted list.

The deputy dean of the world economy and world politics department, Andrey Suzdaltsev, points to several factors behind Saakashvili’s appointment.

"The region’s governor from the clan of disfavoured big business tycoon Igor Kolomoisky had to be replaced fast, but no suitable substitute was at hand at the moment. Good managers are many, but each belongs to this or that clan. In the meantime, Poroshenko is forming a clan of his own," Suzdaltsev told TASS.

Besides, he went on to say, "there is the illusion Saakashvili is a good administrator and some groups inside the post-Soviet elites are still adoring his ostensible business qualities." At the same time they tend to forget that during his presidency the West was prepared to go to great lengths to turn Georgia into a ‘shop window’ and put considerable financial muscle in the project. As for corruption, it has moved from the grass-roots level upwards.

It should be remembered, Suzdaltsev said, that Odessa is of tremendous value for Ukraine with its sea port and transport infrastructures. There are many assets and port facilities still under the control of Kolomoisky and his clan.

"They are to be taken away from him, and raider seizures are one of Saakashvili’s main strengths. He will do that without a twinge of conscience, because he is not affiliated with any clans," he said.

And one more side to the picture.

"Odessa itself is very unstable politically. A majority of the population is very anti-Kiev minded. Those who support the new Ukrainian authorities are few. Saakashvili is notorious for his hatred to everything Russian, so his likely role is that of a chastener," he said.

Lastly, the Dniester factor. "The Ukrainian leadership is hatching plans for a crackdown on Transdniestria, and Saakashvili has a long record of operations of quashing dissent in Georgia."

Suzdaltsev is certain that the appointments of governors of such a level require prior approval from the US embassy.

"Saakashvili is hoping that his new job, which implies his Ukrainian citizenship, will protect him from prosecution at home," the leading research fellow at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Oleg Nemensky, told TASS. "Also, he is a personality with a long record of anti-Russian policies. That’s why the Ukrainian leadership believes he is apt for the post."

Nemensky agrees that the appointment could not have taken place without Washington’s approval, and one of the tasks that may have been set to Saakashvili is that of preparations for de-freezing the Trans-Dniestrian conflict.

"In fact, Poroshenko lacks a team of his own. To oust a member of the Kolomoisky clan from office he has had to appoint someone from another country," the deputy director of the CIS Studies Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, has told TASS.

He suspects that to an extent the decision was adopted under pressure from US neocons, who still exercise considerable influence on US foreign policy, although they are not at the helm."

"It is not ruled out that the plans for triggering Russia’s direct military clash with Ukraine remain on the agenda. In Donbas they failed. Now another attempt may be made to use the same scenario in Trans-Dniestria. That’s the job for a trigger-happy pawn, who can easily be used as a scapegoat to put the blame on if, the scheme does not work again."

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