In Feature Articles, Turkey / Türkiye, Ukraine

By Bryan MacDonald, ‘Op-Edge’ commentary on RT.com, Monday, Nov 7, 2016  (with related news reports further below)

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili resigns as governor of Odessa, Ukraine on Nov 5, 2016. He was stripped of his Georgian citizenship in 2015

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili resigns as governor of Odessa, Ukraine on Nov 5, 2016. He was stripped of his Georgian citizenship in 2015

This is what happens when a loose cannon backfires. Eighteen months after he arrived in Odessa promising to reform the notoriously corrupt region, Mikhail Saakashvili has exited his post as governor.

While I’m writing this, a song by Swedish rockers The Hives is bouncing around my brain. It’s called ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’. The tune is apt right now, because what everyone who understands Ukraine – and doesn’t live in cloud cuckoo land – warned would eventually happen is happening. Maidan is eating itself. And it hasn’t taken very long either.

Just over two and a half years since the violent coup/revolution which Western leaders and opinion-formers promised would transform Ukraine, nothing much has changed. In fact, things are arguably worse than ever. The economy lies in ruins and the country is divided. Perhaps permanently.

Now another high-profile figure has leaped from the sinking ship. And it’s a big beast this time. Mikhail Saakashvili tendered his resignation on Monday and he didn’t depart quietly. Instead, he accused highly-placed officials in Kiev of obstructing his attempts at change. The timing isn’t hugely surprising either, as ‘Misha’ proved his heart wasn’t in the job last month, when he predicted his imminent return to Tbilisi. This proved yet another delusion, as Saakashvili’s hopes of a victory for his former political movement in Georgia’s general election ran aground. On the contrary, his party was annihilated at the polls.

In his parting shots, Saakashvili lambasted Petro Poroshenko, saying “in reality, in (the) Odessa region, the President personally supports two clans.” And, yes, that’s probably David Byrne you can hear in your head, hollering “same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”

Ties that bind

Amazingly, this was the ‘pleasant’ part. During a live speech, broadcast on Facebook from a windy seafront, Saakashvili pledged to “do everything it takes until we win full victory to free Ukraine from this scum.” He then directed his ire at Poroshenko’s cronies, bellowing “I just want to ask, how much can you lie and cheat?” It was enough to make one consider eating one’s tie. However, it’s not clear whether his apparent targets – Igor Kononenko and Aleksei Honcharenko – succumbed to such an impulse.

The former Georgian President also delivered a particularly stinging association, when he compared Poroshenko to his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovich. Given current levels of alleged malfeasance in Kiev and the incumbent’s dire 10 percent approval rating, the exiled Yanukovich might take umbrage at the correlation. But Poroshenko, and his backers, will doubtlessly be vexed too. Because Saakashvili has influence and leverage with their Western supporters.

So, how did it come to this? As I explained almost exactly a year ago, in these very pages, it’s all down to Misha’s reverse Midas touch. While the old Greek legend turned everything to gold, Saakashvili destroys whatever he puts his hands on. [See: Reverse Midas: Everything Saakashvili touches turns to rot , by Bryan MacDonald, Nov 2, 2015.]

A brief history of failure

Let’s be clear about his record back home. This is a man who in 2008 started a war with Russia. He believed his former country of 4.3 million could win. It was the military equivalent of putting Dynamo Tbilisi up against Real Madrid and fancying their chances. Of course, Georgia’s forces were quickly smashed and as a consequence the country finally lost any chance of ever regaining its former territories in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The following year, in 2009, violent protests against his regime erupted in Tbilisi. As Saakashvili’s rule became more totalitarian, a graphic video showing inmates being sodomized and beaten in Gldani prison sparked more demonstrations.

In 2012, with Georgia’s economy teetering, Saakashvili’s party lost a parliamentary election to Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream movement, achieved despite Saakashvili’s harassment of his opponent. Saakashvili had illegally stripped Ivanishvili of his Georgian citizenship in 2011. This was right after the latter had announced his intention to challenge him. The following year, Saakashvili’s courts attempted to fine Ivanishvili $90 million for allegedly breaching party funding rules. At that time, Georgia’s GDP per capita was $2,919. Saakashvili left Georgia for the USA shortly after his defeat.

In 2014, Georgian prosecutors filed criminal charges against Saakashvili for a range of offenses. They included “exceeding official powers” during earlier protests in 2007 and spending $11,000 of public money on Botox injections. Saakashvili’s extravagance was well known in Tbilisi, which he ran like a personal fiefdom. He flew in – on the presidential jet no less – a masseuse from Berlin who specialized in biting her clients. Furthermore, it appears the massage expert didn’t even bother with the formalities of immigration as her video blog is the only evidence of the visit.

The touring circus

Disgraced in his homeland, Saakashvili eventually settled in Brooklyn, where Western media outlets promoted him with several gushing profiles. Despite his track record, he remains popular with American and British hacks on the Russia beat who seem to empathize with plucky losers, perhaps seeing something of themselves in their subjects.

Sensing an opportunity for a second bite at the cherry, Misha appeared at the Maidan protests and eventually Poroshenko – probably after urgings from his American sponsors – appointed him governor of Odessa. The announcement was greeted by Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, with a memorable tweet “Saakashvili is Head of the Odessa Region. When the circus comes to town… Poor Ukraine.”

And, now, “just like that” as Tommy Cooper used to say, he’s gone. Thus, the immediate question is “where to next?” for our hero.

Up against entrenched native elites, and having no substantial political base in Ukraine, his days in that country are probably numbered, despite taking out citizenship. Meanwhile, back home in Tbilisi, Georgian Dream has just increased its mandate in last month’s elections, so any prospects of having the outstanding criminal charges there rescinded look remote.

Unless another post-Soviet nation fancies a “color revolution” in the next few months, Saakashvili might just have reached the end of the road. If so, he’ll be remembered for a unique achievement. Because if you look at other foreign leaders nurtured by Washington to promote its interests, from the sublime – South Korea’s Syngman Rhee or West Germany’s Konrad Adenauer, for example – to the shambolic, like Iranian Shah Mohammad Pahlavi, or the downright criminal – think Augusto Pinochet of Chile or Panama’s Manuel Noriega – they all at least boast some sort of major achievement. Something to justify Washington’s investment in their fortunes.

However, Saakashvili has zero notable accomplishments to speak of. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s failed miserably. And that takes a special level of incompetence. As a result, this particular travelling circus just might have packed up its tent for the last time.


Ex-Georgian president quits post as governor of Odessa, Ukraine

Deutsche Welle, Nov 7, 2016

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, resigned as Odessa, Ukraine governor in Nov 2016, pictured in 2013 (Shakh Aivazov, Reuters)

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, resigned as Odessa, Ukraine governor in Nov 2016, pictured in 2013 (Shakh Aivazov, Reuters)

Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has resigned from his post as governor of a Ukrainian region after 18 months. The controversial pro-West reformer accuses Kyiv of not being serious about tackling corruption.

Saakashvili tendered his resignation as governor of Odessa region on Monday, accusing highly-placed officials in Kyiv of obstructing his attempts at reform. Saakashvili, who is widely credited with cracking down on graft when he was president of Georgia, was appointed Odessa governor in May 2015 by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

But he’s since repeatedly accused the Kyiv leadership of lacking a real commitment to reform and backpedaling on a promise to create a tariff-free zone on the Black Sea. He said Monday he had no choice but resign in protest. “We will definitely unite and finish this fight, bringing victory to Ukraine,” Saakashvili told reporters. “The fight continues.”

Corruption remain a major liability and stumbling block for investment and development in the former Soviet republic. State graft continues to penetrate the country almost three years since the start of a popular uprising that appeared to herald fresh change for one of Europe’s poorest and most mismanaged countries.

Saakashvili made himself into a darling of the West in ex-Soviet Georgia by cleaning up the corrupt police force and setting the country on a far more economically transparent road. But his hawkish posturing toward neighboring Russia which culminated in the break-out out of a brief-but-devastating war in 2008 over a breakaway region, saw Saakashvili’s popularity in his native country plummet. He was ousted in a 2012 election and then fled the country after his rivals-turned-leaders opened a series of investigations into his administration. He was stripped of his Georgian citizenship and fearing arrest, has been unwilling to return. It’s unclear what, if any, his future plans are.


Ruling party in Georgia decisively wins parliament vote

By Margarita Antidze, Reuters, Sunday, Oct 9, 2016

TBILISI – The ruling party in Georgia decisively won parliamentary elections, firming its grip on power in the former Soviet nation, near-complete results showed on Sunday. With 99.41 per cent of the votes in, data from the Central Election Commission gave the ruling Georgian Dream party 48.61 per cent of the vote and the opposition United National Movement (UNM) 27.04 per cent.

A U.S. ally traditionally buffeted between Russia and the West, Georgia hopes to join the European Union and NATO one day even though that is something that Russia, its former colonial master, strongly opposes.

With political stability still fragile — the first peaceful transfer of power since the 1991 Soviet collapse only took place four years ago – the authorities were keen the election be widely seen as free and fair to avoid a return to the days when politicians tried to seize power by force.

Georgia is criss-crossed by strategically important oil and gas pipelines and a fifth of its territory remains under the control of pro-Russian separatists [sic] following a short war with Russia in 2008.

Georgian Dream, which is pro-Western but also favors closer ties with Russia, declared victory shortly after polls closed on Saturday. “I congratulate you with a big victory Georgia!” Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili told jubilant supporters gathered outside the party’s headquarters in Tbilisi, the capital.

“According to all preliminary results, Georgian Dream is leading with a big advantage,” he said, as dozens of party members waved blue party flags and balloons.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said on Sunday the election had been competitive and that fundamental freedoms had been generally respected.

With some parties threatening to organize street protests if they do not get into parliament, the government is likely to use the OSCE’s assessment to bolster its assertion that the vote was largely fair despite some problems.

Unrest

The pre-election atmosphere was marred by a string of violent incidents blamed by Georgian politicians on everyone from Moscow to shadowy forces bent on destabilizing the vote. In one of them, a group of unidentified attackers threw stones and smashed windows at two polling stations in the village of Jikhashkari in western Georgia on Saturday night.

They also damaged the ballot box and attacked international and local observers on the spot, the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) said in a statement.

Before that, on Tuesday, a car bomb targeted an opposition deputy in Tbilisi. Givi Targamadze survived, but five passers-by were injured.

In a separate attack, two men were shot and wounded last Sunday at an election rally in the town of Gori, while on voting day itself disturbances broke out in the village of Kizilajlo in south-east Georgia.

Georgian Dream, which came to power in 2012, is funded by tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, the country’s richest man, while the opposition UNM was founded by former president Mikheil Saakashvili.

“I’m happy that Georgian Dream has won. I believe that they will do more for people,” said Murman Sanikidze, a 37-year-old Tbilisi resident.

Although the economy is emerging from a deep slowdown, many in this nation of 3.7 million people are unhappy with their living standards, which have been hit by a decline in exports and remittances.

Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, helped end UNM’s nine-year rule in 2012. Under Georgian Dream, dozens of ex-officials have been arrested on charges such as abuse of power, though some Western countries have accused the government of applying justice selectively.

Saakashvili, now a regional politician in Ukraine, is wanted at home on several charges, including corruption. He says the charges are politically motivated.

 

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