Ukraine gambles on former Georgian President Saakashvili

Transcript of Question and Answer video with World Review expert Luke Coffey on Georgian ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili's new post as governor of Ukraine's Odessa region.

Why has former Georgian President Saakashvili been appointed governor of Odessa?

Luke Coffey:

Well, this appointment caught many by surprise in the fact that it must be unparalleled that a former head of state would be appointed a governor in another country.

There is a very close relationship between President Saakashvili and President Poroshenko of Ukraine and I think that's what really brought the two together for this idea.

I think President Poroshenko is looking for some outside talent, there are already other Georgian minister serving in some governmental departments inside Ukraine and Saakashvili oozes the charisma and has the energy, he loves a challenge.

And I think that is why Poroshenko thought he was the ideal person for this position. Issues like not having Ukrainian citizenship until a few days ago or not being from the Odessa Oblast, these issues which might seem like problems for most people - to Saakashvili don’t even register as being problems. He sees this as the next stage in his career in confronting Russia and bringing euro-antic ideas to the region.

Why Odessa and what does this appointment mean for Poroshenko’s drive to fight corruption and emerging warlordism?

Luke Coffey:

Well, the appointment shows that President Poroshenko is taking the fight against corruption very seriously. It was suspected that the former governor of Odessa had close ties to various warlords; political and economic corruption is endemic in the region.

And this is a very important region because it is the largest province in Ukraine, it is one of the wealthiest provinces in Ukraine, Odessa is the largest port.

And I think that there are some parallels between what Saakashvili did while he was president of Georgia, specifically to the Black Sea city of Batumi, and what Poroshenko hopes he can do in Odessa.

If you look at the way Saakashvili took on warlordism, corruption in Ajaria province, which is where Batumi is located in Georgia, and how he turned that province and turned Batumi around to being a gem in Georgia, a gem on the Black Sea, I think that Poroshenko is hoping that Saakashvili can do the same thing.

What is the importance of Odessa and the surrounding region?

Luke Coffey:

Well, geostrategically it is a very important region. As I pointed out already it is the largest port for Ukraine on the Black Sea, it is located in a part of Ukraine that is close to the frozen conflict in Transnistria. It shares a land border with the Moldova autonomous region of Gagauzia which also has very strong Russian ties and Russian sympathies.

Just recently there have been pro-Russian activists causing problems in Odessa, and I think that when you add all these factors together there is a concern that Odessa could be next, as they say, in terms of Russian meddling and Russian interference.

And former-President Saakashvili has been sent there, I think, in order to act as a buffer against this sort of aggression because he knows what its like to be invaded by Russia - he experienced this in 2008 - and he has dealt with Russian aggression, and he has dealt with political corruption and he has been able to promote economic freedom in the past in Georgia and it is hoped that he will replicate this in this important region of Odessa.

(Photo credit:dpa)

  • Georgia's former-leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, has been appointed governor of Ukraine's southern coastal region of Odessa.
  • The appointment was announced unexpectedly by Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko on Saturday, May 30, 2015.
  • Mr Saakashvili has been granted Ukrainian citizenship and speaks some Ukrainian.
  • He is seen as pro-Western and loyal to President Poroshenko.
  • Mr Saakashvili left Georgia after his presidential term ended in 2013.
  • Moscow has been highly critical of Mr Saakashvili since Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in 2008.
  • Mr Saakashvili has recently been living in exile after authorities in 2014 issued an arrest warrant for him on abuse-of-power charges that he insists are politically motivated.
  • The province of Odessa is in southwestern Ukraine.
  • Its administrative centre, Odessa city, is the third largest city in Ukraine.
  • It is a major seaport and transportation hub located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea.