Georgia‘s pro-Western former president Mikheil Saakashvili announced his resignation Monday from his post as governor of Ukraine‘s Odessa region out of frustration at allegedly being reined in from fighting corruption.
Saakashvili was a passionate supporter of Ukraine’s 2014 pro-EU revolution that ousted the Russian-backed president and set the former Soviet republic on its westward course.
But he had repeated run-ins with some members of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko‘s inner circle and was frequently accused of having outsized political ambitions of his own.
The 48-year-old fluent Ukranian speaker hinted that he was stepping down after 18 months on the job because he was being held back from cracking his whip against graft-driven officials in the Black Sea resort and port city of one million.
Saakashvili wrote on Facebook that his chief of police was the first one in years “who never took bribes”.
“But first, they took away most of his powers, and then they began harassing him from all sides.”
Saakashvili said he had no choice but to resign under the circumstances.
But he later told reporters: “We will definitely unite and finish this fight, bringing victory to Ukraine.
“The fight continues,” he said.
He also accused Poroshenko of “lying” to him by never keeping his promise to turn the Black Sea region into a tariff-free zone for overseas exports and imports.
Saakashvili’s spokeswoman Daryna Chyzh told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency that the former Georgian leader had already written to the president for permission to step down.
She added that he would continue serving as Odessa governor until his resignation was accepted.
The announcement is a double-edged sword for the Western-backed Ukrainian leader.
It removes a potential political opponent for his post at time when Ukraine still remains focused on the 30-month pro-Russian separatist war in its east that has claimed nearly 10,000 lives.
But it also underscores the level of state graft that penetrates 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 states.
Saakashvili made himself into a US darling in Georgia by cleaning up the corrupt police force and setting the Caucasus country on a far more economically transparent road.
But Georgia’s devastating loss against Russia in a brief 2008 war saw Saakashvili’s star power dwindle to the point that he was beaten in a 2012 election and become the subject of a series of what he viewed as politically-driven investigations.
He left the country and came to Ukraine with a promise to clean up graft-riddled Odessa as he did with ex-Soviet Georgia in the past.
It was not immediately clear what political future Saakashvili envisions for himself or whether he intends to stay in Ukraine.