Ukrainian politics grows curiouser and curiouser every day.
I saw this piece in VZGLIAD about the growing rift, and possible upcoming struggle for power, between these two participants in today’s catfight:
On one side of the ring we have sitting Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. On the other side of the ring we have this ex-President of Gruzia, current appointed Governor-General of Odessa, and future wannabe President of all of The Borderlands: Mikheil Saakashvili.
So, let the catfight begin.
The VZGLIAD piece does not have a byline. The source for the story is their (un-named) correspondent stationed in Tbilisi. This correspondent presumably reads Gruzian, so he was able to read this Gruzian online newspaper which, yesterday (May 27) printed an interview with a man named Irakly Gogava. Alas, I cannot read a word of Gruzian, so I am not even literate enough to thumb through the link and locate which one of the pieces is the interview in question. All I have for you is the link to the home page. Nonetheless, the VZGLIAD correspondent read the interview which is buried somewhere in there; and conveys hopefully the true essence of it in the Russian piece, which I am herein summarizing for you, Dear Readers.
Irakly Gogava is a former Deputy of the Gruzian Parliament and also a former advisor to Poroshenko’s predecessor (two guys back), ex-President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko.
According to Gogava, the recent version of the feud heated up after Saakashvili was a bit too outspoken in his interview with the English Guardian newspaper. In the interview, conducted by Shaun Walker in Odessa, Saakashvili said some fairly unflattering things about Poroshenko. The very man who gave him the great opportunity that he has in his current job. Many Governors in many parts of the the world have to be elected to the office. The then-unemployed Saakashvili didn’t have to run for office or face the voters — he had this cushy well-salaried job literally handed to him on a silver platter. In my opinion he should be so grateful and get down on his knees every day to thank Poroshenko. Instead, he trash-talks his boss in words not unlike these:
“For a long time, Poroshenko has been very flexible,” Saakashvili told the Guardian, speaking in his rapid, lightly accented English, learned while studying in the US. “If you were a reformer he spoke reform language. If you were someone old-fashioned, he said OK, we can find a way to deal with you. Now he’s brought in a government which has not got any vision of reforms at all.”
Shaun Notices Spilled Water
Shaun Walker goes on to slyly diss Saakashvili, gently noting that he has “manic” tendencies, and indelicately noticing the awkward fact that prior to the interview Saak had spilled water all over his nice shirt. (Well, Saakashvili is not known for his sartorial skills.)
More to the point, and also on the topic of water, Walker brings up the 800-lb gorilla in the room: The Odessa Port system.
One of Saakashvili’s biggest priorities has been to reform the customs service at Odessa port. He believes there is an easy way to get rid of corruption in state bodies: fire everyone. In Georgia, he famously disbanded the entire institute of the traffic police, who have a reputation for being corrupt across the former Soviet Union.
He wants to take the same approach to Odessa’s port. “We need to fire them all. We have 130 new people. They are young, new and trained, and the old ones are hopeless,” he said. A number of businessmen noted that bribes at the port really had stopped in recent months, mainly because people were scared of becoming the next victim of one of Saakashvili’s public anti-corruption tirades.
But due to a much-maligned quirk of Ukrainian law in which goods can pass customs at any point in the country rather than at the point of entry, many companies have simply decided to bypass Odessa and pass customs in other places where the old schemes still work.
And there, boys and girls, is the crux of the entire matter. In a country that is essentially bankrupt, revenues from customs/tariffs is still a lucrative source of income. It was one of the things that made Odessa wealthy, and now make it a target for “democratic reformers”, otherwise known as rival Mafias.
Poroshenko Blows A Gasket
Returning to Gogava’s interview with the marshalpress.ge correspondent, here is my translation (from Russian, which was probably in turn translated from Gruzian) of several of his utterances:
“As my friends in Kiev informed me, among whom are some within the Presidential administration, Poroshenko exploded when he read that [Guardian] interview. He (immediately) instructed the Prosecutor-General and the Security Services to launch an attack against Saakashvili.”
“Poroshenko personally cursed out Saakashvili for the Guardian interview. Saakashvili retorted that the journalist [Shaun Walker] misquoted him. Except that the journalist has an audio tape of the interview.”
“The Odessa Governor is demanding from Poroshenko a bigger slice of the pie. However, the Ukrainian government cup of tolerance overfloweth.”
“Saakashvili is not satisfied with his current role as Governor and wants a bigger slice of the pie. He is organizing a big three-ring circus, but his main goal — is control over all the contraband business of the Odessa Port. I know this man very well. 70% of his time he spends on making money; the other 30% on politics.”
The VZGLIAD piece concludes by noting, that yesterday or thereabouts, Saakashvili’s Consigliere, a hawk-faced man named Timur Nishnianidze, complained that his home was searched. Cops took away $5,000 and some documentation regarding a charitable fund curated by Nishnianidze called “For the Good of Odessa”.
A woman named Larisa Sargan, who is the Press Secretary to the Prosecutor-General of the Ukraine, announced that the cops found evidence linking Mr. Nishnianidze to various crimes, and that an investigation has been launched.
Saakashvili, in turn, expressed outrage over the search of his friend’s house, calling it a “political provocation”.
And in conclusion: Always sad to see old friends and allies turning against each other.