16:49 May. 26, 2016
A year after becoming governor of Odessa, the combative ex-Georgian president talks about his anti-corruption drive and his frustration with Petro Poroshenko
When Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed governor of the Ukrainian region of Odessa a year ago, the former Georgian president constantly mentioned Vladimir Putin. Reforms in post-revolution Ukraine, and attempts to reform Russophone Odessa, were all part of a grand plan to stick two fingers up to the Kremlin, and prove to both Ukrainians and Russians that post-Soviet life could be transformed to remove corrupt elites and promote democratic values.
A year later, and Saakashvili still talks about Putin, during a late-night interview at his residence on the outskirts of Odessa. But as well as the Russian president, the man who crushed his Georgian army during a brief 2008 war, Saakashvili also has increasingly tough words for the man who appointed him to his new role in Odessa: the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.
For Saakashvili, the crunch time has now approached to determine whether Poroshenko is part of the problem, or part of the solution. Last month, he held a press conference in which he blasted the president for not fulfilling a single promise made since he took office after the 2014 revolution.
"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."