As widely expected in the past couple of months, Mikheil Saakashvili, former Georgian president turned Ukrainian district governor of Odessa, has resigned from his post. In a press conference on November 8, Saakashvili lashed out against his onetime patron, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, leveling some of his most direct criticism against the national government to date. “What difference for Ukrainians does it make who will treat them like dirt – Poroshenko or Yanukovych?” Saakashvili reportedly blasted. “What difference does it make who steals from them?”
Saakashvili’s indignation trained at Poroshenko is only the culmination of over a year and a half of metastasizing tensions between the Ukrainian chief executive and his handpicked Georgian proconsul. As Saakashvili became visibly frustrated with his inability to appreciably move the needle on corruption-busting and reforms in Odessa, he increasingly blamed the national government in Kyiv for failing to provide him with the resources or political capital to push his policy agenda in the cosmopolitan and corruption-riddled seaside metropolis. While a variety of interesting theories have been floated over the exact rationale for Saakashvili’s abrupt resignation, it is probably likeliest that the former Georgian president’s escalating feud with Kyiv meant that his days were almost certainly numbered.
Indeed, between “Misha’s” cratering relationship with Poroshenko and his promises ahead of October parliamentary elections in Georgia to return to the country of his birth following an “inevitable” victory of the United National Movement (UNM) party he founded, suggests the writing was already on the wall. More likely than not, Saakashvili’s resignation was not exactly voluntary, which would go some way to explaining the Odessa governor’s volte face from his happy warrior enthusiasm for Ukraine to aspirations to higher office in Kyiv back to mulling a prodigal return to Georgia. The idea of returning to Georgia on the back of a resounding UNM victory – whether through the election or an extra-constitutional struggle – may have seemed far more appealing to Saakashvili than the slog of Odessa’s uphill reform effort.