Retired tennis champion John McEnroe became famous for throwing tantrums and saying “You can NOT be SERIOUS!” in an anguished voice. What, therefore, should we say when we hear that former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, a fugitive from justice who is wanted on a multitude of charges in his homeland, has been recently appointed Governor of the Ukrainian region of Odessa?
Politicians and law enforcement bodies in Georgia are fuming. This person pretended to be a “reformer” and then looted the country and murdered and tortured its citizens. The present Georgian government was elected on the simple platform of bringing him and his United National Movement (UNM) cronies to justice, and is coming under increasing public pressure because a number of them, Saakashvili included, are still at large.
Several former UNM people are now either advising the Ukrainian government or have actually become members of it, even if they can’t speak the language. Saakashvili had already been fast tracked into President Poroshenko’s advisory council on reform, along with US Senator John McCain, who pops up everywhere there is conflict supporting whichever side buys their guns from the companies which fund his campaigns.
Ultimately McCain has had to decline this offer because it is too difficult to accept it under US law. Saakashvili has simply taken Ukrainian citizenship, thereby renouncing the citizenship of the country he was president of for several years, which he is sworn to serve and which provides him with a considerable pension, security etcetera for life as a former president. On May 30th, a matter of days after being granted Ukrainian citizenship, he was appointed Governor of Odessa Province, a post with direct executive responsibilities rather than merely advisory ones.
Saakashvili has refused to face charges in the Georgian courts and apparently thinks his new nationality and status give him impunity. Much like Klaus Barbie, and other notorious Nazis, thought they had gained impunity after escaping to South American countries along CIA-run ‘ratlines’ and teaching their US-backed dictatorships how to use the same methods on their own people.
Why is this happening? And what can the residents of Odessa expect from their new governor, who can only remain beyond Georgia’s reach by justifying his legacy?
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
Ukraine is a country with similar aspirations to Saakashvili-era Georgia. Indeed, the two countries were considered as one package when they both applied to join the EU and NATO. This is hardly surprising, as both their governments were US proxies, and were allowed to do whatever they wanted as long as they served the US’s strategic interests. Consequently Georgia became the regional arms and drugs trafficking hub and Ukraine provided military bases and a means of disrupting the Russian gas pipelines.
Saakashvili does have long-established links with Ukraine. He graduated from the National University of Kiev in 1982, not Columbia or George Washington University as his PR people always claimed, as he merely attended a few courses in the US. He then trained as a border guard in Ukraine, under the supervision of the KGB, again a fact his official biography glosses over.
Saakashvili also intervened in the 2010 Ukrainian presidential election, which returned Viktor Yanukovych to power, by sending gangs of street thugs and martial artists, described as “election observers”, to try and secure victory for former paramour Yuklia Tymosheko by any means possible. Many of these operatives were also used in the network of hidden torture chambers he erected in Georgia under his governance, or in the prisons where his henchmen conducted the broomstick rapes which were later videoed and played a part in his downfall.
Saakashvili has been quoted many times as saying that “Helping Ukraine with weapons was the top priority and he would be positioned to coordinate such deliveries.” During his presidency of Georgia weapons from Eastern Europe and Jordan were illegally bought and sold under fake end user certificates and shipped from Georgian ports to third world countries in which the US was supporting armed groups. All this is well documented by human rights organisations. Presumably Odessa is now expected to take on this role.
On the face of it Saakashvili is, unfortunately, a suitable person for a country which is trying very hard to replace Georgia as the new “black site” for all US evil in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The US needs Ukraine for this purpose because Georgians have had enough. You can get away with a lot in Georgia by saying it will bring you closer to the West, but Georgians do know that what Saakashvili turned the country into bears no relation to a Western democracy, and this is largely because his methods bore no relation to those any Western country would find acceptable within their own borders.
The US has long had a mobile hit squad of terrorists based in Georgia which is sent to wherever it wants to achieve or prop up regime change, from Maidan Square to Syria to Iraq. We know, we have copies of their passports. Ukrainians will soon have to face the stark realisation that the new Governor of Odessa and his friends are a governmental terrorist hit squad, imposed on them to achieve the same ends.
The only way they know how
We can now expect that the lull in the fighting in Ukraine following the Minsk accord will be short lived. Poroshenko initially appointed Saakashvili as a “non-staff advisor” on weapons procurement to support his campaign against the breakaway Eastern provinces. Making Odessa, close to the breakaway regions, the latest illegal arms shipment hub is the only way Poroshenko can continue to prosecute this war against his own people.
Saakashvili is of course very experienced in such matters. He made one of his many pre-emptive strikes on his own people, in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, during August 2008 in order to boost the poll standing of his partner in various illegal deals, John McCain, who was running for president with the support of the US intelligence and arms manufacturing communities. Presidents who are willing to sacrifice their own people for such a cause have not been seen since the days of the slave trade, when African states would sell their own people when they ran out of the captives they had seized in wars they had started for this purpose.
The attack wasn’t a spur of the moment thing though. It had been planned months in advance, like McCain’s candidacy. It had the approval of Washington policy makers and US advisors to the Georgian government at the time, including those linked with the Potomac Institute and various NATO, US, and other intelligence services. Those same agencies, and many of the exact same personnel, are the ones advising the Ukrainian government, to the exclusion of all others.
The US removed Yanukovych last year by fomenting and then capitalising on discontent with his governance. Now the Poroshenko government, which we are told took power in a popular revolution, is so little supported that it has to import government members from other countries. Natalie Jaresko, a U.S. citizen, has become finance minister, Alexander Kvitashvili, a Georgian citizen, is health minister and Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian, as Minister of Economy.
These people have been brought in to do a job Ukrainians can’t. Whatever that job is, it can’t be trusted to the locals, which tells us all we need to know.
The future is Rose
Saakashvili has already dropped broad hints that now he [thinks] he is beyond the law he will use the same methods he did in Georgia. A few weeks ago his supporters organised some demonstrations in Georgia, trying to start an uprising which would bring him back to power, which he has threatened ever since his party was voted out. But in his address to the gathering by video link he continued to defend all the things which had turned the people against him, and promise more of the same, leaving this would-be Knight in Shining Armour encrusted with layers of filth which everyone saw but him.
Saakashvili stated upon his appointment to Odessa that “New rules are required, as well as new people and new directions to bring more tourists to Odessa and more investors, which is even more important.” For Georgians this sounds ominous, as it is the same language he used when he was president. In practice it meant that he sold off the countries’ assets to shady characters and laundered criminal investors’ money, thus undermining the legal framework which would help the population, and not the chosen cronies, gain some benefit from these “economic reforms”.
Ukraine has many resources which could be developed. It has vast agricultural lands, coal and other minerals and a strong industrial heritage. All of that could help what’s left of the country regain its self-respect and prosper. But only if the benefits they bring can be harnessed for the public good, and this didn’t happen in Georgia and cannot happen if the investors are being brought in to serve political agendas, not make money.
If Saakashvili does indeed behave the same way in Ukraine as in Georgia the locals will probably come out in protest. They are not likely to accept such cynical legalised corruption from a Ukrainian, let alone a foreigner who has been parachuted in after doing the same in his own country. As President of Georgia, Saakashvili was happy to disperse protests violently and a number of unexplained murders of opponents are linked with his name. Most governments do not have the gall to do such things, so appointing a foreigner who has provides Ukraine with an easy way out if such behaviour blows back in its face.
For this is one of the reasons the wanted UNM people have ended up in Ukraine. Saakashvili and his friends are still walking around because of what they know. They could tell a multitude of stories about networks of patronage and US intelligence agencies; even though these would all implicate themselves. Many observers in Georgia have concluded that these people have to be either protected or killed by foreign intelligence services, and at the moment it is the latter.
But they obviously thought they would always be protected in Georgia, until their crimes became too blatant. They were give n a nasty shock when Bidzina Ivanishvili, a man with no political track record at all, was parachuted in and proved hugely popular. Using their connections they have found safe haven in Ukraine. But if this latest US scheme goes wrong, who will get the blame? The US? The Ukrainians? Or the foreigners who have been brought into the Ukrainian government with toxic records from elsewhere?
Saakashvili and his friends are useful for pursuing the sort of programme the US has introduced in any number of now failed states it has entered to impose its own interests on the local population. But the US and its proxies know that one day they will be found out. Saakashvili is one of those who can point fingers at them already. By using his methods when it suits them, and then making him take a fall if things go wrong, they can turn this around.
Saakashvili has got his new position as an indirect reward for the crimes he committed in his old one. For now he can still blame others for these, if forced. But if Ukraine goes the way of other US projects he, the dubious foreigner, will have to take the rap. Then no one will listen to stories from his time in Georgia.
Both the number of former UNM people in Ukraine, and the methods they used in Georgia, make this comparison very apt in a country whose US-installed government glorifies Stepan Bandera, a man and movement responsible for worst anti-Jewish and anti-Polish pogroms than most German Nazis were.
So the US gets away with it once again, and millions more lives will be ruined in the process. How long will it be before Teflon-coated Misha regrets his choice of friends just as much as the rest of Georgia already does?
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.