Ukraine’s Odessa Oblast, home to, yes, that’s right, Odessa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and most important seaport now that Crimea is in Russian hands, is a region of great concern to Kiev. As you can imagine, it’s of great strategic value both to Kiev and to those who might be looking to establish a separate Russian protectorate in “Novorossiya,” the once-historical but now entirely theoretical construct in the south of Ukraine, extending from Donbas in the east to the Romanian border in the west, or to those who might even be thinking about annexing the whole thing into their own country, not to accuse you personally, President Putin.
It’s also got a sizable Russian minority, and the city of Odessa was vitally important both to the Russian empire (which conquered the area and founded the city in 1789) and to the Communist Revolution (the 1905 Battleship Potemkin Uprising, which later became an important symbol for the Bolsheviks, happened in Odessa), so you can see why it might make big target for Putin’s
revanchist expansionism protection, I mean, of course I mean protection, President Putin, if you’re still reading this. Odessa has already seen some violence in this crisis, particularly an event about a year ago when dozens of pro-Russia protesters burned to death, possibly after being trapped inside a building by a pro-Ukraine mob that then lit the building on fire.
So it’s with that in mind that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed a new governor for the oblast over the weekend: Mikheil Saakashvili. If that name sounds familiary, perhaps you remember back in 2008, when he tried and mostly failed to resist another of Russia’s
annexation humanitarian outreach, obviously, is what I mean to say, plans, in South Ossetia.
Which is in Georgia.
Because Mikheil Saakashvili used to be President of Georgia.
So yeah, that’s a little weird, right? Poroshenko even granted Saakashvili Ukrainian citizenship, which meant he had to renounce his Georgian citizenship, which is OK because he was probably never going back there anyway, seeing as how he’d likely be arrested (the charges may be total bullshit, I don’t know, but they do exist) if he did. Saakashvili certainly has administrative experience, and he was at one time lauded for improving Georgia’s human rights and corruption problems, before he was term limited out of office. But let’s not fool ourselves; this is Poroshenko trying to jab his thumb in Putin’s eye just a little bit and to put a staunch Putin opponent in charge of a critically important province that is at risk of falling out of Kiev’s orbit. It doesn’t, however, suggest that Poroshenko cares very much about reassuring Odessa’s Russian population or about building an inclusive Ukraine, does it?
However Saakashvili performs on the job, a former head of state taking a governorship in a completely different state is certainly something you don’t see every day. Herodotus wrote that the Lydian King Croesus (d. sometime after 547 BCE) became an adviser to the Persian Emperor Cyrus after the latter had defeated him and taken his crown away, but that’s not the same thing and may be all legend anyway. This seems pretty unique to me.