After Leaving Odesa, Saakashvili’s Political Future Even More Uncertain in His Native Georgia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 13 Issue: 184

On a visit to Batumi, Georgia in 2012, US President-elect Donald Trump (R) and former President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili (L) unveiled the construction of a Trump-branded tower

Mikhail Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia (2004–2013), resigned from his post of governor of Ukraine’s Odesa region, on November 7. Justifying his decision, Saakashvili accused President Petro Poroshenko’s administration of supporting corruption in the region and the country in general. In his emotionally charged address, Saakashvili vowed to continue his fight to rid Ukraine of corruption (Rustavi 2, November 7).

Saakashvili’s resignation, after a bit over a year in the job, calls into question not only on his own political future, but also that of the so-called “team of reformers”—several other former Georgian politicians and government functionaries brought over to Ukraine to help the new political regime carry out ambitious political reforms. Some of them, in fact, already dropped out of the Ukrainian government. In March 2016, David Sakvarelidze, Ukraine’s deputy attorney general, who previously served in the same role in Georgia under Saakashvili’s government, was sacked from his post for an alleged “grave violation of prosecutorial ethics” (Ukraine Today, March 29). Sakvarelidze has tried to reinvent himself as an opposition politician in Ukraine; in May, he announced the creation of a new political party, which curiously still does not have a formal name. Sakvarelidze had identified Mikhail Saakashvili as one of the main “leaders and drivers” of the party (,, May 24). Over the summer, some experts even speculated that Saakashvili, then still a governor, was indirectly (and secretly) involved in the creation of Sakvarelidze’s new political faction (Odessa Talk, June 28). It is highly likely that Sakvarelidze and his political group will now join forces with Saakashvili, since the latter is no longer part of the Ukrainian government.

Moreover, in May, Eka Zguladze, another former Georgian official, who served as Ukraine’s deputy interior minister since December 2014, resigned from her post. To date, Zguladze has not formally entered Ukrainian politics. She has, however, accepted a proposal to work on the interior ministry’s reform team, leading a special group of advisors (Ukrainian Information Agency, May 11). It yet to be seen whether Saakashvili’s resignation will convince her to join forces with him.

Additionally, on November 14, Khatia Dekanoidze, Georgia’s former minister of education, who followed Saakashvili to Ukraine, resigned from her post as Ukraine’s national police chief. She stated with regret that her powers were no longer sufficient to make significant changes within the agency (Kyiv Post, November 14). It is still unclear whether Dekanoidze intends to join Saakashvili’s opposition faction in Ukraine; yet, in all likelihood, she will.

Saakashvili’s own political future in Ukraine is uncertain. But a further question now being raised is how Saakashvili’s resignation from the governorship of Odesa will affect political life in his home country of Georgia—and particularly regarding his party, United National Movement (UNM). After UNM’s major defeat in last month’s parliamentary elections (October 8 and October 30), Saakashvili’s grip on his Georgian party is rapidly slipping away. A number of UNM’s senior members have come out to openly challenge his leadership (see EDM, October 11, November 2). Gigi Ugulava, one of the party’s most prominent leaders, who is currently serving a prison sentence for alleged abuses of power, even wrote a lengthy letter from his cell regarding Saakashvili’s future role. He bluntly urged UNM to elect a new leader and adjust to new political realities (Rustavi 2, November 4). Saakashvili seems well aware of the deepening rift within the party. In a step of political maneuvering, the former president himself said that UNM should elect a new leader. However, a couple days later, he lashed out against “one or two [unnamed] whimsical persons from UNM” who were allegedly responsible for the party’s defeat in the October elections (Civil Georgia, November 10). Most likely, Saakashvili’s statement was addressed against one of the party leaders, Giga Bokeria, and his faction in UNM.

So far, Saakashvili looks to be struggling to find his political place in post-election Georgia (as well as in Ukraine). He is certainly attempting to garner any political support, whether foreign or domestic. Right after Donald J. Trump’s November 8 victory in the presidential election in the United States, Saakashvili posted on his Facebook page a number of pictures and videos featuring his friendship with the then still businessman. Saakashvili’s posts particularly featured him and Trump in 2011, when the latter visited Georgia to promote his business projects there (, accessed November 14).

Saakashvili’s decision to resign as governor of Odesa so soon after his party’s defeat in Georgia’s parliamentary elections does not seem to be a coincidence. Most likely, realizing that he would not be able to return to power in Georgia, he has immediately repositioned himself on Ukraine’s national political stage by moving into the opposition. Former president Saakashvili seems to be seeking to attain greater political power in Ukraine. However, his political opportunism may once again take him back to Georgia—specifically, if the Georgian Dream–led government in Tbilisi runs into a serious economic crisis within the next four years. Any ensuing social upheaval in Georgia could open up a possibility for Saakashvili to return as an opposition leader who can bring order back to the country.

But now that Saakashvili has become a full-time opposition politician in Ukraine, will he have enough time and other resources to also follow and be involved in Georgian politics? Moreover, can he be an opposition leader in two countries at the same time? Few if any such precedents exist to date. Surely, some within Saakashvili’s own UNM party may also question the rationale of such an undertaking.

Following his resignation as governor, the once-powerful leader of Georgia is now fighting for political survival. While trying to find his place and, if possible, attain political power in Ukraine, his place in Georgian politics remains murky. But he does not seem too far gone yet: he could still potentially return to Georgia, if the political-economic situation there begins to really turn sour for the government in Tbilisi. The following months will certainly provide more insight into Saakashvili’s political future.