Europe

Will Mikheil Saakashvili bounce back?

Mikheil Saakashvili, Dec 2015 file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Saakashvili confronted powerful vested interests in Odessa

Is Mikheil Saakashvili a flamboyant and brilliant politician with a proven track record of reforming his native Georgia?

Or a hot-headed political opportunist in his adopted Ukraine?

When Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed him to his new role in Odessa, he seemed to think the former statement to be true; there were warm words, smiles and a friendly presidential hand on the new governor's shoulder.

Now, Mr Poroshenko is likely to opt for the latter, because Mr Saakashvili, who has resigned as governor of Ukraine's Odessa region, has accused him of helping to preserve a corrupt political system there.

So how have we reached this point?

Image copyright EPA
Image caption In May 2015 President Poroshenko (left) gave Mr Saakashvili (centre) the tough job of running Odessa

"Misha", as Mr Saakashvili's allies call him, quickly declared war on corruption in 2015.

The odds seemed stacked against him, in a region notorious for powerful clan politics, where bribery and business all too often went hand in hand.

But when I met him in Odessa, six months into his new job, the omens appeared good.

He whisked us, and our camera, into a shining new computerised administration office with young, enthusiastic staff.

There was a new police force too, and a new electronic customs system at Odessa's huge port.

But tensions between Mr Saakashvili and the government in Kiev quickly showed.

In December he got into a public shouting match, in front of the cameras, with Ukraine's interior minister. The minister, whom he accused of corruption, hurled a glass of water at him. The rest of the government sat, perplexed.

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Media captionFootage shows a row between Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Mikheil Saakashvili, governor of the southern Odessa Region

Kiev's Western backers demand a shake-up. There is an argument that the former Georgian president's abrasive style is exactly what Ukraine needs.

But others will point to his own insatiable appetite for political office and his opponents say he blurts out serious allegations, when concrete evidence is lacking.

Whether Misha's resignation is down to failing political reforms in Ukraine, or his own failings, we have not seen the last of his political ambitions in Ukraine.

A close ally of his told me that people in Ukraine "are desperate and hungry for any kind of competent and radical movement".

There will be a new political party and its leader is likely to be Mikheil Saakashvili.

But Ukrainian voters will decide how successful that project will be.

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