MOSCOW (AP) — Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Saturday was appointed governor of Ukraine’s troubled Odessa region.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko posted the appointment announcement on his website and presented Saakashvili to officials in Odessa city, the region’s capital.
Odessa is Ukraine’s largest seaport and has additional strategic importance as the major city between the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula and the Moldovan separatist region of Transdniester, which is supported by Russian forces.
Although the city has not been hit by the fighting between government forces and separatists in the east, tensions between nationalists and pro-Russians have been strong. Last May, 48 people died in violence between supporters of both sides, most of them pro-Russians who took shelter in a building that caught fire after opponents threw firebombs into it.
Saakashvili’s appointment could aggravate relations with Russia that have been severely damaged by the Crimea annexation and the fighting in the east.
Russian President Vladimir Putin disdains Saakashvili, who came to power in the 2003 Rose Revolution protests. The Kremlin points to those demonstrations as the beginning of the so-called “color revolutions” that it contends are engineered by the West to overthrow legitimate governments that pursue ties with Moscow.
Under Saakashvili, Georgia fought a short war with Russia in 2008, in which it lost control of two Russia-backed separatist territories. He faces accusation of abuse of power at home, and Ukraine last month rejected Georgia’s request for his extradition.
There was no immediate Kremlin comment on his Odessa appointment, but Andre Purgin, a top eastern Ukraine separatist leader, called it “mockery and an absolutely unprecedented step.”
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