Fired Ukrainian minister called to advise "icebreaker" Saakashvili in Odesa

By bne IntelliNews July 20, 2015

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Ukraine's former minister of ecology and natural resources Igor Shevchenko, who parliament fired in early July on suspicion of corruption, says he has been taken on as "freelance adviser" to Odessa region governor Mikheil Saakashvili.

"The day before yesterday, I visited Odessa at Mikheil Saakashvili's invitation. The Odessa region is now a real vanguard of reforms and changes in the country ... We have agreed that I will join Saakashvili's team as a freelance adviser," Shevchenko wrote on his Facebook page in Ukrainian on July 19.

Shevchenko, 44, said his task would be to promote fast implementation of concrete investment projects planned or launched in the Odesa region, "to attract new investors and organise new investment projects", and to "help Odessa's businesses maintain contacts with the central authorities in Kiev", wrote the ex-minister.

He also heaped praise on Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia who was appointed to head the Odesa region in late May by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: "He [Saakashvili] is like an icebreaker moving ahead, paying no attention to obstacles and the resistance of the old corrupted system of oligarchs," Shevchenko added.

The Ukrainian parliament dismissed Shevchenko on July 2 at the government's request when the minister refused to resign. Under his six-month tenure, the ministry did not "fulfil its basic functions and obligations" and had failed to use EU funds for environmental protection in a "purposeful and efficient" manner, a government statement said at the time.

As minister responsible for natural resources, the US-trained Shevchenko had oversight of licensing for oil and gas exploration in Ukraine's notoriously corrupt energy sector.

He also lost favour in June when a huge fire destroyed fuel depots near Kyiv while he was on vacation in France. Shevchenko flew back in a private charter jet owned by MP and millionaire gas businessman Olesandr Onyshchenko, whom critics say lobbied for Shevchenko's appointment as minister.

If he joins the Odesa team in an advisory capacity, Shevchenko may get another shot at a senior post: Saakashvili, reputedly a university friend of Poroshenko, is tipped as a possible replacement for Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, in view of the latter's plummeting popularity and his growing conflicts with the president.

Invariably generating a media buzz with his hands-on management style, Saakashvili has vowed to root out corruption in the key transport and trading hub of Odesa. He began his work there by firing a string of top officials in administration and the customs service.

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