(Inserts dropped Putin name in fourth paragraph)
* Daughter of Russian reformer gets top regional post in Ukraine
* Maria Gaidar says Russia should hand back Crimea to Ukraine
* Father introduced painful market reforms after Soviet collapse
KIEV, July 20 (Reuters) - The daughter of a former Russian prime minister on Monday defended her decision to assume a top post in a key Ukrainian region, describing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea as amoral and denouncing “Soviet-style banditry”.
Maria Gaidar, whose father Yegor was Russia’s first reformist prime minister after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, was appointed last Friday to be deputy governor of Ukraine’s southern Odessa region, a political hotspot now led by former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
President Petro Poroshenko’s appointment of pro-Western Saakashvili in May to stamp out corruption and re-establish central authority in the volatile Black sea port city was itself a surprise move that drew derision in Moscow.
Saakashvili’s appointment of 32-year-old Harvard-educated Gaidar, an established opposition critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to be his deputy equally seems likely to raise hackles in Moscow.
Rejecting charges of betrayal by critics in Moscow, Gaidar told a briefing on Monday that the conflict between Ukraine’s government and Russian-backed separatists was a struggle between “free, democratic, honest and normal business and Soviet-style, nomenclature-led, oligarchic banditry.”
“I wish to be here (in Ukraine). I want to help. To be in Saakashvili’s team is especially satisfying for me. I want to be part of change,” she said.
Referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in May 2014, she said: “Crimea was annexed by Russia unlawfully, amorally, and must be returned to the body of Ukraine. How that is to be done, I do not know.”
Asked about Ukraine’s requirement that civil servants could hold only Ukrainian citizenship, she said she would not give up her Russian citizenship.
But she said she was ready to accept almost any role to help Ukraine through its crisis. “I do not want to be a source of conflict. I am ready to work in the team in any capacity - as an adviser, a volunteer, like a member of any agency,” she said.
The security of the Black sea port city and its surrounding region has become increasingly worrisome for Ukrainians since a separatist conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine following Russia’s seizure of Crimea further along the coast.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine in which deaths still mount up almost daily on both sides despite a ceasefire declared in February.
Saakashvili, one of several non-Ukrainians appointed to top posts by Poroshenko, is conducting a high-profile campaign to stamp out local corruption in the region in line with Kiev’s avowed intent to make the country eligible for a place in the Western camp.
Writing By Richard Balmforth; editing by Ralph Boulton