The mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko discussed the current political situation in Ukraine and the potential for Russian invasion with the I national paper.
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko has said he is willing to take up arms to defend his homeland and is particularly disappointed about Germany’s weak stance
As a former heavyweight boxing champion, Vitali Klitschko has seen his fair share of brutal fights, but in his current role as mayor of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, he is under no illusions about the growing threats from Russia.
“We don’t want war. We don’t want to fight. But if we are attacked, we will have to defend ourselves with everything we have,” he says. Yet he knows that the odds are stacked against his country. “If Russia attacks Ukraine, it will be a nightmare,” he says.
Mr Klitschko is speaking as the war drums beat ever louder along Ukraine’s eastern flank. Russia has assembled more than 100,000 troops, thousands of tanks and powerful weapon systems along its border with Ukraine – with more moving into Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbour and staunch Moscow ally. Diplomatic efforts by the United States and its NATO and European allies have so far failed to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his armies.
Amid the political maelstrom, Mr Klitschko pleaded with the west to do more to bolster Ukraine. “We need every European country to be united right now around Ukraine to support our independence. This is about the future of our country,” he says.
But Mr Klitschko feels let down by his friends, particularly Germany, which is not only refusing to provide Ukraine with vital defence systems but is blocking other European countries from re-exporting German weapons to Kyiv. This, he says, is being driven by politicians in Berlin who do not want to disrupt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that is set to run from Russia to Germany.
“I’m very disappointed. We expected much more support,” he says. “Germany is very close to me as I spent more than 20 years there. But they have to decide if they want to support Ukraine, support democracy, to support our independence, or if they want to take the side of the aggressors.”
Mr Klitschko says Germany needs to do more than just issue statements calling for dialogue. “There is a huge distance between their declarations and the implementation. We don’t just need moral support. We need defensive weapons,” he says.
Nicknamed Dr Ironfist during his boxing days, Mr Klitschko’s professional tally was a formidable 45 victories in 47 fights, with 41 knockouts. Soon after retiring from the sport, he led the ‘Ukrainian unity’ rallies in 2014. Later that year, he was elected mayor of Kyiv, a city of some 2.8 million.
He has also been vocal about the threat from Mr Putin, slamming Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the Russian occupation of the east of Ukraine that has claimed 13,000 lives. “If you told me 10 years ago that Ukraine would be occupied by Russians, and 13,000 Ukrainians died in this conflict, I would not believe you. I would call you paranoid or mentally sick. But that is today’s hard reality,” he says.
Last July, Mr Putin claimed that Ukraine and Russia shared a deep historical kinship that dated back a thousand years, and that they were essentially the same brotherly nation. But Mr Klitschko says this is an attempt to rebuild a Russian Empire. “His geopolitical ambition is to rebuild a big Russian empire. But it is not our choice, it’s not our goal. It’s his goal. We don’t want to be part of a Russian Empire and he has to understand that,” he says.
Mr Klitschko says Mr Putin fears most of all that Russia’s former Soviet neighbours all choose western democracy over Moscow’s imperialism. “Russia is very nervous about our dreams, our wishes,” he says. “That’s the reason for this conflict: Ukraine decided to be a modern democratic European country. Russia didn’t accept it because they wanted to rebuild the Soviet empire. Well, we were in USSR, and we don’t want to go back. We see our future in the European family.”
Mr Klitschko, whose first major boxing title was in the 1995 Military World Games, says he is ready to take up arms himself. “As a former soldier, I promised to defend my country, to defend the independence of my country. It’s a lifelong promise,” he says. “I am ready to fight for my country and for my future. As a former military man, as a former soldier, I have to defend my values and defend my family. We not aggressing anyone. We’re a peaceful country with peaceful people. But if someone attacks us, we don’t have another choice, we have to defend ourselves.”