Boxer-turned-mayor Klitschko vows to ‘take up arms’ for Ukraine – Reuters
Heavyweight boxing champion became mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko. — Reuters file
Kyiv – The burly 50-year-old also blamed his former training ground, Germany, for not supporting Ukraine when they needed it most
Heavyweight boxing champion turned Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko says he is ready to “take up arms” to defend Ukraine against a feared Russian invasion.
The burly 50-year-old also used an interview at his mayoral office – decorated with one of his world title belts – to accuse his former training ground Germany of failing to support Ukraine in a time when she needed it.
“I’m ready to take up arms and fight,” Klitschko said.
On the same day, Russia rolled its tanks through neighboring Belarus for live-fire exercises that reignited concerns that the Kremlin was preparing plans to attack Ukraine.
“I go to a shooting range. I can shoot almost any weapon,” Klitschko said.
He moved away from the bright lights of big-money boxing and into the complex world of politics just as Ukraine was swept up in a pro-EU revolution that toppled a Russian-backed leader in February 2014.
He was elected mayor of the Ukrainian capital later that year on a wave of euphoria as the former Soviet state spun out of Russia’s orbit.
The next eight years were marked by bloody conflict in the breakaway Russian-speaking east of Ukraine and by attempts by Moscow to bring Kiev back into its geopolitical sphere of influence.
Russia’s demand that Ukraine never be admitted into NATO – and that the US-led alliance withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe – has set the stage for the current confrontation of the Kremlin with the West.
Klitschko called the idea of Russia attacking Ukraine “horrible”.
“We’re scared to even think about it,” he said from behind his paper-strewn desk. “But there is a good saying: if you want peace, be ready for war.”
Choose the sides
Klitschko has spent most of his professional career living and training in Germany.
But Berlin’s close trade relationship with Moscow and more measured diplomatic approach to the Kremlin have been a source of endless frustration for Kyiv.
Germany had been criticized for refusing to send arms to Ukraine – and for banning overflight rights to planes that did.
Berlin’s eventual offer to send 5,000 helmets was widely ridiculed in Ukraine.
Klitschko said he found Germany’s position “at this critical moment difficult to understand”.
“I have officially asked our partners to clearly determine which side they are on, on the side of Ukraine, which is defending itself, or on the side of the aggressor,” he said.
“I understand that Germany has its political and economic interests, but I want to assure German politicians that Germany’s main interest is stability in Europe.”
Ukraine has always managed to secure a steady supply of weapons from other European powers as well as from the United States.
Klitschko said Russia’s greatest fear was the prospect of Ukraine “developing into a prosperous European state”.
“So Russia is doing everything to destabilize the situation, to avoid this success,” he said.
He also strongly defended his vow to take up arms and fight.
“You don’t attack the strong, you fear them. That’s why we have to be strong and make it clear that they can’t just take us,” he said.
“We are preparing for the worst.