He’s a world-famous former boxing champ who has followed the well-trodden path into politics.
Many have tried over the years to cross the same divide, including Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketer, and British athlete Sebastian Coe.
However, it’s argued that Vitaliy Klitschko, the former world boxing champion, has not only failed to land a killer punch as Mayor of Kyiv but hasn’t connected at all.
Klitschko was once better known as probably the finest sportsman Ukraine has ever produced. Of that, there is little doubt.
Klitschko, a 6’ 7” mass of brawn known as Dr. Ironfist who knocked out a stunning 87 percent of his opponents when he was in the ring and was never knocked down himself.
But, even so, many believe, he has noticeably failed as a politician. The facts tell you that his record, at best, is mixed.
For some, Klitschko is currently better known as an incompetent politician who has ruined the reputation he won in the ring.
His critics ask how he could hold power for five years and still claim, as he does, to be fighting an uphill battle. They say at this point, whether he participates in it or not, he owns the corruption.
After five years in office as mayor of Ukraine’s capital, it is argued Klitschko has failed to do the basics, such as policy making and urban development and, rather, pursued “arrangements” to please those who helped him obtain power in the first place.
There is a well-publicised story dating from those heady days of the Revolution of Dignity. Shortly after the Revolution, Klitschko and the oligarch and former Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko met with another of Ukraine’s influential tycoons, Dmytro Firtash, in Vienna. The exiled Firtash had made most of his wealth at RosUkrEnergo, a major Ukrainian gas trading company that was a subsidiary of both Russia’s state-owned Gazprom and Ukrainian Naftogaz.
After that 2014 meeting, also facilitated by another oligarch, Serhiy Liovochkin, Firtash claimed it was he who had paved the way for Poroshenko to become president and Klitschko to his office as mayor.
Before that controversial visit to Vienna, Klitschko had planned to run in the 2014 race for the presidency. Afterwards, he ran for mayor of Kyiv instead and the city’s population elected him with 56.7 percent of their votes.
Firtash, lest we forget, is now expecting his extradition from Austria to the United States, where he is accused of bribery and forming an organized crime group. The Austrian Supreme Court has ruled on the U.S. extradition request.
Klitschko, in a May 2019 interview with the Daily Beast, denied that Firtash had any influence on him, insisting that he had gone to Vienna on March 25, 2014, to celebrate his brother’s birthday and ran into Firtash by accident at the hotel. “I’ve never signed any agreements with the oligarchs,” Klitschko told The Daily Beast.
But one senior Ukraine source sees it differently, telling this website,“Klitschko claims that Kyiv public made him a mayor but it was done by the oligarchs. He is completely dependent on political powerhouses and representatives of big business.”
Such “shadowy” figures are said to include Ukraine construction tycoons Vadym Stolar and Vadym Mykytas.
Two years ago independent investigative journalists criticized Klitschko for taking a charter plane from Naples to Kyiv with Stolar, a businessman who is known as Kyiv’s “éminence grise.”
Klitschko had claimed that he hardly knows Stolar but he attended Stolar’s birthday party where Klitschko reportedly called Stolar “my friend.”
Klitschko is also attacked for alleged bad workmanship on an eye-catching pedestrian bridge he and his brother opened earlier this year in Kyiv. The mayor’s critics accuse him of failing to prevent the “waste” of millions of dollars on the project.
That’s not all. In 2015 Klitschko announced there would be criminal prosecutions for corruption and misuse of the city budget to the huge amount of UAH 3bn but, to date, there have been no closed investigations and no prosecutions.
With his personal popularity dwindling, Mayor Klitschko is, additionally, now said to be seeking foreign support and political protection from foreign dignitaries. Evidence of this came with a recent meeting with Donald Trump’s close advisor Rudolph Juliani.
“It’s another sign that Klitschko is becoming increasingly afraid of losing his hold on power,” said one source.
It is also claimed that this former sporting icon has “abused” his position so as to increase his wealth and develop his business interests.
“Mayor Klitschko publicly supports decentralization of state power and self-governance yet at the same time he stands accused of sabotaging elections to district councils,” said the source.
In an interview with the Daily Beast he said there are days when he goes home, looks in the mirror and tells himself: “You don’t want this job.” But, whether this is true or not, he is all excited to have another go at the Kyiv mayor’s post in the approaching elections in December.
With Klitschko thought to be now angling for higher political office, there are many in Kyiv who wish he’d stuck to boxing.