Former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko spoke to EURACTIV’s media partner “Der Tagesspiegel” about his work as the mayor of Kiev, the sanctions against Russia and his personal plans for the future.
[The interview has been edited for length]
In Germany, several state governors and members of parliament have called for an end to the sanctions against Russia. How do you rate this?
Sanctions should be reduced when Russia stops its aggressive politics and ceases to violate human rights, international agreements like the Budapest Memorandum and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Only then can one speak about a reduction of sanctions.
Unfortunately, we have not received any positive signals from Russia so far. The sanctions are one of the most important means against the aggressive Russian policy – and they work. As long as Russia does not change its policy, the sanctions must be rather even strengthened.
Even those who follow the development of Ukraine with great interest and commitment are currently concerned that there is not enough progress in the fight against corruption. Why is that so?
We want to change the whole corrupt system that we inherited. But of course, the system itself does not want to change. The people involved in it want to protect themselves and defend this system. Changes are therefore not easy. From my own experience, transparency and openness are the best means against this system.
We have made a lot of progress on electronic income and asset declarations and public tenders, and we have already achieved a great deal. But even so, corruption is still there, even though not on the same scale. Unfortunately, we cannot yet say: We have destroyed corruption. It is too early for that. In this area, we have a lot of challenges ahead of us, which we have to address in a short period of time, for example when it comes to the creation of an anti-corruption court.
It is precisely this matter that is currently being discussed and is becoming an issue in the dispute between Ukraine and the EU, while the IMF says the proposed draft bill does not guarantee the independence of this court.
We expect the [Ukrainian] parliament to fulfll the task of creating such a court soon. The people do not want a fight between the institutions which fight against corruption, but a fight against corruption itself. In this area, there is still a lot to do.
However, within the Ukrainian leadership, there is apparently resistance against making the anti-corruption court as independent as Western institutions would recommend.
We do not have to develop anything new but take the best examples from the West in terms of transparent procedures, and simply translate these examples into Ukraine.
For now, the IMF has stopped the disbursement of the next tranche to Ukraine until important reforms have been implemented, especially in the fight against corruption. The EU also calls for the implementation of important reforms. Do you fear that Ukraine could lose international support?
We see this as a pressure to fulfil the tasks ahead of us as quickly as possible.
Pressure from the EU and other international organisations is therefore important in your view?
I see that very positively. This pressure is good for Ukraine, but of course not for those who do not want these reforms.
If you are on the road in Germany, do you have the impression that Germans know enough about Ukraine?
I take every opportunity to present my country to them. It is important for me to explain where we stand and where we want to go. Ukraine, one of the largest countries in Europe, has huge potential. All our neighbouring countries see Ukraine as a politically and economically stable country. In contrast, instability in our country would be a threat to the whole region. That is why our greatest task is to achieve success – economic and political success. These will then radiate upon the whole region.
What kind of support would you like to see from Germany?
Above all, we need moral and political support but also help in terms of technology and know-how and, of course, financial support.
If you ask representatives of the German economy whether they would invest in Ukraine, they reply that, in their view, this is very difficult and point to problems such as corruption. What is your answer?
You are right. Our laws are too complicated, and then there is also the human factor… My survival as a politician also depends on investments. Every investor not only brings money, he also brings jobs and pays taxes to our city treasury. That is why I offer myself as a personal bodyguard to every investor for his investments and projects. Last year, 60% of investments in Ukraine were made in the capital Kiev. That pleases me very much.
A major economic project which is currently being planned with German support is the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. What consequences could this project have for your country?
In my opinion, Nord Stream 2 is not in the interest of the EU but primarily strengthens Russia. Ukraine could suffer a lot of damage from this project. Russia wants to stop using the pipeline that runs through Ukraine. This is not an economic but a political decision. Nord Stream 2 brings Russia much more political than financial benefits.
More than four years ago, you were one of the leading figures on the Maidan. What has remained of the spirit of optimism of that time in the Ukrainian society today?
Unlike before, the government has to consider today: a lot depends on the people’s opinion. Anyone who lies to people and antagonises society as former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did, can end up as badly as he did. The people went out on the street and said: We have heard enough lies. We want to build a modern country.
But since the Maidan, the hopes of many people in Ukraine have faded. What do you say to those who think that too little has been achieved in the past four years?
Russia is trying to do everything to make Ukraine unsuccessful and people dissatisfied. A real blow for us, of course, is what happens in Donetsk and Luhansk [the areas of eastern Ukraine that are not under government control because of the war]. Not least because ten percent of our economic output is missing.
This is very painful for our country. Nevertheless, our economy is now geared to EU standards. We are in a difficult process of change. Meanwhile, Russia acts as an aggressor against Ukraine. Nevertheless, we continue. Last year we had very good economic growth figures. That is the best answer. Of course, everyone is waiting for faster results. But there are many factors that slow down the reform process.
My task is to implement those reforms that tangibly change something in the personal life of the people as fast as possible. Kiev is an example where people can actually see changes: new roads, new kindergartens, new schools, renovation of buildings, new parks, new jobs, the highest monthly salary, good social benefits. Of course, Kiev is a pocket of affluence compared to other regions. But we want to bring our positive experience to other regions as well.
A new president and a new parliament will be elected next year. What is likelier: that you will run for higher office – or your comeback as a boxer?
In boxing I have nothing left to prove, I have achieved everything. My most important goal is way more difficult to reach than to become world’s heavyweight champion: to fight against corruption, against challenges, against Russia’s aggression and to achieve change for my country and my city.
Back then, as a boxer, I fought three or four times a year. Now I fight 365 times a year – every day is like a fight. And the same factors apply as in boxing [With every point of his enumeration, Klitschko slams his fist on the table]: will, character strength, you have to set a goal and then reach it. Also, in boxing, not everything depends on you alone, but on your team, on those who stand beside you and those who share the same values. I am firmly convinced: We can do it. Because we believe in ourselves, in our city, and in our country. That is what we fight for. And I know better than everyone else: Without fight, there is no victory. This is why we continue to fight for Ukraine.
So you do not rule out running for higher office, for example for the post of president, one day?
One day? I am not ruling this out. But beforehand I have to be successful in Kiev and finish what I promised to the people.