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Kyiv mayor urges Germany to rethink arms exports

Jon Shelton
January 27, 2022

Vitali Klitschko is hoping for a diplomatic solution to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. But the boxer turned Kyiv mayor told DW he was disappointed with the German government for blocking arms deliveries.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko
Vitali Klitschko and his brother Wladimir spent most of their professional boxing careers in Germany; Vitali began a career in Ukrainian politics in 2004 and became mayor of Kyiv in 2014Image: Jan Woitas/dpa-Zentralbild/picture alliance

Speaking with DW about the threat posed by Russian troops amassed near the Ukraine border, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said he was "crossing his fingers for a peaceful solution," but not one that comes "at Ukraine's expense."

The former world heavyweight boxing champion turned politician clearly placed blame for the situation on Russia, saying, "This conflict has been artificially concocted. If someone had said 10 years ago that Russia would occupy Crimea, that the Donetsk and Donbas would be occupied, that 13,000 Ukrainian citizens would die in the conflict, nobody would have believed it. But that is the harsh reality today."

Commenting on joint Russian-Belarus military maneuvers just 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Kyiv, and Russian troops amassing at the Ukraine border to the east, Klitschko told DW: "We are terrified of war. It would be a nightmare — for us, our country, our economy and our people."

Vitali Klitschko: 'We need defensive weapons'

'We don't have any choice'

"The situation is currently escalating and everyone is talking about a possible invasion of Ukraine. We don't have any choice. We have to defend our country. We have to defend our future, our vision, our values and our families. We are not going to attack anyone," said Klitschko.

He expressed dismay with Germany's new government, saying: "I'm disappointed with the stance taken by the German government. Every time we speak of defensive weapons, Germany blocks someone from delivering them."

Klitschko appeared to be referring to a report in the Wall Street Journal last week that drew considerable criticism from Kyiv, some other NATO members, and some observers in Germany. The newspaper reported that Germany had blocked Estonia from delivering German-made weapons to the government in Kyiv.

Military exports have been a sensitive issue in Germany ever since World War II. On principle, the country claims to almost never export weaponry to active conflict zones, although critics allege that these rules are not always kept.

Klitschko urged Germany to reconsider in Ukraine's case, saying the weapons were needed for self-defense: "Germany is one of the most important countries in Europe. We need German support in many areas. We share the same values. We cannot make demands, but we are asking for arms for — and I'd like to stress this — self-defense."

Klitschko 'somewhat disappointed' in Germany

The former boxer ,  who, alongside his brother Wladimir, spent most of his career living in Germany, stressed that despite his criticism, "Germany is my second home." 

Vitali moved back to Ukraine and into politics soon after his retirement from boxing, first becoming an advisor to western-leaning former President Viktor Yuschenko in 2005. The Klitschko brothers both supported Yuschenko publicly during the 2004 election campaign.

He later ran unsuccessfully several times to be mayor of Kyiv, and even flirted with a possible presidential bid in a vote that at the time was scheduled for 2015. When questions emerged about whether he was eligible to run for president, because he had been a permanent resident abroad in Germany within the last 10 years, Klitschko said he would run to be Kyiv's mayor once more instead. He has held the office since June 2014.

"Germany always supported us in our effort to build a modern European country," but he says he is "somewhat disappointed" that German support has its limits.

Nevertheless, Klitschko believes Ukraine's wishes are clear: "Ukraine has decided. Our path, our development and our future are in the European family — as a modern and democratic country with European ideals."

He says despite being a "young democracy," Ukraine's "vision of being part of a European family doesn't fit the image of our eastern neighbor — that means Russia."

Klitschko made no bones about the fact that he sees Russia as an aggressor with very specific geopolitical aims: "Russia plays a major role in the geopolitical game. We understand Russia is also an important business partner for Germany but Russia is playing aggressive politics. It's no secret that Russia wants to recreate the imperial empire of the Soviet Union." But, he said, "we don't want to go 'Back to the USSR.'"  

Edited by: Mark Hallam