Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko denounced anti-Semitism and Putin’s Russia during a speech to business leaders in Tel Aviv on Monday.
The reformist politician and former world heavyweight champion boxer arrived on a trip focused on encouraging Israeli investment in Ukraine, which is suffering severe inflation and a Moscow-backed insurgency in its industrial east.
Klitschko, one of the central figures in last winter’s Euromaidan protest movement that toppled pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich, accused Moscow of being “afraid of the success of Ukraine.” That revolution ultimately led to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the current civil war in the Donbass region.
Pointing to former Warsaw Pact nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic as models for modernization and Westernization, Klitschko assured the gathered corporate representatives that corruption can be tackled and that “we can do changes.”
Klitschko praised President Petro Poroshenko’s signing of the European Union association agreement, whose spurning by Yanukovich sparked the revolution. “Russia is not happy with that, but all of you understand everything that happens in eastern Ukraine is created outside of Ukraine,” he quipped.
“This war would never exist without money and weapons support” from Russia, he accused.
Nobody in Ukraine asks others why they speak Ukrainian or Russian instead of the other, and accusations that the government hates Russians is Russian propaganda, he continued.
After Yanukovich fled to Russia in February, parliament voted to repeal a law protecting the status of Russian as an official language in regions in which it was the primary tongue, but acting president Oleksander Turchinov soon vetoed the repeal bill.
“I tell my friends in Russia, how can I hate Russians, my mother is from Russia,” Klitschko said. “My father is Ukrainian. It’s my home country and I am fighting for my country’s independence and territorial independence.
“I don’t want to go back to the USSR,” he asserted.
“We are fighting for a new Ukraine. We see Ukraine as a democratic, modern European country.”
Responding to concerns that investment in a war-torn nation is risky, Klitschko said that it is “difficult to say to investors to invest... if you see pictures from Ukraine and the war’s difficult conditions.”
However, while there is a “big risk,” Ukraine has a “huge potential,” he continued, adding that it is now the government’s responsibility “to implement the expectations of the people.”
It is “not difficult,” Klitschko declared. “It’s easy.”
What is necessary, he proclaimed, is to “destroy corruption and make reform.” Now that the association agreement is signed and Ukraine is “going the European way... it is a question of time and how fast we can do it,” he said.
Corruption in Ukraine is deep-rooted and with powerful oligarchs exerting great influence over the country and Russia controlling access to gas imports, the challenges facing the new administration are great.
Regarding occupied Crimea and the war in the east, Klitschko seemed to indicate that a non-military solution may be possible.
“Many people ask me ‘What are your expectations [for the] next couple of months or year on how fix these problems,’” he said The answer is to “show good living standards in Ukraine and to bring monthly salaries much higher, to make a good economy which works which will be a good example for people, whether they live in Donetsk, Lviv, Kiev or any part of Ukraine.
“Everyone wants to have a good salary, good standards of living. If we do that the conflict will be stopped,” he proclaimed.
Asked if his visit to Israel was in part a response to Russian accusations that the Ukrainian government is anti-Semitic, Klitschko became agitated, calling the conflict a “propaganda war” and Russian television very “professional” in fostering such an image.
“We never ever were anti-Semitic,” he said of the post-revolution government. “For Ukraine it’s not the question of which language you talk [nor to] which church you go, it’s not the question which nationality you are. The question is if you live in Ukraine.
It’s for everyone,” he said, citing the presence of Jews throughout the government and legislature.
The anti-Semitic Svoboda party, whose presence in the interim government Moscow pointed to as proof that the revolution had swept fascists into power, failed to pass the electoral threshold to reenter parliament in October’s elections, although party members entered the legislature through direct polls in several districts.