Putting his boxing fortune and life on the line, 42-year-old Vitali Klitschko leads protests in the Ukraine over 63-year-old Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych decision to withdraw the Ukraine from joining the European Union. After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday, Dec. 7, hundreds-of-thousands of street protesters flooded in to Kiev’s Independence Square to object to Yanukovych’s strong-arm tactics, threatening a government crackdown. World Boxing Champion Klitschko put himself in harm’s way rejecting Yanukovych’s decision to withdraw the Ukraine’s attempt to join the European Union. Yanukovych, a former police officer, has strong backing from Moscow to resist any attempt to join the European Union. “This is not a revolution, it’s a powerful protest that demands justice,” said Klitschko, opposing violence but signaling that Ukrainians would not accept Yanukovych’s attempts to side with the Kremlin.
Ukrainians fought hard for their independence in 1991, spending nearly 50 years under Soviet domination. Like other former Soviet republics, the Kremlin doesn’t like to see independence from Moscow. Since Putin resumed his second term as president May 12, 2012, he hasn’t had much tolerance of rebellious former Soviet Republics. Ukrainians watched closely Aug. 7-16, 2008 when Putin marched the Red Army into Georgia, in what’s known as the South Ossetia War, where U.S.-friendly Georgian President Mikhiil Saakashvili lost 20% of Georgian territory in South Ossetia and Abkasia to Russian control. Given Yanukovych’s relationship with Putin, there’s a good chance that Moscow would come to the recuse of its Ukrainian ally should street protests get out-of-hand. “They took away the peoples’ hope to implement reforms, to change the situation in the country,” said Klitschko, refusing to surrender his goal of joining the European Union.
After months of gearing up to join the EU, Yanukovych turned back to Moscow, after Putin threatened to pull back economic support. “The people are not defending political interests, they are defending the idea of living in a civilized society,” said Klitschko, bringing thousands more demonstrators on Kiev’s Independence Square. “We will fight and we are confident we will win,” said Klitsckho, showing the kind of defiance that could get him into hot water. With an ally like Yanukovych in power, Putin won’t shirk away from defending his interests in the Ukraine. Refusing to let another former Soviet republic fall into the EU’s orbit, Putin won’t sit idly by. Jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called for Yanukovych’s ouster, rejecting Moscow’s control. “Yanukovych has lost legitimacy as president . . . he’s no longer the president, he is a tyrant,” wrote Tymoshenko from prision, asking protestors to not give up.
Leading protests in Kiev’s Independence Square, Klitschko’s in a bigger battle thnt his 47 professional prize fights. He’s one bullet away from serving as a martyr in the Ukraine’s attempt to remain free of its Russian overlords. “Don’t give in, not a step back, don’t give up, the future of the Ukraine is in your hands,” said Tymoshenko, calling for her replacement, Russian favorite Prime Minister Mykola Azarev to step down. Ukraine’s democratically-inclined leaders reject Yanukovych’s attempt to pull the country back under Moscow’s control. After training in Germany and the U.S., Klitschko wants the Ukraine to reflect Western values. “Those people who are in politics [now] do not make it their goal to change the country,” said Klitschko. “They are simply plundering the country,” not addressing complaints of exploitation under privatization since the Ukraine’s independent in 1991. Recent opinion polls show Klitschko winning a future election against Yanukovych.
Putting his life on the line for the Ukraine, Klitschko may never set foot back into the boxing ring. Announcing in October that he’d run for president in 2015, he’s already made himself the enemy of the state. While the six-foot-seven-inch tall Klitschko’s a political novice in Soviet-style politics where bogus charges, kangaroo courts and summary executions keep law-and-order, he’s not backing down “It’s impossible to compare them because in boxing there are rules, in Ukrainian politics the rules are absent,” said Klitschko, calling Ukrainian politics dirty business. With more demonstrators flooding the streets, it’s possible a Soviet-style crackdown is in the works. Should demonstrations threaten Yanukovych, Putin won’t hesitate to move in the Russian army to stop a revolution. Klitschko only hopes that Putin backs down. If street protesters get too out of-hand, there’s no limit to what Putin might do to save Russian influence in the Ukraine.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma