Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is becoming an autocrat who is reshaping Ukraine into an authoritarian state no different than Russia, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has shockingly claimed.
Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician, took the unprecedented step of publicly attacking Zelensky, an ex-comedian and actor, so vehemently for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 21 months ago.
While the pair have been political foes, such a blistering public condemnation was still shocking to many, given the country’s war crisis.
“At some point we will no longer be any different from Russia, where everything depends on the whim of one man,” Klitschko said in a new interview with the German news outlet Der Spiegel.
Klitschko, who has served as the mayor of Kyiv since 2014, praised his fellow mayors and regional governors for thwarting Ukraine’s descent into authoritarianism.
“There is currently only one independent institution, but enormous pressure is being exerted on it: local self-government,” he said.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has sharply criticized President Volodymyr Zelensky for his handling of the war. Jack Hill/The Times, The Sunday Times/MEGA
Zelensky is accused of turning into an isolated autocrat not unlike Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Sindeyeve/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
Klitschko, who has clashed with Zelensky since the start of the war over the poor state of Kyiv’s emergency shelters, claimed that the president has become isolated and that they never meet or speak to one another — even though their offices are located only a short distance apart.
In a separate sit-down with the Swiss news site 20Minutes, Klitschko accused Zelensky of lying to the public about Ukraine’s progress in the bloody conflict.
The mayor said he agreed with Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian military’s commander in chief, when he said last month that the war had gone “into a stalemate” after a disappointing counteroffensive that failed to deliver a decisive blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, has clashed with Zelensky before over the state of Kyiv’s emergency shelters. REUTERS
Zaluzhnyi warned that the war could drag on for years and poured cold water over the prospect of a “beautiful breakthrough” – unless Ukraine comes up with a game-changer similar to the invention of gunpowder.
Zelensky bristled at Zaluzhnyi’s comments to The Economist, insisting that the conflict, despite slowing down in recent weeks, was anything but a “stalemate.”
“[Zaluzhnyi] told the truth,” Klitschko said. “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth. … Of course, we can euphorically lie to our people and our partners. But you can’t do that forever. Some of our politicians have criticized Zaluzhnyi for the clear words — wrongly. I stand behind him.”
Klitschko, 52, argued that Zelensky’s popularity has been declining since the start of the war in February 2022, when he emerged onto the world stage as the symbol of Ukraine’s struggle for survival — and the mayor predicted that the president will eventually find himself out of power as payback for his “mistakes.
“People see who’s effective and who’s not. And there were and still are a lot of expectations. Zelensky is paying for mistakes he has made,” the Kyiv mayor said.
Klitschko reprised a claim often repeated by Zelensky’s critics that Ukraine’s president downplayed the risk of a Russian invasion until it was too late, leaving the country badly unprepared for Putin’s occupying forces.
Klitschko backed Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian military’s commander in chief, who angered Zelensky by saying last month that the war was at a “stalemate.” REUTERS
“People wonder why we weren’t better prepared for this war, why Zelensky denied until the end that it would come to this,” he said.
During his wide-ranging interview with Der Spiegel, Klitschko praised local officials and not Zelensky’s administration for repelling Russian attacks in the first days and weeks of the war.
But despite his litany of grievances, the mayor stopped short of calling for Zelensky’s immediate ouster.
“The president has an important function today, and we have to support him until the end of the war,” Klitschko said. “But at the end of this war, every politician will pay for his successes or failures.”
Zelensky’s office has not publicly responded to Klitschko’s jabs.
But in his nightly address to the nation Monday, Zelensky appeared to take a veiled swipe at his critics, saying that he was grateful “to those who do not put their personal interests above the interests of the Ukrainian state.”