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The Face of Ukraine’s Opposition, Vitaly Klitschko

Monday evening, two leaders of Ukraine’s opposition, Vitaly Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, had a late-night meeting with President Viktor Yanukovych. Klitschko, who heads Ukraine’s “Punch” Party, emerged from the meeting reporting that Yanukovych had offered no alternative to abandonment of central Kiev by opposition protesters, which Klitschko deemed unacceptable.

Vitaly Klitschko is one of the more interesting figures in world politics. He first earned fame as a boxer: Vitaly and his younger brother Wladimir have dominated the heavyweight division for the last 15 years, and have played a major role in Europe’s boxing renaissance. Vitaly held one or more heavyweight belts on and off between 1999 and 2013, when he retired to focus exclusively on politics. His record in world title bouts is 15-2. At 6′ 7″ and 240 pounds, Klitschko is an imposing force. This HBO video conveys a sense of his boxing style:

Vitaly Klitschko has the second highest knockout ratio in the history of the heavyweight division–second to Rocky Marciano. But Klitschko is much more than a Hall of Fame boxer. The son of a major general in the Soviet Air Force, he is a very smart guy. He has a PhD and is an excellent chess player. A famous Vitaly quote: “What’s the difference between chess and boxing? In chess, nobody is an expert, but everybody plays. In boxing everybody is an expert, but nobody fights.”

But Vitaly Klitschko fights, in politics as in the ring. No mere figurehead, he has been on the front lines in Kiev, using a megaphone to urge crowds of protesters to remain non-violent. In one incident, he was sprayed with a fire extinguisher as he tried to separate brawling protesters from policemen:

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Klitschko has announced that he will run for President of Ukraine next year, but it appears that events might outrun that timetable. What are Klitschko’s political views? He stands for closer ties with the West and the European Union, as opposed to Russia. He wants an independent judiciary and has campaigned for tax cuts to stimulate Ukraine’s economy. But mostly, he wants Ukraine to be a “normal country,” a Western liberal democracy rather than a corrupt, Russia-dominated fiefdom, which at this point is the choice that is on the table.

No politician is perfect, but as far as I can tell, Vitaly Klitschko is entirely admirable. And one thing we know for sure: he won’t be intimidated by Vladimir Putin, or anyone else. Keep an eye on him in the days to come.

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