Volodymyr Zelensky is becoming increasingly autocratic and is pushing Ukraine to a point at which it will no longer be any different from Russia, a former heavyweight boxing champion turned mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has claimed.
It is unprecedented critism of the Ukrainian president since Russia’s invasion almost two years ago and comes as Kyiv’s counteroffensive against the forces of Vladimir Putin has stalled. Mr Klitschko told the Swiss media outlet 20 Minuten: “People [are beginning to] 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.”
Mr Klitschko has been at odds with Mr Zelensky since last winter, when the president accused him of failing to maintain Kyiv’s bomb shelters to the desired level. But the strength of the Kyiv mayor’s words highlights the struggles Mr Zelensky has in keeping the country’s leadership on the same page as the war grinds on.
Speaking to German news magazine Der Spiegel, Mr Klitschko said that Mr Zelensky was showing authoritarian tendencies that could be dangerous for Ukraine, although it was unclear what he was referring to.
“At some point we will no longer be any different from Russia, where everything depends on the whim of one man,” Mr Klitschko told German magazine Der Spiegel, in another interview.
Internal Ukrainian polling cited last month by The Economist said that Mr Zelensky’s trust ratings were at 32 per cent, having trended downwards for months.
Despite Mr Klitschko’s comments, he also said that he did not want Mr Zelensky to leave office until the war was over.
A presidential election was due in March but elections are barred under the martial law introduced when Russia invaded. The Zelensky administration has argued that the vote would not be fair because so many soldiers are at the front and millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee the country.
Kira Rudik, a Ukrainian opposition leader, told The Independent that she also disagreed with elections despite Mr Zelensky’s waning popularity.
“From a geopolitical perspective, it would be super dangerous if we held elections only in territories that we control,” she said. “It would mean that we appear to acknowledge that Ukraine does not include the occupied territories.”
She added that the optics of Ukrainian politicians spending money on political campaigns during a time of war would be “crazy”.
Mr Klitschko became the second major official to be involved in a spat with the president after the Ukrainian military chief, Valery Zaluzhny, was criticised for saying the frontline had reached a stalemate last month.
Mr Zelensky denied that the war was deadlocked but admitted last week that the counteroffensive had failed to achieve “the desired results”.
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