Former heavyweight boxing champ Vitali Klitschko threw a verbal jab at Russian President Vladimir Putin as the former boxer began training with Ukraine military reservists amid growing tensions between the countries.
Klitschko, now mayor of the Ukraine city of Kyiv, described Putin as a “gangrene” afflicting Europe, as fears mount that Russia is planning to invade the ex-boxer’s home country.
Klitschko, 50, elected mayor in 2014, made the comments to the Daily Telegraph after participating in military simulations and tactical training drills while Russia amasses forces at the Ukraine border.
“Many of us served in the army and those skills had to be restored. I think that such training is essential for top and middle-level officials of a country that has been at war for almost eight years,” Klitschko told the newspaper.
The 6’7″ PhD dubbed “Dr. Ironfist,” reportedly said his pugnacious background would serve Ukraine’s largest city well in the event of a conflict.
“I think it is more about character traits that all professional athletes share. Self-discipline, meticulousness, persistence and a strong sense of focus are key principles that help you succeed, no matter what you are doing,” he told the Telegraph.
“As for my celebrity status, my connections are very helpful and give me a big advantage,” he added. “Because Ukraine cannot overcome the tough challenges it faces without friends and reliable partners.”
Ukraine’s 100,000 military reservists are reportedly divided into 25 units that are tasked with protecting key sites and maintaining order during times of war.
Russia began sending forces and heavy military equipment to its western border with Ukraine in April, as Putin threatens to reclaim the country of 44 million, which used to be part of the Soviet Union.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden said he had warned Putin on a 50-minute phone call that any attack would be met with “severe sanctions.”
“I made it clear to President Putin that we will have severe sanctions, we will increase our presence in Europe, with NATO allies,” the president said.
Klitschko took office during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which UN leaders ruled was illegal. An ongoing civil war between government forces and pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 14,000 people.