With the usual enormous Russian pavilion conspicuous by its absence at this year's Mipim property bash, Russians have all but deserted the event this year - but their warring partner Ukraine has arrived in force, with Kiev mayor and former world champion boxer Vitaliy Klitschko flying in yesterday to persuade institutions to invest in the country's capital.
Klitschko’s rise into politics makes London mayor Boris Johnson’s colourful background look dull by comparison. Nicknamed “Dr Iron Fist” on account of his PhD in sports science and his powerful punches in the ring, Klitschko is one of only four boxers to have gained a heavyweight belt on three occasions and has won 45 of 47 professional fights without ever being knocked out – which makes for some pretty impressive figures.
His brother Wladimir, who is engaged to Hollywood actress Hayden Panettiere, is also a champion heavyweight boxer - although they have promised their mother never to fight each other.
The 43-year-old first decided to enter the murky world of Ukrainian politics in 2005 and became an MP in 2012, with his own pro-western political party, Udar. The name translates as “Punch”, but stands for Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms.
He decided to step out of the ring for good in 2013 – after announcing plans to run in the 2014 Ukraine presidential elections. However, he pulled out in March last year, instead endorsing chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko, who went on to win the election. Two months later, he won the race to become mayor of Kiev.
Klitschko was one of the main leaders of the "Maidan" protesters, named after central Kiev's Independence Square and the scene of the uprising which ousted former president Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014 after his attempt to move Ukraine closer to Russia and away from Europe. As mayor, he has pledged to fight for the ideals of the Maidan protesters.
Speaking at Mipim yesterday, Klitschko – a towering 6'7" – told City A.M. his main goals were to clamp down on rife corruption in Kiev, bring about investment reforms and form closer economic ties with the European Union.
“We Ukrainians are European. Our mentality, our history, and geographically – we are part of Europe but we are far away from the European standards of life and this is what we want to change,” he said.
“Ukraine is the most corrupt country in Europe and we have to destroy it. [Corruption] is like a shadow - we have to bring everything into the light to make everything transparent and make sure there is no space for it any more - this is our main goal.”
Given the current crisis in eastern Ukraine with Russia, coming to Mipim to win over investors might be a hard sell. But Klitschko believes it couldn't be a better opportunity:
"Some people are of course skeptical (about investing in the Ukraine) but many people are viewing the situation in Ukraine as a time of opportunity to invest. Because the markets are down, we can invest to buy the projects under market price. That is why many business are looking at Ukraine as a time of opportunity."
"We have so many key projects in real estate, infrastructure and transport. For business people, right now it is the time to invest if they believe in Ukraine and if they are ready take risks right now."