Volodymyr Zelensky is the embodiment of values we cherish - Euan McColm

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine manages to be both inevitable and shocking.

Vladimir Putin’s intentions have been clear for some time. The question has long been when rather than if he would order troops across the border.

Yet for all the inevitability of the attack, its reality is profoundly shocking. News channels screen footage of attacks on Kyiv that surely belong in the savage past while Putin, increasingly unhinged, threatens any nation that would dare stand in his way.

These are frightening times; it seems that, unless members of Putin’s inner circle decide his time’s up, there are no good outcomes to the situation currently unfolding.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy holds a press conference on Russia's military operation in Ukraine. Picture: Getty Images

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As I write, Putin’s number one target is Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. If, by the time you are reading this, he has been taken or killed by Russian forces, which of us would be surprised?

I claim no expertise on the internal politics of Ukraine but I have grown to admire Zelensky a great deal over recent weeks. His blunt but compelling messages to NATO members, his confident, defiant broadcasts to Ukrainian citizens. and his ongoing efforts to find some diplomatic solution while refusing to surrender to military attack have, I think, shown a politician with good instincts and a nimble brain.

When he emerged yesterday morning, after Russia’s bombardment of Kyiv on Friday night, to tell Ukrainians that he remained with them, ready to defend their country, my heart lifted.

Zelensky's story reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie.

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The Ukrainian president is quite unlike others who’ve led his country.

Rather than working his way up the political ladder, Zelensky is an outsider, who worked as a comedian and actor before winning the 2019 presidential election.

Between 2015-19, Zelensky starred in the TV satire Servant of the People in which he played a teacher who ends up becoming president of Ukraine after a video showing him ranting against government corruption goes viral. When the show came to an end, in an impressive act of life imitating art, Zelensky stood for election promising to tackle government corruption.

This should have been a disaster. No matter how chaotic a political system, what do actors know, eh?

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There are, of course, flaws in Zelensky’s presidential career, promises broken and delivery delayed, but what matters, right now, is whether he has the strength of character to lead during this crisis. All the evidence we have seen says he does.

Everything Zelensky stands for enrages Putin. The Russian president, a former KGB spy with wild-eyed fantasies of empire is a product of the cold war past. Zelensky, by contrast, is a liberal whose instincts are to connect Ukraine more closely to its neighbours in western Europe.

Zelensky, in everything he says and does, manages to stoke Putin’s fears about waning Russian influence. Of course, the Russian president wants him dead.

For the past eight years, since the pro-Russian president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, Putin has told his people their neighbouring country has been run by Nazis. He has framed his brutal, illegal act of war as a mission to free an oppressed people.

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On Thursday, Alex Salmond announced he would be suspending production of his weekly show, broadcast on the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, RT (formerly Russia Today).

In a repulsive statement entirely fitting of the man, Salmond insisted RT had never interfered with his programme and hit out at "blatant attacks on freedom of speech from establishment political parties”. Critical journalists in Russia have not been afforded the freedom of speech to which Salmond referred. The Russian government, which pays his production company’s fees, has seen to that.

Salmond’s line about there being no editorial interference in his show is a red herring. His value to RT is in the credibility he lends it. He cannot, no matter how he twists and turns and blusters, separate himself from the channel for which he works.

It's worth noting that, regardless of who controls the editorial content of the Alex Salmond Show, when it screens on TV, a rolling news ticker promotes pro-Kremlin versions of events. Similarly, the show’s website also features Putin-approved news.

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It was difficult to read Salmond’s self-pitying statement about the suspension of his show until “a peace” is re-established without concluding that Scotland had a narrow escape in 2014. What might President Salmond’s position be, right now? What relationship would he have developed with the Russians?

Salmond always fancied himself a great statesman but his failure - his inability - to condemn Putin’s barbarity makes him look very small indeed.

With Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, joining Labour’s Keir Starmer and the Lib Dems’ Ed Davey in standing alongside Prime Minister Boris Johnson in support of Ukraine, Salmond appears increasingly isolated. His response to current events should mark the end of our indulgence of him as a credible figure.

Zelensky presents quite the contrast to Salmond. As he rallies his people against a murderous foe, the Ukrainian president may be observed as a man of considerable substance.

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Shortly before Putin’s troops invaded Ukraine, Zelensky released a filmed message to Russians in which he said only they could stop a war that threatened to engulf Europe. He spoke of his grandfather's part in the fight against the Nazis and of the ways in which neighbouring countries could enrich each other. It didn’t have to be about “them and us”.

Zelensky’s address was simple, direct and, frequently, moving, its thoughtfulness in stark contrast with Vladimir Putin’s thuggery.

As this unbearable situation develops, Volodymyr Zelensky is not only the leader of a nation under attack, he’s the embodiment of values we cherish.

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