The narrative of the Russian invasion of Ukraine so far is a story of two, very different, Presidents. They are divided over democracy and autocracy, freedom and dictatorship, and decency and moral bankruptcy. President Putin has demonstrated himself to have no character but brutality, while President Zelensky has shown the spirit of a true, courageous leader.
Putin has launched an invasion for no other discernible reason than personal ambition. Steeped in total power for decades, he has an unhealthy, obsessive vendetta with history. The dissolution of the USSR 30 years ago, and the loss of territory like Ukraine, was a complete, painful disaster in Putin’s eyes. Feeling untouchable, he has tried to rewrite history to his own tune. Truly the actions of a crazed, foul dictator.
Zelensky has been President and a politician for only around three years, and yet his leadership skills have been titanic. For weeks he kept order and calm when Ukraine was surrounded by over 150,000 troops. His speech just as the invasion began to the Russian people, describing the suffering to come while appealing to them on a human level, was masterful. Now facing Russian troops and shelling all across Ukraine, his rhetoric does not beat the drum of vengeance and revenge, but of the constant need to fight to restore peace, common understanding, and self-determination. There is a sense that he is speaking not only to the world, but to history, which he is no doubt winning the side of.
Zelensky, at his own risk, is holding the country together
Russian forces have steamed into Ukraine from sea, air, and land, from Russia, Belarus, and Crimea all at Putin’s behest. They have destroyed civilian residential areas, bombed around runways, and killed many immensely brave Ukrainian soldiers. Innocent Russian troops have also died in the hundreds or even thousands. 100,000s have fled the country and all Ukrainian men as old as 60 have been forced to fight. The catalogue of suffering just in a few days is strikingly enormous. It is deflating as an outsider to hear, and but even more maddening when the only reason is the callous nature of one old, power-hungry, decrepit individual.
The justification for this, according to the Kremlin and Russian state TV, is the baseless need to ‘denazify’ Ukraine. Zelensky himself is Jewish and lost relatives in the holocaust while the country lost eight million people fighting the Nazis in World War Two. These claims are as outlandishly offensive as they as plain wrong. Its just another cruel gut punch from a gutless individual.
Meanwhile, Zelensky is modelling gutsiness. He has revealed publicly that he is the Russian army’s prime target, with his family target number two. It is painfully clear to all that Zelensky’s life is in dramatic danger. On Friday night, the US offered the rescue Zelensky. His response was that he needed ‘ammunition, not a ride’. That choice is an extraordinary sacrifice for his country and for the values of freedom. He is among soldiers in the capital Kyiv on the ground, even as the enemy motivated to kill him are mere miles away. His courage is breath-taking, and his calm is even more impressive. So often in this scenario the leader flees, often with reams of money, leaving the country to fall apart. In this sense, Zelensky, at his own risk, is holding the country together.
Putin deserves to be ostracised, isolated, and dethroned
In our struggle internationally, and nationally, between democracy and autocracy, this is the new front line. Zelensky is currently holding the torch for democracy, refusing to drop it, at any cost. Meanwhile, Putin is writing himself into the chapter of tyrants in history as he fights for not just for autocracy, but a form of sadistic, authoritarian governance.
The divide in leadership, morals, and courage between these two men is unequivocal. Zelensky deserves all our attention, aid and help for he is putting everything on the line for the norms and values we take for granted. Putin deserves to be ostracised, isolated, and dethroned. No doubt this is a momentous time in history, possibly the start of a new geopolitical age. We must ensure, and pray, that Zelensky is victorious on the ground. Whatever happens though, in the eyes of this and future generations, there is only one victor in this match-up of men: Zelensky.