On Tuesday morning, Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the world again.
It’s an eerie sight, to watch a man on live video, realizing he is trying to lead his nation as an unspeakably evil army closes in from all sides. Zelenskyy knows every hour could be his last.
He remains unbowed.
Not that long ago, Zelenskyy was a comedian, actor and beloved celebrity in his homeland.
He won Ukraine’s version of “Dancing with the Stars” in 2006. He was the voice of Paddington bear in the Ukrainian dub. He portrayed a president in the TV show, “Servant of the People.” Now life has imitated art and Mr. Zelenskyy has been cast into the role of wartime president. And he has captured our hearts and minds with astonishing courage and resolve.
So on Tuesday, as Russian cruise missiles targeted civilian enclaves and a 40-mile long convoy of military vehicles rumbled ominously toward Kyiv with marching orders of death and destruction, Zelenskyy continued to radiate calm and a singular focus on saving his besieged country from Vladimir Putin, a one-man crime against humanity.
Zelenskyy was addressing the European Parliament. The visual juxtaposition was jarring. He was in his military T-shirt, giving a speech while knowing he is No. 1 on Russia’s kill list. His audience was garbed in suits and dresses. And for the second time in a week, Zelenskyy’s spare eloquence caused the English translator to get choked up with emotion.
“We are fighting, just for our land, and our freedom,” relayed the translator, on live television around the world, his voice cracking.
No matter what happens to Zelenskyy — and I’m writing this with my heart in my throat — he has already won the media and information war against Russia. That is not for nothing. For two decades, the sociopathic scumbag Putin has built a lethal propaganda machine.
Putin has interfered with democratic elections, played a saboteur role in referendums such as Brexit, and destabilized the social order in more than 50 countries. His troll farms and bots and army of hackers have systematically hidden inside an ether Trojan Horse to jump straight into our skulls, amplifying culture wars and pitting neighbours against one another.
Disinformation was always an animating feature, not a bug, as Putin engaged in previous depraved assaults, including in Chechnya, Syria, Georgia and his first invasion of Ukraine, the 2014 annexation of Crimea. The bombs would fall. His troops would heinously target civilians. Then the Kremlin would issue patently false rationalizations and the world would either shrug or decide taking a stand against this repulsive strongman was not worth the price.
Those days are over. And they are over thanks to Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
He could have fled this conflict and attempted to lead a government in exile. He turned down offers by the United States and others to send in special forces and extract him from the madness. He wanted to be with his people. He may well die among his people. But as he said this weekend in another inspiring dispatch: “I am here. We will not lay down any weapons. We will defend our state because our weapons are our truth.”
Mr. Zelenskyy, a former entertainer with keen instincts for social media and the art of persuasion, has dropped a nuclear bomb on Putin’s propaganda machine. Aside from Tucker Carlson, a useful idiot at the best of times, nobody in the free world is now soft on Russia.
Zelenskyy’s videos, and status as a global folk hero, have helped galvanize NATO, reverse decades of foreign policy in Germany and compel Switzerland to abandon its neutrality. To Putin, Zelenskyy is a dead man walking. To the world, he is already immortal.
If Putin is such a “genius,” as declared by the former U.S. president, an idiot with no use, let’s tally the wins and losses. Russia is a pariah on the world stage. The ruble has cratered and is now worth about one Canadian penny. Moscow’s stock market has not even opened this week because regulators know the opening bell will be a closing death knell.
Every major multinational, including gas companies, are pulling out of the country. Big Tech, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, are no longer shrugging off Putin’s state deceptions and are actively muting his lies. Companies like Microsoft are proactively creating a firewall to impede Putin’s cyberwar actors. The world is waging non-military war on Russia.
And the world will win. This isn’t Putin’s latest aggression. It is his last stand.
Countries have banned Russia from their airspace. The assets of Russian oligarchs are frozen. Russia is no longer welcome in arts and sport. The harshest financial sanctions in history are reducing the Russian economy to a medieval hellscape in which citizens will have no choice but to revolt after realizing their life savings are now worth less than a sack of potatoes.
Putin’s twisted dreams of a Soviet empire are turning his country into North Korea.
And all credit should go to the brave and heroic president of Ukraine.
“Nobody is going to break us,” Zelenskyy said. “We are strong. We are Ukrainians.”
Badly outgunned, trying to repel an invading superpower all on his own, this 44-year-old has put on a clinic in true leadership I have not witnessed in my lifetime. And by weaponizing the truth, he has torched Putin’s pathological lying, now and forever.
Years ago, as an entertainer, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he loved bringing people together.
He just has in a way that will reshape the world.
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