Nations must unite against Putin’s attack on Ukraine

I want to begin on a positive and uplifting note. Just over a week ago, we watched the Team GB Men’s curling team win a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

It was a tense final and the team did themselves and all of us proud. And then just a few hours later, we watched the women’s team – led by Eve Muirhead – win gold in what was a truly impressive performance. My warm congratulations got to both teams.

Eve Muirhead, in particular, is well on her way to becoming one of the global greats of her sport – she is a brilliant role model for women and men across the sporting world.

Indeed, I am sure that the success of both teams will now inspire many young men and women to take up Scotland’s other ‘national sport’ which was first played here more than 500 years ago.

That is how far back the history of curling goes in Scotland, and we have helped export it to the other parts of the world where it’s now played.

In fact, all of the curling stones used during the Winter Olympics originated in Scotland – on the island of Ailsa Craig, which I used to love looking out at from the front window of my gran’s house in Dunure when I was a wee girl.

In really tough times, our Olympic curling teams gave us all something to smile about, and we should all be grateful for that.

Unfortunately, other news in recent days has not been so positive.

On Thursday morning, we woke to the horrific news that Russia had invaded Ukraine. It is an unprovoked, illegal attack, and creates a reality that we all hoped had become unthinkable – war in Europe.

The Scottish Government condemns in the strongest possible terms Putin’s invasion of a sovereign, independent, democratic neighbour.

This is arguably one of the most dangerous times that Europe has faced since the end of the Second World War – which is why it is so important that nations across the world unite in our condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s aggressive attack on Ukraine and, more importantly, that we take action to ensure he pays a very high price.

Sanctions must be as severe and comprehensive as possible.

We must also stand ready – and Scotland does – to provide any humanitarian relief necessary, through practical support, aid, and refuge.

As a responsible global citizen, we believe that the UK Government should follow the example of countries like Ireland and waive visa requirements for Ukrainian nationals entering the UK. It should also help individuals who want to get here quickly and safely.

I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will soon be informed of UK government plans for a resettlement programme.

If – I hope when – such a programme is announced, the Scottish Government will work with local authorities to make sure we are playing our full part in supporting Ukrainian refugees arriving here.

Scotland has a long and proud history of welcoming refugees from all across the world, and once again we stand ready to offer refuge and sanctuary, where necessary, for those who are being displaced by the horrors of war.

The actions of Putin are indefensible. He is a deluded imperialist and an autocrat who can’t countenance democracy on his borders for fear that it might find its way into Russia.

But we should not assume that he is acting in the name of the Russian people.

Indeed, we have seen thousands of ordinary Russians protesting against the war in recent days – given the oppressive brutality of the Russian state, it takes real courage to do that. So we must ensure that anti-Putin forces within Russia have our encouragement and moral support.

And we must remember that the crimes of one man and his cronies cannot be laid at the door of the Russian people, or of people of Russian background who are now living here in Scotland.

At the sharp end of any conflict are men, women and children – civilians who have the right to go about their daily lives in peace but who will inevitably bear the brunt of this invasion.

Few of us can imagine living through the horror of war or being forced to take up arms to defend their country as many Ukrainians have done over the last week.

The courage and resolve of Ukrainians – from the President to ordinary women and men in the streets – has been awe-inspiring. They deserve our solidarity and support. They are our friends and our family.

The capital city of Ukraine, Kyiv, is twinned with our capital city, Edinburgh. Ukrainians have gathered in Glasgow’s George Square over the weekend to support each other and give others information about what is happening to their families and friends.

Our country is home to several thousand Ukrainians who are valued and welcome members of our communities.

Ukraine is fighting for its own survival. But in doing so, it is also fighting for the values of freedom and democracy. They are doing it for all of us. We must stand with Ukraine.