The ROC skater was awarded a massive score of 82.16 by the judges before an outpouring of emotion while hunching over her knees.
The 15-year-old takes a huge lead at the top of the standings and is on course for gold, but that medal may never be awarded after her positive test for a banned substance was revealed last week.
It was not perfect, unsurprisingly given the circumstances, with a slight fall on the triple axel. But she survived the rest of her short program and continued her march towards another gold medal.
Valieva became the first female skater to land a quadruple jump at an Olympics as the star-studded ROC won last Monday.
It also confirms her place in Thursday’s free skate, which means a 25th skater will also progress in case the doping enquiries are concluded before then.
The 15-year-old Valieva tested positive in December for a banned heart medication, though the result only emerged last week, after her two brilliant performances in the team competition helped win gold for the Russian team.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled early Monday that Valieva should be allowed to compete in part because she is a minor, known as a “protected person,” and is subject to different rules from an adult athlete. But the decision from a three-person panel has been roundly criticized, including by others that performed before her Tuesday night.
Great Britain’s Natasha McKay said: “Obviously it’s not a level playing field and it should be. Every sport should be a level playing field and, you know, we don’t get that opportunity here. But that’s the decision they’ve made and obviously we have to stick with that.
“I feel sorry for anyone who gets on the podium here. They won’t get that experience of being on the podium, and I feel like that would be such a big part of being at the Olympics, getting your medal. So it’s quite sad that they won’t get their medals.”