At the beginning of February, the eminent Ukrainian historian Serhii Plokhy gave an interview about Russian official attitudes to Ukraine. It proved prescient. Plokhii explained to the New Statesman that Putin’s version of Russian history was one current in 19th Century Imperial Russia, where the Tsars ruled three combined Russias; Russia itself, “little Russia” i.e. Ukraine, and “White Russia”, today’s Belarus.

This is now Putin’s view. It looks to the Tsars over the shoulder of the imperialism of Josef Stalin. Putinism yearns to restore the legacy of the Yalta Conference of February 1945, when Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin agreed to carve the world into respective “spheres of influence”. For Stalin, this meant that any area of Europe liberated by the Red Army should fall under the thrall of the Soviet Union.

This has now become the Putin broken record purporting to be historically informed policy. This, says Plokhy, leads to a belief that smaller countries do not have the right to full sovereignty. Too much democracy cannot be allowed to exist in client states, whether it’s Finland after 1940, Armenia since the revolution of 2018, or Ukraine from 1991 on. “Countries being both democratic and pro-Russian in geopolitical terms is a virtual impossibility. A democratic Poland would not have been a member of the Warsaw Pact in the Cold War.”