Who is going to win the war in Ukraine? Although analysts at institutions devoted to geopolitical forecasts would not care to admit the fact to clients, producing an answer to that question is akin to predicting the winner of the Grand National. That is a fair analogy since, in both cases, the outcome can be changed by small accidents or misjudgements. Of the two belligerents, the one less easy for western observers to understand is Russia.

Winston Churchill described Russia in 1939 as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. One knows what he meant, but it is difficult to dismiss the notion that, like present-day politicians and analysts, he was trying to evade the responsibility of forecasting Russia’s future moves. He had the excuse that the traditional challenge of analysing Russian intentions had been compounded by its reincarnation as the Soviet Union, with all the additional ideological baggage that entailed.