A proposed explanation, if not a justification, for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is that NATO pushed too far east and thus posed a threat. Actually it wasn’t so much a matter of NATO pushing east as being invited east. Countries that had been part of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, or lived in its shadow, were very much afraid of Russia. Recent events have justified their fear. Even the Finns, who for a long time have wanted to maintain their neutrality, now favour joining.

Ironically, even Russia itself wanted to join at one time. According to The New York Times, in 2000 Putin himself asked the alliance’s secretary general, George Robertson, “When are you going to invite us to join NATO?” When he was told there was an application process, apparently he sulked, “Well, we’re not standing in line with a lot of countries that don’t matter.” He wasn’t about to queue up with a bunch of second-raters such as Ukraine.

In any case, although Russia has been invaded more than once from the west in the past, it hardly needs have any great fear now. It is a nuclear power for God’s sake! It could reduce any invader into radioactive dust.

To think NATO keeping its distance would have discouraged Putin’s ambitions is naive. He has gone on record that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a great tragedy. His foreign policy now seems aimed at restoring Russia to great power status on a par with the United States, whose continuing influence in the world seems to infuriate him. Masha Gessen, author of The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, claims that he is “profoundly anti-modern” and sees himself as an heir to “expansionist dictators” like Ivan the Terrible and Joseph Stalin.

It is unmitigated arrogance to insist you have a right to dominate your neighbours in order to protect your security. The best way to protect yourself against your neighbours is to develop healthy, mutually-respectful relationships with them, something that Putin is congenitally incapable of. It is the Russians’ curse, and ours, that their county is run by a psychopath, and psychopaths are incapable of forming healthy relationships.

Perhaps Putin is the man we have all been fearing since the dawn of the nuclear era. The man who if he doesn’t get what he wants will blow up the world.

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