By Tony Brown
Lord Acton's famous dictum, "all power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely", might have been written for Putin.
Putin allowed the oligarchs to keep their fabulous wealth on condition they steered clear of politics and effectively became hedonistic playboys: Chelsea FC and all those yachts are rich men's toys! He then proceeded to eliminate all significant opposition and took personal control of all the Russian state's levers of power, appointing an entire class of bureaucrats to run everything on his instruction. They in turn received fabulous wealth, but retain it only on condition they do his bidding. Not only is there no internal dissent, but all alternative opinions are unwelcome.
In the tradition of Peter 'the Great' and Stalin - both tyrannical bullies - Putin has become the ultimate autocrat. And that is where Lord Acton's aphorism comes in, for such autocrats come in time to believe that they and they alone have a monopoly of truth; that their opinion is right on everything.
I believe that Putin genuinely believes that Ukraine is not a proper state, that the territory is really Russian (and always has been) and that it needs and requires 'de-Nazifying'!
Manifestly this is arrant nonsense.
Ukraine is a properly constituted sovereign state under international law without any caveats. Russia itself accepted this when it guaranteed Ukraine's territorial integrity under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed on the 5th December 1994. In return Ukraine voluntarily gave up the nuclear arsenal left on its soil from the USSR. How Ukrainians must now regret their naivete!
If you want a historic, international parallel, it is the 1839 Treaty of London: this created the state of Belgium (which did not exist before that date, though they actually rebelled to create their new state in 1830) - and guaranteed its integrity. One of the signatories was Prussia. The German Empire of 1871 was the legal successor state. When the German Empire invaded Belgium in August 1914, they were in clear contravention of their own international guarantees - which both brought Great Britain into the 'Great War' and made it much more straight-forward to argue that Germany was the aggressor and had caused the war. Putin's behaviour is identically illegal and immoral.
Most state boundaries, especially in Europe, are 'accidents of history'. If you know the history of Europe, you know that entire states come and go: Hungary literally did not exist (except briefly during an uprising in 1848/9) from 1526 to 1867; likewise Poland from 1795 to 1919. Yet Poland was vast in 1648 and Hungary in 1914. States are created by key European treaty settlements: the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 created the Netherlands and Switzerland; Vienna in 1815 shaped Germany into its modern 'Länder' after the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and enshrined the three Empires which dominated the map of Europe east of the Rhine in 1914. The Versailles Treaty of 1919 abolishes empires and redraws the map east of the Elbe to create many of the boundaries and states we know today. Eire was created out of the UK only in 1922. Even if you take the view (which I don't) that Ukraine was only created by Lenin in 1917/1922 then it is still as old as most of Europe's states. Putin's claim to his neighbour is without merit, hogwash, bunkum, risible, ludicrous and absurd!
As for Putin's claim to be 'de-Nazifying' (his word), that is gaslighting as international diplomacy: Putin is the one behaving like a Nazi with his fake flag incidents to justify invasion, just as Hitler did over the Sudetenland in 1938 and Silesia in 1939.
Yet, without any dissenting voices to tell him otherwise, I believe that Putin believes his own propaganda: he probably genuinely thought inside his own world of delusion that his troops would be greeted with flowers and that it would all be over in days; a week at the outside.
Putin is therefore not merely an international war criminal and deluded megalomaniac, he is also an explanation of why freedom and democracy are so important. For only with dissent allowed, many political voices, freedom of speech, a mechanism to change government and transfer power, can we avoid creating the Putins of this world.
Sadly much of the world has only ever really experienced rule of the autocratic kind. A real lesson for me of current events in Russia and Ukraine is to reinforce my certainty that western values are right and better, that we must have the confidence to say this, that not all cultures and value systems are of equal value and that real decadence - of the kind which dooms you - is no longer believing or asserting this.
Tony Brown was a Political Adviser to the former Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy and its predecessor, Europe of Freedom and Democracy. Tony is a member of The Freedom Association.