Let me say, up front, that for most of my early adult life I was a supporter of the Soviet Union. I filtered my experience of the ‘Cold War’, because I was aware of the machinations of the state apparatus of the USA and UK, sometimes affecting me personally, to discredit and undermine the Soviet Union (and its allies). Then along came Mikhail Gorbachev, Glasnost, Perestroika. It seemed we all basked in his personal warmth as he thawed, it seemed personally, the cold war. Those of us who had lived for 30 or 40 years under the threat of global nuclear anihilation were relieved. Then came the collapse of the Soviet system, the dissintegration of the USSR and the rise of a new Russian Federation (for which now read Russian Empire) and, by the way, the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church. It seems to me that some of the older Russian generation (by which I mean those who lived through the Soviet era) still harbour nostalgic and proud feelings for the achievements, and crucially certainty, of that system. The younger generation, who focussed more on the hardships, constraints and, yes, the abuses of that time, were only too thrilled to discard collectivism in favour of individualism. Here, in the UK, we are still reaping the consequences of ‘buying into’ the philosophy of putting yourself, rather than ‘society’, first even though, arguably, we had a better developed sense of when we were being ‘sold a crock’. Then along came a new Tsar, Vladimir Putin: ex-KGB. The writing was on the wall, but over the same time we had the global financial crash and we took our eye off the ball as successive UK governments set about eviscerating, amongst other things, our military capability. We became embroiled in war in the Middle-East and Putin saw, and learned from, our effectiveness and weaknesses. He had also learned from the debacle of Russian miitary intervention in Afghanistan. He set about modernising his military inventory and thinking: no more full frontal invasions to extend Imperial influence, but cyber warfare and proxy wars.
Put that into the context of a rise across Europe, especially in the east, of far-right nationalism. Patriotism is, I would argue, a good thing; nationalism (which is not the same thing at all) is very dangerous. Just now Putin’s “approval rating” in his own country is, we are told, on the slide. There is a real danger of creating conditions where he could whip up support for patriotic / nationalistic support for external action. 1930s all over again?