A skilled miner is useless without a seam of ore. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, czar in all but name, has a genius for mining the ore of Russian nationalism, but the crucial factor is that the ore was there, waiting to be exploited. A ruler perfectly fitted to Russian tradition, Putin is the right man at the right time to dig up Russia’s baleful obsessions, messianic delusions, and aggressive impulses.
“All politics is local” works in the international arena, too. Shakespeare put it well in Henry IV Part II (4.3.343-345) when the king counseled his son and successor: “Be it thy course, dear Harry, to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels.”
Prevalent in many western capitals is the narrative that Vladimir Putin is striving to regain dominance of the “lost” Soviet empire, and his aggressive behavior in Ukraine—especially his blatant annexation of Crimea in March 2014—is just the beginning of a great Russian advance toward another Pax Russiana.