The Ukrainian people helped end the Soviet Union. On 1 December 1991, they voted 92 per cent in favour of declaring independence from the USSR. One week later the Soviet Union was dissolved.
Vladimir Putin called this event the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century. We should not be surprised that he ordered an invasion of the Donbas region of the Ukraine this week.
Yet as the *Financial Times* reported, one senior diplomat told another, as they spoke of the prospect of war, "We both paused and said, ‘I can’t believe we’re having this conversation."
GK Chesteron once wrote that "What is wrong with our civilization can be said with one word — unreality." Well, that is probably still true, but I would add another word "naivety".
A year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Francis Fukayama published a famous book titled *The End of History*, the central argument of which was that western, liberal democracy has triumphed as the best form of government, and it won't be successfully challenged again.
Many leaders in the west have acted as if they believe this since. Defence budgets have been slashed and we have ignored the need to protect our independence and self-sufficiency.
Vladimir Putin does not believe that history is over. His speech justifying the invasion of Ukraine contained a lengthy historical justification of dubious accuracy. He said that Ukraine was only created by the Bolsheviks and that his invasion was, in effect, then an attempt at "decommunisation".
In truth, Mr Putin has his history the wrong way around. It was the indigenous people of the Ukraine that first used the term "Rus" to describe themselves (a term they adopted from invading Vikings in the 10th century). The term Rus then spread to include all peoples from Poland west. It was not adopted by the Muscovy Empire officially until the 18th century.
But whether Mr Putin is right or wrong about history misses the point. History is clearly driving Russia to take this action, and historical grievances explain much of the conduct of aggressive regimes right around the world.
The Ukraine is a long way from Australia but we are nervously watching because of the parallels between the Donbas and Taiwan. Like Putin, Xi Jinping is motivated by history. In Xi's speech to celebrate 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party, in just the 4th paragraph, he launched into a list of the things done wrong to the Chinese people during their self-described "century of humiliation". Terrible things were done to China in this period, including the forced sale of opium, the fomenting of tensions that led to the Taiping rebellion and the Rape of Nanjing.
This is now used as a justification for all of China's bullying in the region.
Our blindness to history must end to successfully deter aggression and maintain peace. It is worrying that those diplomats were surprised by events. Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014 to take back the Crimea. Back then there was much talk of sanctions and repercussions. Within four years, Russia was hosting the soccer World Cup and Putin was hosting European leaders in his VIP box.
This time the sanctions must stick and we must take real action to reduce our dependence on aggressive dictatorial regimes.
Since Crimea, Europe has only increased its dependence on Russian gas as they closed coal and nuclear power stations, and banned fracking. Their threats of trade sanctions are today then something of a toothless tiger. The new Biden administration has not helped matters by putting tougher regulations on the US gas industry, just this week announcing more hurdles before gas pipelines are approved.
Remember when we all met in Glasgow last November, held hands, and said that the world was going to get to net zero emissions. Signing up to net zero emissions has played right into Putin's hands. If we want to deter aggression we have to become more self-sufficient and that means developing our own resources (including our fossil fuel resources) in our national interest.