I'm sorry if I've written this before - I am becoming more repetitive - but one of the most illuminating aspects of reading Orlando Figes's 'Crimea: The Last Crusade' was seeing what Russian diplomats had to say about their country's security at the time of that terrible and wholly unnecessary war.
They complained about British complaints about them trying to strengthen their position on the Black Sea when the British were ensconced on their southern flank in India (if memory serves they were also being pestered by one of the nuttier, more bloodthirsty Transcaucasian warlords at that time, so they weren't naturally in the best of moods).
What was fascinating - what made the hair on the back of my neck stand up - was comparing what they said in their despatches and communiques in 1854 with what they said at the UN Security Council in 1962, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. One hundred and eight years later, they were saying precisely the same things, the only difference being that in the nuclear age they were complaining that the USA was preventing them from installing defences in Cuba while itself installing missiles directly to the south of them in Turkey.
(Two points - firstly, I may be mistaken, but I don't think Professor Figes undertook this exercise in his own book. Secondly, like just about every other right-thinking person I am very grateful that Soviet missiles were removed from Cuba).
To my mind, the very sinister events which have taken place in Ukraine are cause for the greatest concern. A democratically elected government has been overthrown, and London or Washington are mute in the face of the putsch, indeed endorse it by the laying of flowers; the banal and sentimental act of those with no cogent response to events. This has happened while the local regional power has been otherwise engaged - would this have happened had the Winter Olympics not been taking place in Sochi? I very much doubt it. The timing of these events are the biggest two fingers that anti-Russian elements in Ukraine could have elevated to The Kremlin. This is not a pro-Ukrainian event. It is an anti-Russian event, deeply unpleasant Russophobia currently being sanctified by the words, actions, money and floristry of the British and American governments.
The people who are fronting it seem to include ultranationalists, among whom are some very unsavoury characters whose only distinguishing features are their penchant for carrying weapons and their need to wear distinguishing clothing and regalia - two of the hallmarks of classical fascism, wherever it is found - and criminals. One of the most disturbing aspects of the reporting we receive from that part of the world is that anyone who opposes Russia within its sphere of influence and who ends up in jail is somehow automatically and unthinkingly elevated to the status of martyr. I don't know why the political loser Yulia Tymoshenko was in jail - for all we know she could have been in there because she's a crook. Is it still OK to say that in this country these days?
Russian military activity in Crimea seems to be directed solely towards the protection of ethnic Russians who actively want them there (shades of Northern Ireland, at least in 1969). This is not a popular revolution, not by any manner of means. Could it the case that the Russian military presence on the peninsula is actually necessary, in order to protect ethnic Russians? It doesn't seem to be the ethnic Russians who are wearing the SS armbands. Just saying.
And of course, we have William Hague and Barack Obama and Uncle Tom Cobley and all all talking cobblers at the Russians about the need for them to show restraint, when they seem to have shown and seem to be showing nothing but restraint. The Russians are not the ones who overthrew the government of Ukraine - Ukrainian putschists did that. What has happened in Ukraine has been an assault on democracy everywhere. An unintended consequence of failing to address that might be that public opinion in a country whose recent experiences of dealing with democracies include swapping tyranny for penury starts to lose interest in democracy.
And that would be a tragedy not just for Russia, but for the world.