The Starkey lecturette we were directed to the other day is very good viewing indeed - all manner of interesting perspectives. I can't go along with all of it, however. As noted before, the degree of strategic capability we should attribute to Putin is very much open to question, as is his 'hero' status in the non western world.
There's something else that needs to be challenged, if not on the facts then certainly on the interpretation. Right at the beginning, Starkey notes that through most years of recorded history we won't find 'Ukraine' on the map. His clear implication, I suggest, is that Ukraine is therefore not a 'proper entity' in some sense - a latter-day confection - which very much invites the next step of "so maybe we shouldn't get exercised about something which lacks status in that way".
However much it's important for some purposes to learn the history, for other purposes we needn't get into "what are the origins of modern-day Ukraine?". Specifically, there's the rather pointed alternative question: "will they stand and fight?". A few days before it all kicked off, against a BTL comment that pointed to several recent regimes that had simply crumbled in the face of a determined military thrust, I offered the view that Finland 1939-40 was the appropriate counter example (NOT France 1940); and that "Ukrainian nationalism is a real thing". If that's right - and I remain of the view that it is - the answer to Starkey's observation is a resounding "so what?". If they stand and fight, what's the relevance for immediate practical purposes as to how they came by their national identity?
My views on this stem from when I worked in Moscow, many years ago. I was determined to learn the language, and took on a Russian tutor. At a very early stage I brought him a list of my Russian staff and asked him how I should correctly pronounce their names (knowing that, for example, Олег would put up with being called Oh-leg, but really it is more like Alyeck). The tutor scanned down the list, and with a look of utter disgust lighted upon one name: This is a Ukrainian name, he spat out - why do you employ her?
And so it went on. At one particularly memorable business lunch when my boss from the US was over, one of the assembled host told a joke, the punchline of which was to compare Ukrainians unfavourably with certain others of mankind's races, and also the apes. This was solemnly translated for my man, who went purple but didn't know quite what else to do. But it was par for the course in Moscow.
In a later business incarnation I found myself working alongside a Ukrainian for a sustained period, who gave me the other side of the picture over a beer or three.
Any suggestion on Putin's part that Russians and Ukrainians are blood-brothers that have been artificially and temporarily separated, doesn't ring at all true to me. Ukrainian nationalism is a Thing alright, wherever it came from and whenever it dates from - and quite tangible enough to fuel serious resistance. As we see before us daily. I'm still on my Finland-not-France analogy.
PS: I might add that if it rumbles on into a stalemate where the west keeps the Ukrainians armed and fighting as did Russia and China keep the North Vietnamese, this Russian gentleman suggests we may live to regret it. As with Starkey, we're not obliged to agree with everything he says: but it's a compelling little essay.
PPS - an afterthought: if Ukraine "didn't exist" for much of history, then how's about, errrr, Germany? Italy? etc etc etc