It was an easy mistake for a tyrant to make. When Vladimir Putin launched his savage assault on Ukraine in February last year, he did not just misjudge its valiant people and their determination to fight for freedom. He also misread the western democracies.
You can see why. As Russia’s military was beginning what was intended to be a lightning blitz to crush its neighbour, the UK’s clown car government was being consumed by Partygate. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, had previously despaired that Nato was in the throes of “brain death”. Germany, with its dangerous dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, had a newly elected chancellor in Olaf Scholz, presiding over an untested three-party coalition. America had rattled confidence in its leadership with the ignominious scuttle from Afghanistan. It wasn’t just Putin, it was a growing number of people in the free world who thought the democracies had become too debilitated, decadent and divided to defend their values. The Kremlin’s dictator is not the only one who underestimated the resistance of the Ukrainians and the staying power of their supporters in the west.