It was a decision that has caused a wave of grief and suffering on a scale that no murderer could ever achieve and yet we should think of Putin in such terms, rather than as the leader of a country.
‘Russia’ is not to blame for this war – Putin, his acolytes and his military commanders are. They bear individual responsibility for their crimes and should be held to account for them.
And just as they must not be allowed to hide behind a flag, we should not judge people simply because they are Russian. It is their words and deeds that matter.
This simple idea should also become central to the UK’s approach to international relations. Putin made it very clear to the liberal, democratic world that he was a despotic tyrant long before February 24.
Yet, for the most part, the West chose to ignore these warnings and carried on doing business as usual with Russia as Putin built up his military and a war chest that is helping to fund his killing spree in Ukraine.
When world leaders show every sign that they are preparing for war through their words and deeds, we have to take this at face value, not blithely dismiss it as rhetoric and carry on making money. Human rights activists are sometimes dismissed as naive when they complain about countries and corporations doing deals with dictatorial regimes. Who looks naive now?
The enormous suffering of the people of Ukraine and the growing economic crisis in the UK and elsewhere are, to a degree, consequences of the West’s previous complicity with a corrupt and bloodthirsty leader.
The world is now desperately hoping that China will not follow through on its threats and sabre-rattling over Taiwan, which would spark an even bigger crisis.
For while globalisation has produced many benefits, it is increasingly clear that the extraordinary interconnectedness of the modern world leaves us particularly vulnerable when things go wrong.
A long-standing complaint has been that while some people have become fabulously wealthy, others have been forced to endure low-paid, dead-end jobs in which their toilet breaks are timed.
But, on top of this, the 2008 banking crisis, the Covid pandemic and the current energy price crisis have all demonstrated how dangerously fragile national economies can be when confronted by major global shocks outwith the control of governments.
Over-dependence on different parts of the world for specific important commodities – such as Russia for energy, Ukraine for grain, Taiwan for the most advanced semiconductors – may have made economic sense in a stable, peaceful world. But the Ukraine War has highlighted the economic consequences when international supply lines are disrupted.
The first duty of government is to protect the lives of its people. This has traditionally referred to the need to defend the country from military invasion, but it should now be extended to include protection against destructive economic forces on a worldwide scale.
What this means is that we need to reassess who we do business with and build greater self-sufficiency in areas that are fundamental to people’s livelihoods, while still trying to take advantage of the best elements of globalisation.
This will come with an economic cost, but it is akin to an insurance premium to guard against the decisions of other power-crazed tyrants who have usurped the power of an entire nation.
In cases where this has happened, we need to assess the characters of the individuals in charge, rather than relying on our ideas about their national interest.
And, as Putin’s war continues to demonstrate, we may need to dial down our optimism and focus more on the most horrific of worst-case scenarios.