Lancashire experts on how Putin's hatred of the West and desire for a new Russian empire is driving war in Ukraine - and why we might not end up with World War Three

A fear of the West, a loss of power, and a "wacky" idea to take Russia back to its empire days are what is driving Putin's war in Ukraine, according to a Lancashire expert.

By Catherine Musgrove
Friday, 25th February 2022, 3:46 pm
Updated Friday, 25th February 2022, 3:57 pm

With heartbreaking images bombarding television screens, websites and news stands, it's not hard to ignore the war that's broken out in Ukraine.

But how many of us really know what it's all about? Catherine Musgrove spoke to a Lancashire academic about the background to the invasion, and it's eerie parallels to the rise of the Nazis.

>>>Click here to read how war could affect our everyday living in Lancashire.

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Prof Michael Hughes. Credit: Lancaster University

"It's a real Pearl Harbour moment, a 9/11", said Dr James Summers, senior lecturer in international law at Lancaster University and director of the Centre for International Law and Human Rights.

"It's a radical shift and it leaves the countries that border Russia in a very, very dangerous position"

He believes the invasion has two main causes, Nato expansion and Slav nationalism."


Black smoke rises from a military airport in Chuguyev near Kharkiv on February 24, 2022. - Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine today with explosions heard soon after across the country and its foreign minister warning a "full-scale invasion" was underway.

Nato - which stands for The North Atlantic Treaty Organization - is a group of 30 member countries that agree to work together to ensure the security of the Northern Atlantic area.

Ukraine's Government has been interested in joining the group for some time.

>>>Click here for how Preston is vowing to help those in trouble.

Putin had said he would step down his military advances if NATO prohibited Ukraine from joining its alliance – a demand that was rejected.

Dr James Summers

Dr Summers said Russia is keen to keep Ukraine as a buffer between itself and the West.

He said: "Russia has states to the west including Ukraine and Belarus, which it sees as a buffer between Russia and the West.

"Nato expansion has always been a fear for Moscow, because Putin wants to keep it under his sphere of influence.

"Putin and the people around him have made fortunes by controlling Russian oil and gas. They have entrenched themselves in power and don't want to lose it.

"So he hates the example Ukraine has set, where people have the power to change Governments, fearing he could lose an election and power.

"He wants to take over and put a Russian puppet leader in place.

"He hates the idea of democracy and allowing Ukraine to peacefully elect a government sets a dangerous precedent for him."

Dr Summers also says he believes Putin couldn't afford to retire peacefully as he "may not be left alone" as answers are demanded over the loss of 13,000 lives in Ukraine since 2014 and the downing of flight MH17 the same year by Russian separatists.


Another factor for the invasion is Slav nationalism, something Dr Summers says Putin has been "very explicit" explicit about.

He said: "He put a lengthy essay on the Kremlin's website last July and people reading it were thinking he wasn't really serious, but he was totally serious."

In the essay he outlined why he didn't believe Ukraine was a separate nation. He sees it as an artificial creation and that naturally, Russia and Ukraine are one nation."

After the cold war breakdown of the Soviet Union when Russian rulers allowed smaller states to break away and run democratically without the fear of force from Moscow.

Now Dr Summers believes Putin is trying to undo the process, by saying "we don't care about your sovereignty".

Dr Summers said: "He sees himself on a nationalist mission to reunite Eatern Slavs as Vladimir, Unifier of the East.

"He wants to go back to ancient Kingdoms, when Russia was ruled by Tzars, but it's a concocted history.

"It's like arguing Britain can take half of France because it was part of our medieval kingdom. Actually, it's like saying we'll have Denmark too. It's genuinely wacky."

The course of things can be directly compared to what happened with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi's. He decided things should be decided by Aryans and to unite all of Germany under one Reich.

"There are some genuine parallels here. It's the sort of agressive nationalism we had in the 1930s and 40s and we hoped we'd left behind."

Do Russian's like Putin?

Professor Michael Hughes of Lancaster University, who specialises in Russian history and politics believes times are changing for Putin, as a new generation of adults comes through.

He said: "There's an odd mixture. You can walk around St Petersberg now and see people on their smart phones, accessing all different websites from around the world, and it looks quite Western. But I'd say it's quite sinister behind the scenes. It's an iron glove covered by a thin, silk veneer."

He added: "At the end of the Cold War, Russia was in a dreadful state, and he brought prosperity back for a while. I was living in Russia, and Putin was popular.

"But I think that might be changing now. What's happening is people aged 40 or less don't remember the Cold War and Soviet Union, they don't use the same language as Putin and some of the older generations, so it's harder to keep the chains on.

"The younger generation has much more concern and they are protesting on the streets, even though this can have long-term consequences and affect things like employment for life."

Military might

"There's no doubt Russia's military power is strong", said Prof Hughes.

"Putin has put a lot of money into conventional military equipment and then there's a huge nuclear stockpile. That's what's scary when he talked about ''consequences greater than any you have faced in history' last week.

"He easily has the capacity to over-run the Ukranian military, and he's made the bet that Nato wouldn't get involved.

"He will very quickly establish control, but the guerrilla warfare is harder to control. That's when the bloodshed really happens, when they start firing on civilians to flush people out."

And what if it doesn't go well in Ukraine for Putin?

"That could be more dangerous", said Prof Hughes.

"If he established a puppet state, there will be harsh sanctions and tensions between the East and West.

"But if it goes badly for him, then there will be a huge loss of face, he will become more desperate, and take more risks."

Will we get World War 3?

Professor Hughes said: "Three weeks ago I didn't think there would be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, so I'm predictions are dangerous things, but I don't think we're on the road to World War Three."

Prof Hughes believes a flash point will only come if a Nato country is attacked, and thinks that would only be by 'mistake'.