History is Dangerous
History is dangerous when it falls into the wrong hands. That is not to say that objective history (or as objective as historians can make it) is dangerous, but what might rather be called faux history. Faux history, or history used by politicians to push a particular nationalistic cause in their present day.
The 19th century era of Nationalism saw many attempts to do precisely this; so France took up the cause of Vercingetorix who fought Rome, the Germans, recently unified, the story of Arminius who inflicted one of the worst ever defeats upon the Legions of Rome, and, even in Britain, we had the stories of heroes (whom we now know had feet of clay) such as Cecil Rhodes, Clive of India and so forth.
This week has seen, however, the worst example in European history since Hitler and Mein Kampf. Putin has used faux history to misrepresent the story of Russia and Ukraine in order to argue that Ukraine is, and always has been, an integral part of Russia.
There is some historical truth lying beneath the faux history. The first Russian state was indeed Kievan Rus which later evolved into the state of Muscovy and thence to Russia itself. It is also true that Orthodox Christianity reached Russia from Kiev. But that does not mean that Kiev or Ukraine in general is inherently Russian BECAUSE-:
In the early 20th century Ukraine sought its independence at the time of The Russian Revolution in 1917, and in the later 20th century achieved that independence after the fall of The USSR in 1990.
Ukraine is recognised by The United Nations, of which it is a member, as a fully sovereign country.
Ukrainians are not ethnically Russian
Ukrainian is a distinct language to Russian
Ukraine has a distinctive native culture
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is autocephalous, in other words it is self-governing and independent of The Russian Orthodox Church.
At different historical periods part of Ukraine has been part of Austro-Hungary, The Ottoman Empire, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as well as independent during the time of The Cossack Hetmanate.
Ukraine isn't a small brother to Russia, for only Russia itself is a larger country in Europe. Ukraine covers an area of 233,000 square miles. Yet in 2014, Russia invaded, and subsequently annexed, Crimea. There was some justification for so doing because Crimea was only added to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954 (he had been The Communist Party Secretary in Ukraine, 1938-49, and had grown up near the Ukrainian border). Subsequent Russian backed insurrection against the Ukrainian Government in the Eastern Province of Donbas has continued since that date, and now Putin has raised the stakes by recognising the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
His personal legacy of a restored and powerful Russia. Not the Russia of the Bolsheviks but the Russia of the Tsars.
To recover Kiev, the birthplace of the Russian state and of Russian Christianity.
Paranoia (as old as Russia itself) over Western Europe (and now US as well). During the Cold War Putin cut his political teeth as a KGB officer in East Germany, one of the USSR's buffer states as were Poland and Czechoslovakia, and other 'states' incorporated into The Soviet Union, such as the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Putin feels that Russia, without such buffers, between it and Western Europe, is surrounded and threatened by NATO. Hence his view that at all costs, Ukraine and Georgia must be stopped from joining NATO.
Putin 's Ultimate Aim
If it is to expand Russia's borders, then the fear is we are potentially re-living 1938 Europe all over again. Putin is unlikely to be appeased by occupying Donbas, or even the whole of Ukraine. If The West doesn't intervene then he will judge he can do the same to Georgia. But, of course, Georgia is also not a member of NATO.
The real worry is that he might seek to uncouple the three Baltic states from the rest of Western Europe. The distance between his ally, Belarus, and the Russian enclave within The EU of Kalingrad is a mere 65 miles long, the so called Suwalki Gap, separating Poland from Lithuania. This is, as stated by The Times, 'Moscow's invasion route to Europe'.
What happens next is frankly anyone's guess, for as Churchill said so long ago now, 'Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma'.