Harry Reid's column on the Ukraine crisis is right about one thing:

there has been plenty of "demonisation" of Russian President Vladimir Putin, not always based on high-quality analysis ("Judge not Putin lest the West be judged too", The Herald, March 4). Yet how much is there to debunk in our image of Putin?

There are few "statesmen" around today who can boast a record like Mr Putin's: opponents imprisoned, or even murdered in cases that are never solved; a protracted bloody war against part of his own state; the successful creation of a parliamentary charade instead of a democracy; the monopolisation of the media; a consistent line on homophobia and racism towards Russia's ethnic minorities; and illegal invasions of sovereign states.

Loading article content

Russia's military presence in Crimea is subject to strict regulations, and these have been openly and grossly flaunted, both in terms of the number of troops on the ground and what they are doing. These acts violate not only international law, but also specifically the terms of the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 (to which both Russia and the UK are signatories).

In Crimea, surveys from 2012 show around 40% support for joining Russia. The Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian minorities, meanwhile, who make up around 40% of the population, would feel justifiably frightened about incorporation into a state that has problems with discrimination and violence against its ethnic minorities.

So it is far from clear whether a majority of Crimeans want to be in Russia. Such decisions should not be made under the barrel of a gun.

Then there is the issue of the "mob" that overthrew Ukraine's "legitimate president". Viktor Yanukovych had dozens of his own people shot by snipers. He hired thugs who beat, tortured and murdered opponents, and he stole about 70 billion dollars worth of the nation's wealth.

These acts represent a massive violation of the president's responsibilities towards his people; they also make him a criminal. He was, in fact, impeached by a legitimate parliament that included members of his own party.

It might be worth also looking more closely at the "ultra-right fascists" Harry Reid mentions. There was a radical fringe on the protests, and their role in the new government is something we should be concerned about.

But they do not represent the vast majority of Ukrainians or protesters. Some are violent radicals and some are ideologically nearer to Ukip. Many of the pro-Russian groups in Crimea are also violent, far-right xenophobes.

Harry Reid writes that we should be grateful to the "Russian people" for defeating Hitler. It was the Soviet Union, not Russia alone, that defeated the Nazis and, while the largest national group in the Red Army was Russian, it also had millions of non-Russians, including millions of Ukrainians.

The Red Army's sacrifice did, indeed, defeat Hitler. But the Soviet forces also committed mass atrocities and, combined with the cynicism of the West, their victory helped establish totalitarian regimes in half of Europe that repressed and murdered millions in the post-war decades.

As a KGB agent, Mr Putin was at the heart of this repression. The anti-Soviet resistance in Ukraine during the Second World War, brave as it may well have been, was co-ordinated by a fascist political organisation that is currently and controversially popular among some Ukrainians.

To suggest that the West is somehow feeling guilt about its defeat is questionable: the West knows nothing about this movement, support for which exists in Ukraine, but it is also mercilessly exaggerated by Mr Putin's media machine.

Harry Reid is correct in asserting that Mr Putin should not be regarded as a pantomime villain. He is a serious threat to his own people and to those in neighbouring countries. His aggression in Ukraine could end up costing the lives of both Russians and Ukrainians.

To make excuses for him based on a sketchy understanding of the politics and history of Ukraine is irresponsible and dangerous.