BACK in 1997, one of my first foreign assignments was to Russia. The country was in tatters, dislocated after the fall of communism and lost in a Weimar Republic-style no-man’s land, stumbling through democracy.

Russian society was Darwinian. As western capital moved in, ordinary people sunk in barbaric levels of poverty. I recall young homeless men in the back alleys of St Petersburg eating slops over an open fire. At night, they slept in the wall cavities of abandoned homes so as not to freeze to death. In the city morgue, medics showed me frozen bodies picked up that morning from the streets, piled naked in hallways as storage drawers were full. Later, I watched the homeless rounded up by police with batons and dogs. One kid had his cheek nearly torn off when an Alsatian took him by the face.

My translator was an English lecturer in one of St Petersburg’s best universities – and her husband a professor – yet her family of four survived on one giant pot of soup for an entire week. The middle class was drowning along with the poor. Young professionals I made friends with spoke of how "New Russians" – the oligarch class – had taken over everything. Traditional bars that my friends frequented were turned into gangster hang-outs overnight. Alongside mafia capitalism, sex work seemed the only flourishing enterprise.

I met ex-KGB officers dreaming of the overthrow of democracy, and one serving FSB officer (the successor organisation to the KGB) so drunk at her desk she could barely speak. One of my most chilling encounters was with a former nuclear submarine commander who told me how he came within seconds of launching atomic weapons during a breakdown of back-channel communications between East and West at the height of the Afghan War. The sub commander was down on his luck – his naval pension not enough to sustain him and his family.

My young Russian friends looked around them and saw only failure. I was disturbed by how they’d started distrusting democracy – equating it with their society’s exploitation and degradation. To them, the West was simply duplicitous. One evening, as a guest on a St Petersburg late-night radio talk show I tried unsuccessfully to convince the audience that the royal family hadn’t actually assassinated Princess Diana. Russia’s president was Boris Yeltsin, an embarrassing drunk. Putin waited in the wings to take power in 2000.

In the mid-1990s, a defeated post-Cold War Russia was humiliated beyond toleration, just as Germany was humiliated beyond toleration after the First World War. Like Russia, Germany’s democratic experiment would also collapse into political horror. I think about that psychological state of humiliation often now when I watch Kremlin propagandists rail against the West, vowing to destroy Ukraine with nuclear weapons. Humiliation doesn’t evaporate overnight. Humiliation can make a nation, a people, do dreadful things, or at least look the other way as leaders and governments do dreadful things.

We’re now, unquestionably, closer to nuclear conflict than at any point in my lifetime. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has the world teetered so close to apocalypse. Putin hints menacingly of nuclear attack with psychotic abandon. President Biden ramps up the rhetoric of Armageddon too. The world risks talking itself into nuclear war. Among policy-makers and military theorists, the thinking seems to be that Putin could use "tactical" nuclear weapons against Ukraine. That would force some terrifying response from the West. Mandarins talk of this as the "escalation ladder". In human-speak, we’d be two, perhaps three, blundering footsteps away from global nuclear war.

I’m a child of the 1970s, raised on "Protect and Survive". I watched Threads and didn’t sleep for weeks. I remember finding a book in my school library on Soviet nuclear targets across Britain and seeing one right on my doorstep: an atomic airburst above Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland. CND, therefore, is in my blood. I want a world free of nuclear weapons as much as the next sane person.

However, Putin isn’t a Soviet leader. He’s Hitler, not Nikita Khrushchev. There can be no unilateral disarmament with Putin. If you’re trapped in a room with a psychopath holding a shotgun you don’t drop your revolver. If you do, you’ll get your brains blown over the wall. Play the Prisoner’s Dilemma between the West and Russia over nuclear disarmament, and there’s only one outcome: lose.

Last week, Nicola Sturgeon reaffirmed her vow to rid Scotland of Trident in the event of independence. The SNP policy, however, seems unfit for these times. It’s not that the SNP should drop its commitment to Trident’s removal, rather it seems more wise and pragmatic to amend the policy. Perhaps, a more realpolitik approach would be to say that Scotland will remove Trident from an independent Scotland "only when the war in Ukraine ends".

To keep the threat of Trident removal on the table while the war continues seems to show wilful disregard over destabilising Nato security in the event of independence. Ms Sturgeon has been relatively hawkish – and rightly so – when it comes to Russia. So she must realise the need for a collective front in the West. Threatening to disrupt the nuclear capabilities of one of Nato’s key member plays into Putin’s hands.

From a self-interested perspective, it seems self-defeating. Do voters want Scotland as a disruptor of western security? In the event of independence, the SNP wishes Scotland to join the Nato military alliance. Nato, though, won’t take kindly to Scotland upsetting a central pillar of its security strategy.

Putin is a weak, pathetic man – he sits at the head of a humiliated, patriarchal society which sees the nuclear warhead as some dark proof of national virility. This twisted, nihilistic mix of death and domination lay at the heart of Nazism too. Only a fool would doubt Putin’s capability of taking the world with him should his regime collapse: an event that grows closer each day.

It’s not an abandonment of the principle of peace to say that the Scottish Government remains fully committed to Trident’s removal … just not in the middle of a war with a nuclear-armed dictator.

Read more by Neil Mackay:

How does SNP vision of an independent Scotland fit in a world where the threat of war grows daily?

Scotland needs to stop navel-gazing and face the world square on