HE is no original thinker, Vladimir Putin but the Kremlin hardman does have a big idea to sell: Greater Russia. Or, at least, something pretty close to it.

The Russian president of late sounds increasingly hostile to the idea of nationhood, never mind statehood, for the two other eastern Slavic countries: Ukraine and Belarus.

Late last month, in one of his marathon TV question and answer sessions, Mr Putin declared that Russians and Ukrainians were essentially one people.

Nobody gasped. Official rhetoric has been heading this way for some years, so the outburst came as no surprise.

But this, nevertheless, was a remarkable, potentially history-defining moment: the leader of one European nation, of one people, was effectively denying the very existence, the essential distinctiveness, of another.

READ MORE: A Scottish link to Ukraine

There is context too, some of it bloody. Only seven years ago Russia annexed an entire Ukrainian province, Crimea. And ever since Mr Putin has waged a slow-burning proxy war against Ukraine in its eastern industrial heartlands, Donbass.

A million and a half people have fled the fighting, Thousands are dead.

Earlier this week Mr Putin fleshed out his claim in an historical essay, detailing what he sees as the shared roots, values and causes of eastern Slavs.

He did not quite call for the end of Ukrainian independence. Instead he said this: “I am convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.

“Our spiritual, human and civilisational ties have formed for centuries and have been rooted in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories.”

Later Mr Putin said it was a “tragedy” that a “wall” had gone up between Russia and Ukraine, “between two parts of what are essentially the same historical and spiritual space”.

How had this happened? Well, mistakes had been made, he wrote. And unnamed foreign forces were interfering, the president added, playing an old game of “divide and rule”.

READ MORE: Not just a Scottish problem

This is Mr Putin’s image of Russia, a nation under siege and divided from its historic lands by ill-defined outside enemies.

Kremlinologists in Russia, Ukraine and further afield are poring over the paper, scrutinising Mr Putin’s language and demeanour, trying to find clues about what it all means.

Who was his target audience? Was it a prelude to more war? Or just a distraction from discontent with Russia’s stagnant and corrupt oligarch crony capitalism and Mr Putin’s autocratic rule?

Replies to these questions vary, depending on who you ask. I have no idea who is right. Very few people, I suspect, do.

But I think it is worth exploring Mr Putin’s big idea at its face value, especially for a UK or Scottish audience.

Because some of what he says echoes, albeit faintly, the louder voices discussing our own national question.

There are shriller, more extreme British nationalists – now increasingly voluble – who can sound just a little like Mr Putin when they talk about Scotland, Wales and even Ireland. Think of “one Britain, one nation’ rhetoric.

Russia, of course, is Russia. And the UK is the UK.

Here in Scotland we are not good at drawing international comparisons with our own politics.

READ MORE: Europe's forgotten war

We either want things to be exactly the same – or completely different and therefore irrelevant.

But I think it is worth teasing out some of the nuances of Russian and British nationalism.

Because they do have some common properties, and not just their shared post-imperial angst or their obsessions with the glories and sacrifices of World War Two.

The idea of a Greater Russia, an All-Russia made up, roughly, of the three modern states of Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belarus is hardly new.

Indeed, it is about as old as the idea of a British nation.

You could argue this was a state ideology of the old tsars. It has a name: triune nationalism. I think in a Scottish or UK context we would call it something else: muscular unionism.

Mr Putin’s nationalists accentuate common history – real and imagined – for what they see as the "All-Russian" peoples.

They diminish or dismiss differences, even small, inconsequential ones, between those peoples. And they pursue political centralisation. Sound familiar?

Mr Putin sure is a centraliser. Over the last 20 years he has hollowed out the powers of devolved or autonomous regions and “republics” – many representing distinct national identities – in the Russian Federation. Separatism has, literally, become a crime, punishable by jail.

British nationalists are nowhere near this, not mainstream ones anyway, not yet.

But on blogs and on social media you will see UK voices calling for a constitutional, legal ban on independence referendums and you will find people talking about an indivisible British people.

READ MORE: SNP call over Ukraine

And we have seen some rhetoric threatening the partition of Scotland after potential independence, if not in the exact way Mr Putin has dismembered Ukraine.

Twitter-grade UK muscular unionists will sometimes stray in to ethnic nationalism, seeking an ancient British people who predate the nations eventually forged in to the current union state.

These are the people who see Britain as a nation, not a “nation of nations”, and that this British nation is older than its constituent parts.

In triune nationalism this kind of thing is completely mainstream.

Last week one of Russia’s best selling newspapers, Komsomolskaya Pravda, once the mouthpiece of the young communist league, asked an expert whether Mr Putin was right.

Moscow biologist Yevgeniy Lilin declared Russians and Ukrainians to be “one race, one ethnic group and one people” before concluding: “There is no difference between the DNA of Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – a one-time comedian – laughed off Mr Putin’s theories.

The Ukrainian flag would be flying over the Kremlin if the Russian president was right, he joked. Ukrainians like Mr Zelensky do not deny shared history or affinity with Russia but that is just part of their story, their identity.

Here is a thought as unoriginal as Mr Putin’s – it is up Ukrainians to determine who they are, not the leaders of a neighbouring country.

Telling a people they are not a people will never work, however many questionable DNA studies or history essays you produce.

And that goes for the nations of these islands as much as for those of the former Soviet Union.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.