BY chance, I happened to be searching online for details about a past figure in the British theatrical world.

First thing I noticed was that he was listed as “Russian born”, although raised from his earliest years in England.

Further research disclosed that his life actually began, at the very start of the 20th Century, in what is now Ukraine.

His birthplace, then, was Imperial Russia. A dated concept which, nevertheless, still appears to motivate Vladimir Putin.

Desperate to enhance his own present status, Putin turns to inchoate thoughts of Russia’s past.

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He is far from the only politician to seek refuge in such fantasies, but that does not in any way exculpate him or lessen the attendant horrors.

Perhaps global leaders should have paid closer attention to Putin’s aspirations, instead of disdaining him.

Equally, it is feasible that Putin was always fatally intent on this current course of action.

Either way, the global structure faces change as a consequence. Here in the UK, we are already coping with the aftermath of the pandemic, with economic turmoil and with the consequences of Brexit, not least in Northern Ireland.

Yet we can also glance globally.

The Ukraine conflict moved measurably this week with the annihilation of Mariupol. Putin hails the Russian conquerors of this proud port city, averting his eyes from the attendant destruction.

A weary world, remote from the fighting, wonders whether this might be a way out of the war. Could Putin annexe the wider Donbas region, allowing him to proclaim a bogus victory to a bewildered Russian people?

Would the rest of Ukraine tolerate this for the sake of peace? Perhaps they may have to, eventually, although one can readily understand why Ukraine’s President vows to fight for every metre of brutally invaded territory.

Putin’s global standing was always questioned. With a few exceptions. Now, he is widely seen as a pariah.

The world will not easily overlook his actions. Even Russian opinion may shift if people can gain access to reliable information. Perhaps they will think twice when they seek in vain for a Big Mac in Moscow.

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But the global political and military balance has shifted too. Previously, some might have understood President Putin’s vocal objections to the possibility of Ukraine joining the EU or NATO.

Consider, they might have said. How would we in the UK have liked it, in decades gone by, if, say, Belgium had sought to join the Warsaw Pact?

All such thoughts are gone. Now, Sweden and Finland say they will apply to join NATO. Considerations of a respectful balance of power in Europe are consigned to history.

The process of joining the American-led military alliance would be protracted. Not least because Turkey, a NATO member, says it would block accession for Sweden and Finland.

But the atmosphere has palpably changed. The concept of Russia as an incontestable superpower has been eroded, along with the morale of its troops – although, of course, its military might remains in place, including its nuclear arsenal.

There are other direct and immediate concerns. This week, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of the prospect of food shortages and famine because of sanctions upon Russia and export constraints upon vital Ukrainian grain harvests.

Everything has a consequence. If a grain ship is prevented from leaving Odesa, then a desperate family, in poverty elsewhere, may starve.

Then there is energy. The dependence of parts of western Europe upon Russian gas has given pause for thought to political leaders.

They know that the zeitgeist demands tough action against Russia. Their voters see the horrors inflicted upon peaceful Ukraine. Yet, they know too that those same voters will scarcely welcome energy shortages and price hikes.

That broad topic arrived in Holyrood this week, with fascinating exchanges at First Minister’s questions.

For weeks, I have discerned that Nicola Sturgeon seemed somewhat uncomfortable in promulgating her argument that, to counter climate change, it would be wise to leave remaining North Sea oil and gas just there.

Under the sea, untouched.

No doubt she was thinking of the tens of thousands of Scottish jobs dependent on those hydrocarbons. As I say, she seemed less than happy.

During the Thursday exchanges, Liam Kerr of the Tories sought to add to her discomfiture by arguing that domestic oil and gas could secure supplies, lost from Russia, with a lower carbon footprint than imports.

Ms Sturgeon was unmoved. She set out, in detail, how and why any new development or one already granted should meet a “robust” climate compatibility checkpoint.

There had to be a “just transition” from oil and gas to renewables.

Mark Ruskell of the Greens responded by praising her “crystal clarity”. Almost as if the exchange with her buddies had been choreographed. Intriguing.

However, there was decidedly less geniality between the SNP and the Greens this week over NATO.

Less than a decade ago, the SNP changed tack and backed NATO membership for an independent Scotland. It was part of a broader strategy of reassuring voters that Scotland would not be isolated. (EU membership was an earlier example.)

But Nicola Sturgeon went a bit further in an interview in Washington this week. No oblique tactical hints. Instead, NATO would be “essential for Scotland’s security”. The Greens demurred, volubly.

There was, however, more from Ms Sturgeon. The crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine made Scottish independence more important still. Scotland would be enabled to play its full part in seeking solutions to global problems.

Now, Ms Sturgeon’s Unionist opponents would say that independence is her ready answer to each and every emerging problem.

But there is more happening here. I reckon Nicola Sturgeon is developing a strategic response to the current and foreseeable climate of global disquiet.

Adherents of the Union argue that crisis is best tackled by a Kingdom which remains United. Alex Cole-Hamilton of the Liberal Democrats said the prospect of Scottish independence would leave Putin “clapping with delight”.

Not certain what amuses the grim-faced Russian President. But Nicola Sturgeon knows she has to contest this line of argument.

Hence, the view that Scotland could be a global influence, for good.

Remarkable, if worrying, times.