Putin rebuilds the Russian Empire

It has been one year since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, the naval fortress and resort ground of Russian Tzars and Soviet dictators.

What started as a bloodless partition of Ukraine has turned into a hybrid war that threatens to drag Russia and NATO countries into the third world war.

A decade ago, in April 2005, while addressing the Federal Assembly in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as "a major geopolitical disaster of the century".

He claimed that for the Russian nation, it had become a genuine drama because tens of millions of ethnic Russians found themselves outside Russian territory.

Putin expressed hope that the new members of NATO and the European Union in the post-Soviet area would respect the rights of ethnic minorities.

Three years later, in August 2008, Russia started a war against Georgia, one of the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and the fraternal Orthodox Christian state, to "protect" two breakaway provinces from the pro-Western and reform-minded government of Mikheil Saakashvili.

The republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remain largely unrecognised.

However, they are bank-rolled by Moscow to stay independent and play the role of buffer states in the growing confrontation with the NATO-oriented neighbourhood.

Russian passports and cash were generously distributed among those who pledged loyalty to the tricolour, a symbol of resurrecting Russian imperialism.  

When the wave of colour revolutions reached the Ukraine in 2013 and 2014, its pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych ordered bloodshed in the capital Kyiv and then fled to Russia.

His requests for help were heard in the Kremlin but interpreted in such a way that left even the fugitive ex-president of Ukraine speechless.

Russia rapidly annexed Crimea by flooding it with hordes of Special Forces without insignia and running a dirty referendum.

By doing so, Putin repeated the Stalin's invasion of the Baltic States in 1939-1940 that, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Neutrality Pact, triggered the Second World War.

Swift and bloodless reunification of Crimea with Mother Russia incited irredentism in larger parts of eastern Ukraine known as Donbass.