As proof of the ready appetite for Mr Putin’s message, Mr Wilson points to how it now even dominates Russian prime time television. In August, the Night Wolves, an ultranationalist biker gang that the president has been photographed with, guest-starred in a triumphant evening musical broadcast from Crimea, alongside footage of Ukrainian troops marching in Nazi-style goosesteps. Mr Wilson likened it to the spoof Mel Brooks musical Springtime for Hitler – the difference being that the Russian version was not intended to be funny.
Such programmes show how Mr Putin has deftly tapped into Russians’ sense of patriotism – evoking Moscow’s defeat of the Nazis, while pursuing what critics say are alarming similar policies of expansionism. Indeed, they fear that Crimea and eastern Ukraine – dubbed Novorossiya by Mr Putin himself – may mark just the start of his empire-building ambitions, which reach right across the seven time zones of Russia’s vast backyard.
In the ex-satellite republics of Latvia and Estonia, he has stirred trouble among the large ethnic Russian minorities, having never forgiven either country for the haste with which they switched sides to Nato. Russian subs and bomber planes are now a common feature over the Baltic Seas, probing Nato’s air defences in a manner not seen since the Cold War.