The anxiety is encapsulated in the sudden rush to Moscow by Angela Merkel and François Hollande. To senior figures closely involved in the diplomacy and policymaking over Ukraine, the Franco-German peace bid is less a hopeful sign of a breakthrough than an act of despair.

“There’s nothing new in their plan, just an attempt to stop a massacre,” said one senior official.

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, said a war between Russia and the west was now quite conceivable. A senior diplomat in Brussels, echoing the broad EU view, said arming the Ukrainians would mean war with Russia, a war that Putin would win.

Announcing the surprise mission to Kiev and Moscow, Hollande sounded grave and solemn. The Ukraine crisis, he said, started with differences, which became a conflict, which became a war, and which now risked becoming “total war”.