EIGHTY years ago in Europe we saw an unhinged dictator bring death and destruction to the continent.

He was initially loved by his own people for bringing economic stability and national pride back to his country, evoking memories of a glorious past that had been stolen from them.

He claimed that all those who spoke his own language should be united in one country with one government and if that affected those who did not then tough luck.

He claimed that some countries (Poland in particular) had no right to exist and should be wiped off the map, which he duly did.

He also blamed a host of external enemies for his country’s troubles and eliminated all opposition within it. When he invaded other countries he sent in armed men to instil a regime of terror in the civilian population and ran the occupied territories with a reign of fear.

Above all, he did not care what other countries or people thought of him.

I’m talking about Hitler of course but the parallels are there with Putin.

MORE NEWS: Swastika on Deeside war memorial still visible three years after it was sprayed on

There are no Russian extermination camps and Putin hasn’t railed against Jewish people. There are uncomfortable parallels though.

Opposition has been eliminated in Russia. He has blamed the West for all his mistakes. He has denied that Ukraine has a right to exist.

He has abrogated to himself the right to act on behalf of Russian-speakers everywhere whether they want him to or not. He has talked about a supposed glorious past when Russia led the Soviet Union.

His troops have committed massacres in Ukraine as strong evidence shows. All at the same time while hiding the truth from his own people.

None of this was necessary. Putin could have been a great leader of Russia. He would probably have won free elections and had no need to suppress the media.

He didn’t need to threaten other countries to establish his legacy. He has stabilised Russia and it has seen economic growth.

In invading Ukraine, he has fallen prey to the paranoia and sense of indispensability that leaders who stay too long in post and who lack any kind of challenge inevitably display. What an earth possessed him to carry out his current actions?

You get the impression that Russia seems to think that it’s still the USSR, a country that had fought off the Nazis and genuinely believed that its political system was both fairer and superior to capitalism.

READ MORE: 'The longer they stay in power, the more leaders believe they are indispensable'

The USSR had an ideology to export and there were many in western countries that agreed with it.

The French Communist Party was Europe’s biggest and their Italian comrades weren’t far behind. In countries as diverse as San Marino and Cyprus, communist parties were a force to be reckoned with.

People voted in their millions for parties representing Soviet style communism and later its milder Eurocommunist alternative.

In addition, there were those who were willing to spy for the Soviet Union. We know from history that many of these people came from very privileged backgrounds.

They were offered money of course but they also felt driven to spying for a country whose ideology they admired. We should not admire them for this.

Handing confidential information to a hostile country is a serious crime, particularly when it leads to the deaths of agents within that country but it shows the hold that Soviet ideology had on the minds of many.

But Russia is not the USSR. It doesn’t have an ideology to export. Few admire its political system and people want to leave that country rather than move to it. You don’t exactly see queues of refugees wanting to live in Russia.

It’s an authoritarian state where the resources of its people were plundered after the fall of communism and those resources sold off cheap to a few people who became billionaires.

READ MORE: Carwyn Jones on football, rugby and which is Wales' national sport

One of the self-deceptions that Russia has practised over the last few months is convincing itself that the people of Ukraine would welcome the “liberation” provided by the Russian army.

Yet it should be self-evident even to the most gullible consumer of Russian propaganda that those millions of people displaced in Ukraine are not moving towards the Russian lines or looking for asylum in Russia. Far from it; they want to get as far away from Russia as they can.

Russia could have been a force for good and a dominant player in the world if it had taken a different direction. It could have been wealthier, fairer and freer.

Instead, it’s declined into an aggressive, heavily censored siege economy led by people who seem driven by a toxic Russian nationalism that wants to restore some pretended 19th century glory.

It has created a war in Ukraine that it was unprepared for and doesn’t have the capacity to win.

Thousands of people have died in order to salvage the egos of those in Moscow who feel slighted by Ukraine’s very existence. Russia could have reached the hand of friendship to Ukraine. Instead, it brought death.

At the moment, Russia’s condition is a tragedy, and sadly in Ukraine tragedy has become its biggest export.

If you value The National's journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.