What's wrong with Russians? They are an educated, literate, civilised people. Think of those novelists and composers, think of their ballet. Why can't they govern themselves in a civilised way?
It is 30 years since they emerged from a stifling social experiment - more than a generation - to develop a normal competitive democracy and economy just as other Eastern Europeans have done.
Instead, they have let one man lead them for the past 20 years and he has turned into a hoodlum, killing or imprisoning political opponents and critics, presiding over a gross, lawless, corrupt form of capitalism that resembles depictions of the West on Russian television in the Soviet era.
Russia remains a rogue on the world stage, a state that routinely falsifies drug tests for sports, interferes in foreign elections with insidious misinformation online, supports repressive regimes elsewhere. Now it is going to war against Western tendencies in one of the "Russias", as the tsars used to call Belarus and Ukraine.
This is imperialism more naked than we have seen in our lifetimes. It is more than the imperialism of China in the South China Sea, a claim to water, not the land of independent nations. It is not the so-called imperialism of the United States when it tries to fix a foreign country. The US lacks the will to stay long enough.
It is not even the imperialism of the Soviet Union that could at least claim to be motivated by a social ideal however sour that ideal had become by the time Vladimir Putin was growing up. He has often called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, and did so again in a speech to explain the invasion of Ukraine.
But it is clear, when you read that speech, that it is not the loss of communism he regrets, it is purely the loss of power. Putin openly proclaims his aim is to restore Russia to the position of geopolitical power it possessed in the Cold War.
It is a forlorn hope because China has displaced Russia in geopolitical calculations now. China is an economic power in the way the Soviet Union never was, and that will not change if Putin subjugates Ukraine.
Is it fair to blame Russians for his imperialism? Many have been bravely protesting against the invasion of Ukraine, just as many demonstrated support for his poisoned, now imprisoned, political opponent, Alexei Navalny, and many took to the streets in 2020 against constitutional reforms that have perpetuated Putin's power.
He or his cronies control much of the Russian media, especially television. They dominate the Kremlin, which controls the electoral machinery and decides who may stand against Putin. Popular candidates need not apply, they advise their supporters not to vote.
But foreign correspondents in Moscow - writing anonymously now that the Russian Parliament has made it risky for them to report on the Ukraine invasion – reckon Putin has the support of most Russians.
One such report, published by the Herald last Monday, said, "The metropolitan middle class of Moscow, St Petersburg and handful of other major Russian cities lives in a much different motherland to that of their less well-off neighbours in those very cities' sprawling, working class suburbs, let alone the country's vast rural hinterland."
It said, "The war has thrown two Russias into sharp opposition. One is urban, educated, internet-savvy and relatively wealthy ... The other is a Russia that values patriotism over material goods, prefers to believe in glorious, feel-good television news rather than uncomfortable internet truths, and trusts the wise man in the Kremlin to guide and protect them from the enemies all around."
An essay by Sherelle Jacobs of Britain's Daily Telegraph, published by the Herald online, described a "Russian psychology" of "grandiose moralism and heroic asceticism" that will only be encouraged by economic and financial sanctions.
Come to think of it, those great novels and symphonies were glorious celebrations of epic sadness and suffering. Is that what's wrong with Russians?
Ukraine, the origin of much of Russian culture, is clearly a different place today. The contrast is apparent in their presidents. While Putin is seen alone and suited in a distant Kremlin office, Volodymyr Zelenski is in a T-shirt on Kyiv streets, bravely defying forces on a mission to remove him.
Ultimately Putin cannot win this war. Whatever happens now, Ukraine has a hero, and a war of independence to remember. Its national spirit has been given a great draught of oxygen and it will win eventually.
When it does, it might even be admitted to Nato, leaving Russians more alone and sullen, which seems to be their desired state.