INTERNATIONAL law is the rule book of invisible constraints, agreements and understandings that govern how countries do business. It is a hard chilly world that has created them but smaller countries, especially smaller European ones, tend to do better with multilateralism and international organisations because there is a more immediate understanding that international law matters more to us than to bigger states.

Scotland as an independent state will I am confident be at the forefront of upholding international law, where the UK has ministers who brazenly talk about flouting it – whether over the Northern Ireland Protocol or the odious legislation on sea borne asylum seekers. And credibility matters because there are bad actors who excel in whataboutery and we have seen plenty of it in Ukraine.

Ukraine faces a serious threat to its east. It has been mired in a brutal civil war in its eastern territories with Russian-backed militants since 2014, which has cost 14,000 lives, sees Crimea illegally annexed and large chunks of its eastern territory ungovernable. The region is teetering on the edge of a brutal conflict.

READ MORE: David Pratt: Is Europe's next war already brewing in Ukraine?

This has not come out of nowhere. Back in the spring, Russia established camps in the areas surrounding Ukraine’s borders, installing radio capabilities and missile systems before scaling back its forces. The equipment stayed whilst the personnel went away.

In recent months the personnel have begun to return in force, bringing more weapons, supplies and ammunition. In the past few weeks, US intelligence have raised the alarm across Europe as it warned that Russia was preparing 175,000 soldiers to invade Ukraine.

Russian forces now have capabilities in place along the Ukraine border to carry out a swift and major invasion, including erecting supply lines such as medical units and fuel that could sustain a drawn-out conflict. Observers said the current levels of equipment stationed in the area could supply frontline forces for seven to 10 days and other support units for as long as a month. Conflict seems likely, which would kill thousands, displace millions and provoke a crisis in Europe not seen since the Yugoslav wars or even the Second World War.

What is driving this though? The answer lies with the man at the centre of the action. In 1989, Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer in East Germany as the Berlin Wall came crashing down. When he returned to Russia, the economic situation was so dire he claims he had to moonlight as a taxi driver to make ends meet. He lived through the collapse of his country: in his own words, the break-up of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and “the disintegration of historical Russia”.

The National: The rusty emblem of the Soviet Union is seen on the roof of an apartment building in the ghost town of Pripyat close to the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Ukraine, Thursday, April 15, 2021. The vast and empty Chernobyl Exclusion Zone around the site of the

Is this just posturing for the folks back home, or does he really seek the restoration of Russia as a great power by annexing its neighbours by force? He asserts this in an essay he published this year, entitled On The Historical Unity Of Russians And Ukrainians.

In the 5000-word document, he says in the opening paragraph: “When I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context. It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe.”

This is not what international law says, nor the government of Ukraine, nor the overwhelming majority of its people. He began testing the waters with the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Then he pushed the boat further with his blatant annexation of Crimea in 2014.

He has sought to sow discord and disunity throughout Europe through cyberattacks on Latvia, supporting Dodik’s thugs in Bosnia and supporting Belarus’s hybrid war on Poland through a migration crisis.

In pursuing Nord Stream 2, Putin also seeks to keep Europe dependent on Russian gas as it wrestles with the energy transition from “dirtier” fossil fuels.

READ MORE: G7 foreign ministers send message to Putin over military build-up on Ukraine border

So the UK Government is huffing and puffing, but I’m not sure Moscow takes them too seriously given so many Tories are in hock to Russian money. The Russia Report published by the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee last year laid bare the threat to our democracy (Scotland’s and the UK’s) and 18 months on little has been done to implement the findings.

What can be done to stop a conflict which would have devastating consequences for the people of Ukraine and Europe? Magnitsky sanctions will do so much, but we are dealing with people who do not greatly care, so there must be an elevation of the sanctions available.

This may include disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system, upon which Russia remains heavily reliant (The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution in the spring calling for such a move should Russia invade Ukraine, and the US has been discussing it with EU counterparts).

Nord Stream 2 should be binned. Every nation should be able to be energy self-sufficient and energy security is as much priority as energy infrastructure. Tying ourselves to an authoritarian regime and further dependence on fossil fuels will only undermine us in the long run.

Vigilance must start at home as well as abroad. The recommendations of the Russia Report have yet to see serious implementation leaving our democracy and electoral system weak and vulnerable. We have a stake in this, the future Scottish independence referendum that is forthcoming must be ironclad against any allegations of falsification, disinformation and electoral malpractice.

Some however may say we must give Putin a fair hearing. I agree, it grieves me that a country with such wonderful people and many friends of mine is led by an oppressive personality cult regime that so clearly wishes us harm.

Fundamentally, we must stand with the people of Ukraine and the rules-based international order. Without rules, there is anarchy, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must. Scotland stands to gain from the rules-based international system and stands to suffer with its demise. With time running short, it is more important than ever that we stand with the people of Ukraine to help them preserve their sovereignty and democracy against Putin’s authoritarianism.