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Let's Trail an Emperor

22/04/2014 14:03 BST | Updated 20/06/2014 10:59 BST

He is unsettling his fellow world-leaders so much that they are scrabbling to form an economic and military alliance to protect themselves from him. His behavior across central Europe is violent and unpredictable and he has made repeated attempts to shut off key supplies to his opponents.

His well-trained troops are energized by the nationalist fervor which he has whipped up at home with the help of an intense and carefully-fostered personality cult. Their expansionist aggressions are causing intense anxiety across central Europe. He himself is driven not only by ambition for his country and erstwhile empire, but by a sense of personal humiliation at the loss of that empire which he regarded as one of the great tragedies to befall mankind.

He is a small man of 5 and a half feet (1.6 meters), narcissistic and encourages distribution of pictures of himself in a range of poses and settings conveying a high machismo. His small stature and humble origins may be key to how for him, political and military action may be an intensely personal affair unconsciously driving him to try to heal the wounds of life's early humiliations.

Under his iron fist, political opponents have been jailed, disappeared and executed. He brooks no criticism and has accumulated vast personal wealth, but he is strangely adored by vast swathes of the populace who seem to find comfort in the certainties of authoritarianism. And their standard of living has risen under his rule, while the country indubitably works more efficiently and has modernized rapidly.

I have just followed the footsteps of a key 100 days in the career of this leader, trying to get under his skin, psychologically speaking, and to understand what drives this man who is such a threat to the peace and stability of Europe. After all, this year is the one, I believe, which historians will see as the turning point for the whole of western civilization. For if 1815 should end with Napoleon Bonaparte again Emperor of Europe, then the world should tremble.

There is something about standing at a spot where you know that Napoleon Bonaparte took a piss - I kid you not - to get you under his skin in a strange sort of way. Each morning I woke up feeling closer to Paris and to that aching need for power and empire that drove him on like the addict's need for more heroin.

And once you start imagining Napoleon and what was going on in his world in 1815, you simply cannot help thinking of how he as conqueror strutted the streets of Moscow three years before, Emperor of Russia. Nor can you help thinking about another, present-day, Emperor of Russia and wonder what sort of a trail of bewilderment he will lay for Europe over the next decade for us to follow in the future.

I was following the latest in the Let's Trail series - Let's Trail Napoleon's Hundred Days by Pier Kuipers.