Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attends a Royal Canada Mounted Police reception
It's often tough being a senior British royal. Prince Charles and his wife went to Canada for three-and-a-half days last week and carried out 47 public engagements. They visited three provinces and six communities and saw, among other things, churches, schools, museums and parks. There were meetings with businessmen, politicians, officials, soldiers and children, along with tree-planting and hand-shaking at parades and receptions and commemorations.
At one of his speeches, Prince Charles spoke about the "huge challenges" but "enormous opportunities" facing the world: "Youth unemployment, the widening gap between rich and poor, the constant struggle to advance human rights and democracy, the need to open the doors of opportunity for women and young girls around the world, the impact we can expect from climate change, the dangers of over-fishing, of deforestation and the rapid urbanisation of the world's equally rapidly expanding population." Hard to find much to argue about there.
Charles might have been hoping for a media pat on the back for a taxing job well done, but instead he came home to an international furore. At a reception at the Museum of Immigration in Nova Scotia, he had been introduced to Marianne Ferguson, many of whose relatives were murdered in the Holocaust, who told him of her flight to Canada in 1939 as a 13-year-old Jewish refugee from Poland. In a sympathetic response, he said "And now Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler". It was, said Mrs Ferguson, who agreed with him, "just a little remark. I didn't think it was going to make such a big uproar".
Now although President Putin has a penchant for having his critics assassinated or framed and locked up, and has shown a blithe disregard for the frightful atrocities committed by the Russian army in pacifying Chechnya, he appears to have no ambition to fill concentration camps with those he considers sub-human. What Charles was getting at was the way in which this ruthless dictator resembles Hitler in his use of the threat of force and the language of hate to achieve territorial expansion.
It's hard not to see terrifying parallels between how Putin annexed Crimea and how in 1938 Hitler bullied Czechoslovakia into ceding the German-speaking Sudetenland. The lies and vicious rhetoric employed by the Putin regime in encouraging Russian-speaking separatists to wreck Ukraine would have earned the respect of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister for Propaganda. Even more scarily, Putin may have unleashed dangerous levels of Russian nationalism and paranoia that he may be unable to contain.
Like Hitler, who divided and conquered, Putin cleverly exploits Western weakness. As Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland look nervously over their shoulders and fear for their liberty, Putin uses European dependence on Russian gas to deter any strong and united response to aggression.
All of this has naturally been ignored in the Russian attack on Charles. "We view the use of the Western press by members of the British royal family to spread the propaganda campaign against Russia on a pressing issue – that is, the situation in Ukraine – as unacceptable, outrageous and low," was the first reaction from the foreign ministry. They were miffed that at a later meeting in the British foreign office, its diplomats refused to discuss what they called "nothing but media reports about a private conversation". The attacks have now escalated, with Putin's spokesman accusing Charles of "historical ignorance" and Russian state TV producing a classic bit of whataboutery in an item beginning "If anyone knows real Nazis, it's the Royal Family". High spots were a 1937 photograph of the Duke of Windsor – after his abdication as King Edward VIII – visiting Hitler, and a 20-year-old Prince Harry sporting a Swastika armband at a fancy-dress party.
It hasn't all been bad for Charles though. After the initial spate of criticism and injunctions to him to keep his mouth shut in all circumstances about everything, senior politicians – who know all about the perils of having private conversations reported – have rallied to his support and some heavyweight commentators are praising him for reminding us that appeasement is a disaster in the long term.
Meanwhile, Putin bullies on and the EU dithers. He's more vulnerable than he looks, though. If economic sanctions were applied intelligently, the £40bn or so of his private fortune that is stashed around the world might be at risk. Russia has little except gas to sell, and the more he threatens to starve Europe of it, the faster worried nations might face reality and seek self-sufficiency through fracking.
And though the royals have no power, they have longevity in life and careers. At 65, Charles is four years older than Vladimir Putin, but he can probably safely look forward to reigning as king long after Putin forcibly or otherwise leaves the international stage.