Mrs May is beautiful when angry

It has been proved beyond any doubt that the Novichok attack on British soil was perpetrated by two GRU agents, whose identity, if not real names, has been established.

Britain now holds the distinction of being the only Western power targeted for both nuclear (2006 polonium murder of Litvinenko) and chemical attacks on its citizens.

Yesterday Theresa May delivered a scathing attack on Putin’s junta, hinting at retaliation, probably involving cyber warfare, further sanctions and travel bans. However, her attack wasn’t scathing enough.

While saying that the authorisation for the crime had to come from the highest tiers of the GRU, Mrs May stopped short of naming Putin himself as the culprit.

Security Minister Ben Wallace tried to fill that blank, or rather pretended to. Asked if Putin himself bears responsibility for the murders, he replied: “Ultimately he does, insofar as he is president of the Russian Federation and it is his government that controls, funds and directs the military intelligence…”

This sounds as if he actually said something, whereas in fact he said nothing at all. Nicely done, Ben. That’s the stuff political success is made of.

Yes, in some oblique way a dictator is responsible for all crimes committed on his watch. This much goes without saying, meaning it didn’t have to be said.

In fact, Mr Wallace fudged the issue as much as Mrs May did. Putin is responsible for the nuclear and chemical attacks on British subjects on British soil not in some oblique way, but in a most direct one. He was the one who issued the orders.

Anyone even remotely familiar with the chain of command in Russia will know that no GRU officer, no matter how high up, has the authority to initiate an action with far-reaching geopolitical ramifications.

Such an order in today’s Russia can only come from the Botox Boy, who sits at the top of what he calls ‘the vertical of power’. Russia’s power structure has eschewed horizontality from time immemorial, so Putin continues a fine tradition there.

I realise that diplomatic protocol doesn’t encourage referring to the leader of a foreign state as a murderer. Yet this protocol isn’t always followed, and at times it’s more honoured in the breach than the observance.

Assorted US presidents and British prime ministers haven’t shied away from describing in such an uncomplimentary way Messrs Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad – and even Erdoğan, president of a country that happens to be a NATO member.

What has Putin done to deserve a special dispensation? He, after all, combines in his person a KGB thug and a global gangster, and he leads a state blended out of the same ingredients, one that’s demonstrably hostile and threatening to the West.

Of course the aforementioned gentlemen didn’t possess nuclear weapons, and Putin does. But refusing to point an accusing finger at him for that reason would brand our leaders as cowards and flat track bullies. Surely they can’t be such awful things?

Even articles calling for stiff measures against Russian gangsters who live, or keep their loot, in Britain have to dilute the message with the kind of disclaimers that bespeak ignorance.

A piece in yesterday’s Times, for example, says that not all Russian money sitting in London banks is ill-gotten gains, though much of it is. Fair enough, a Russian computer programmer who works in London and keeps a few thousand in a NatWest current account is no mobster.

But if we’re talking about millions, never mind billions, such amounts can’t be made in Russia without at least passive collaboration with the ruling mafia. And typically the collaboration is far from passive – those Russian billionaires are to a man Mafiosi themselves.

Choosing targets for financial sanctions, such as the impounding, freezing or – my personal preference – confiscating of Russian assets is thus a no-brainer. It’s like firing a sawn-off shotgun point blank at a flock of pigeons pecking breadcrumbs in Trafalgar Square: you can’t miss.

Some pundits do say all the right things, but one questions their moral right to say them. Dr Mark Almond of Oxford is one such man.

In today’s Mail he bemoans that Putin’s strategy seems to be working in that he has already succeeded in recruiting allies among EU members:

“Last month, he was a guest at the Austrian foreign minister’s wedding, and Vienna’s Right-wing government is one of the loudest voices in the EU clamouring for improving relations with Moscow.

“In Italy, the new government is led by a critic of sanctions against Russia, so imposing new ones is unlikely to win Rome’s support.”

All true. But Dr Almond forgot to mention that his is another loud voice “clamouring for improving relations with Moscow”. The difference between him and those European countries is that he does so not in the national media but on RT, Putin’s propaganda channel, where he’s a frequent guest.

That’s like a British academic c. 1938 writing articles in Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer. No honest man, especially one who seems to know what’s what in Putin’s Russia, would ever agree to take RT’s rouble. If such an offer were made, he’d reject it indignantly and then wash his hands afterwards.

I happen to know Dr Almond: in 1995 we met in Minsk, where we and a few others were observers at the Byelorussian election.

Over what the Russians call “a shot of tea”, I said that all those glasnosts and perestroikas hadn’t changed anything in Russia. They were nothing but window-dressing on a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB.

Dr Almond was horrified. “We aren’t allowed to say that,” he said with a quiver. “The most we can get away with is regret that the march of democracy in Russia is slightly slower than expected.”

That was opportunism, nowadays a necessary job qualification for academic success in Britain and elsewhere in the West. But being a willing tool of what in effect is enemy propaganda is much worse, as William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, could have testified.

One can only ask how many more crimes Putin has to commit before his ‘useful idiots’ in the West stop being useful. Would an airborne Spetsnaz landing in Kent do the trick?

Fair isn’t fair, Your Grace

“I woke up this morning and I saw a little baby by my bed. It was baby Jesus, and he told me: ‘You must tax the rich out of existence’.”

Archbishop Welby has delivered himself of views on the economy, proving yet again that the popular description of the Anglican Church must be revised.

It’s no longer the Tory Party at prayer, as it once was. The economic ideas enunciated by His Grace more readily belong on the hard left of Labour. And indeed they do come from the leftie Institute for Public Policy Research.

It’s the same old saw about our economy being unfair because some people are better off than others. Hence class war must be waged until everyone is equally poor, while the state grows mighty and omnipotent.

That’s justice, as understood by Messrs Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and Corbyn. Hence if the Archbishop cited such references in support of his notions, he’d only show a poor grasp of economic history, theory and practice.

Alas, he cites Jesus Christ, showing that his understanding of his chosen discipline is as feeble as his grasp of economics, with the added disadvantage of being dishonest. To wit:

“As a Christian I start with learning from Jesus Christ that people matter equally, are equally loved by God, and that justice in society matters deeply – a theme that runs throughout the Bible.”

That theme does run through the Bible, but to interpret it as a call for all people to have equal wealth is ignorance and vulgarity at their most soaring.

Nowhere in the Scripture does Jesus or any of his apostles call for economic egalitarianism. Quite the opposite.

Jesus teaches that “the poor will be with you always”, and he doesn’t seem to mind that state of affairs.

Moreover, he implicitly doesn’t mind wealth either, and his metaphor about the camel and the eye of the needle was merely a polemical riposte against the rabbinical teaching about riches being a reward for righteousness.

Incidentally, Calvin, the major influence on Anglican theology, revived that idea – even though it came from the Jews whom he cordially loathed.

During the time our civilisation was being formed, seeking wealth for those who weren’t heirs to large estates was tantamount to selling the fruits of their labour. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker bartered their products for other people’s.

Money was sometimes involved as a means of exchange, and when that was the case it was natural to expect that more money would eventually end up in some hands than in others.

Thus labour implicitly presupposes the possibility of enrichment. Yet in spite of that the New Testament contains direct endorsements of work.

These come across in the Lord’s Prayer (“give us this day our daily bread”), in Jesus the carpenter talking about “the labourer worthy of his hire” and in St Paul the tent maker stating categorically that “if any would not work, neither shall he eat.”

Thus being “equally loved by God” doesn’t mean being equally enriched by the state. Nor does it mean that people unable to work because of their age or health shouldn’t eat.

Such cruelty is incompatible with Christian love and therefore justice. But it’s yet another example of congenital leftie mendacity to confuse welfare with the welfare state, and the latter with Christian charity.

Christian charity – especially if offered anonymously – not only helps the taker, but also elevates the giver. It therefore has to be a voluntary act inspired by love.

However, when the modern state talks about helping the less fortunate, it really means ripping off the more fortunate, to make them less independent from the state.

This is done by coercion, which alone disqualifies the welfare state from any claim to Christian antecedents.

Thus Welby’s pronouncement is bad Christianity – and it certainly is rotten economics. The underlining principle comes straight from Corbyn’s book: tax the rich to help the poor.

This stratagem has been tried uncountable times in innumerable countries, and everywhere it has succeeded only in the rich either spending all their time looking for tax shelters or fleeing the country – taking with them their capital and therefore jobs.

As a result, state revenues actually decrease, and Arthur Laffer with his curve showed the inverse relationship between high tax rates and tax income.

Where such cracker-barrel economics has failed miserably and universally is in helping the poor. It merely turns the poor into the idle, while increasing their number no end.

Welby’s ideas have nothing to do with either Christianity or sound economics or for that matter justice.

Justice means getting one’s due, what one deserves. If our economy were run on this principle, much of the population would starve to death – unless you believe that a young, able-bodied man who has never worked a day in his life deserves his keep, complete with the latest electronic kit and designer trainers.

Speaking of fairness, I’d argue that inheritance tax is the most unfair of all. The state re-taxes the money already taxed every which way during a man’s lifetime, thereby reducing his ability to provide for his family.

Yet this is precisely the tax that our seeker of Christian justice wants to jack up, by reducing the threshold of tax-free gifts.

He also wants to bring capitals gain tax and taxes on dividends in line with income tax – which is guaranteed to discourage investment and thrift, while encouraging irresponsible and profligate spending.

His Grace’s bugbear is that “The wealthiest 10 per cent of households own more than 900 times the wealth of the poorest 10 per cent, and five times more than the bottom half of all households combined.”

Justice Welby-style demands that this outrage be stopped. However, elementary honesty would call for mentioning in the next breath that the top 10 per cent also pay 60 per cent of all taxes, and the top one per cent contribute 28 per cent.

Nicky Morgan, chairman of the Commons Treasury committee, welcomes Welby’s ideas: “Our aim should be to make the whole nation wealthier.”

Now Miss Morgan matches the Archbishop’s formidable intellect and economic nous. If that weren’t the case, she’d realise that such socialist measures are guaranteed to make the whole nation not wealthier but poorer.

I wonder if Miss Morgan is an Anglican. If so, she has a perfect spiritual leader.

Hegel says hate crime doesn’t exist

“Ze hate crime? Das ist verrückt!”

The great dialectician preached unity of opposites. For every thesis, he argued, there’s an antithesis, and then they come together in a synthesis.

If hate is the thesis, then love is the antithesis, which relationship must pertain even when the two words are used attributively.

Thus ‘hate crime’ presupposes the existence of ‘love crime’. Assuming that a hate crime is motivated by hatred, one also has to assume that there must be crimes motivated by love.

Since I’ve never heard of a person mugged, maimed or killed lovingly, I have to believe that all crime is motivated by some negative emotions, often including hatred. Therefore we can safely drop the modifier ‘hate’ and just talk about crime qua crime.

I doubt this speculation would pass the most rigorous of dialectical tests, and Hegel would certainly punch it full of holes. But compared to the mass hysteria about ‘hate crime’, my facetious musings have to be the paragon of sound reason.

One general observation: whoever talks about hate crime is incapable of nuanced thought. When such differently intelligent people (is this PC enough for you?) talk about crime, they confuse two different things: aforementioned crime motivated by hate and hate as a crime in se.

The distinction is critical: the first is a criminal act, the second is a criminalised thought.

What kind of criminal act? Oh, you name it. Murder, assault, GBH, harassment, that sort of thing.

The law does prosecute palpable acts, not the nebulous thought behind them. The thought may at times figure as a mitigating or aggravating consideration, but that’s strictly background stuff.

Hence what intellectually challenged people (this definitely must be PC enough) mean when talking about hate crime is the crime of hate. Hating a person or especially a group of persons is to them a crime in itself, especially when such feelings are put into words.

There’s something suspect about the very notion of criminalising intangibles like feelings and thoughts, and something decidedly spooky about trying to police them. This evokes fond memories of my Soviet youth, and whenever that happens at night I wake up in a jolt, hoarse from my own scream.

Fair enough, hateful words may sometimes be upsetting, but even there popular folklore distinguishes words from sticks and stones.

Granted, it’s not nice to find oneself on the receiving end of slurs based on one’s race, religion, ethnicity, colour or absence of hair, sexual preference or stature. But that’s where those nuances come in: ‘not nice’ doesn’t fit any traditional definition of ‘crime’.

A victim of murder can’t ignore that crime, but a ‘victim’ of a slur can just pay it no notice. Or, if such is his nature, respond in kind, for example by suggesting that the offender take two words, of which the second is ‘off’, and arrange them in the right order.

All this hate crime business would make even a lesser mind than Hegel wince. Yet there’s something the philosopher wouldn’t understand if he were miraculously transplanted to modernity.

His experience wouldn’t have prepared him to grasp the thought I’ve expressed a thousand times if I’ve expressed it once: ‘hate crimes’ are committed not against individuals but against the state.

The very category was thought up as a means for the state to put its foot down and control things that civilised countries used to leave to people’s own discretion.

The state aggressively promotes the ethos of victimhood, offering protection to the self-professed victims. But such protection comes at a price as it does with gangster families. For gangsters, it’s money; for the state, it’s liberty.

I don’t necessarily mean just our state. In fact, like most modern perversions, the culture of hate crime started in the US, which makes me wonder why we never borrow good things from the Americans, such as their enterprising dynamism and polite conviviality.

The disease afflicts the West in its entirety. And it’s getting worse.

Parliament is about to debate a bill proposed by the Labour MP Stella Creasy to make misogyny a crime. Miss Creasy and her likeminded allies define misogyny broadly: not just hatred of women, but also contempt or prejudice.

Now in my long and varied life on two continents and in four countries I’ve never met a straight man who hates women. Some, far from all, homosexuals do, but one can understand them: women with their jutting attractions sidetrack men from the real thing.

Admittedly I’ve heard men mention reservations about women’s intellect, emotional sturdiness and driving ability. I’ll refrain from coming down on either side of this issue but, whichever side that might be, I can’t for the life of me see such men as hardened criminals.

Typically such remarks are just banter offered in jest. But even if there’s some deep feeling behind them, only extremely stupid, or else ideologised, people can possibly take serious offence.

I have, however, met a few women who are hostile to men in general, and some of those women aren’t even lesbians. That creates another opening for Hegel to poke his head in.

If misogyny is a crime, then surely misandry must be too. And what about misanthropes, those who don’t differentiate between women and men and hate them all equally, along with everyone in between? Should they be banged in the slammer?

The proposed bill is actually an amendment to another one, about ‘upskirting’ (aiming a camera up a woman’s skirt). I can only admire our legislators for concentrating their attention on really important matters.

Never mind Britain fighting for her sovereignty, becoming the most crime-ridden country in Europe, having a Third World health service and facing foreign threat. What really must be nipped in the bud is adolescent cretins snapping pictures of women’s knickers.

I see another dialectical problem here, although Hegel probably wouldn’t identify it as such. If upskirting draws legislative attention, what about downblousing? Men, those hateful creatures, peeking down women’s low-cut blouses?

So far no reports of men taking downward photos have been filed, but isn’t preventing crimes the most important part of policing? Today they peek, tomorrow they’ll snap – unless some MP rides in on a white steed and preempts the outrage.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, where are you now that we need you? Come back, all is forgiven: your iffy philosophy, turgid prose and too many Christian names. And please bring Aristotle with you – this is a plus-one invitation.

Tax avoiders are freedom fighters

A bullet for the gun of tyranny

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has sent a memo to the Cabinet Office, insisting that tax avoiders must be shunned for knighthoods and similar awards.

“Poor tax behaviour,” says the memo, “is not consistent with the award of an honour.” Media personality Libby Purves agrees: “Of course rich people who ingeniously avoid paying adequate tax should find that there is a penalty.”

Now I suspect that most conservatives disagree with both Miss Purves and HMRC emphatically and not necessarily respectfully.

One realises that these day words mean what the government says they mean. Thus our ruling spivs use the terms ‘tax evasion’ and ‘tax avoidance’ interchangeably.

Yet in actual, as opposed to our virtual, reality these terms are more nearly antonymous than synonymous. Tax avoidance is legal; tax evasion isn’t.

I hate to second-guess such august authorities as HMRC and Miss Purves, but I get the impression that they fall short of making that distinction.

‘Poor tax behaviour’? Tax avoidance is no poorer than looking for bargains in supermarkets. I’d call it sensible management of one’s finances, wouldn’t you?

If HMRC snoops consider some loopholes unfair, they should petition the Home Office to close them. If they don’t, they don’t consider them unfair, which means we’re free to use them. So what’s the beef then?

And how does Miss Purves define ‘adequate’ tax? To someone who, for old times’ sake, still insists on using words in their real meaning, adequate means sufficient.

Thus a person who pays a legally sufficient amount of tax is paying an adequate amount.

If Miss Purves’s burning conscience flames up at such casuistry, she should follow the example of Charles Lindberg, the famous pilot who always added 10 per cent to his tax bill because he was “proud to be an American”. (He was also proud to be a Nazi, but that’s by the bye.)

None of this transcends elementary logic and basic common sense, commodities that are rapidly becoming as rare as whale dung. But I’d like to expand the argument.

We’ve been conditioned to see nothing wrong about the state extorting more than half of what we earn by honest labour. This is seen as the state’s God-given right.

It’s nothing of the sort, and never was during the entire history of Britain, bar wartime and the last century or so.

When income tax (of a staggering 10 per cent for those earning more than £200 a year) was first introduced in Britain in 1799, it was widely opposed as an unacceptable governmental intrusion into citizens’ private affairs and a threat to personal liberty.

That’s exactly what it was – and is. This isn’t, however, an argument against taxation in general. Some intrusion into citizens’ private affairs and even some curbs on personal liberty are necessary for the state to fulfil its primary function: keeping citizens safe.

Hence there can be no valid argument, this side of the libertarians’ and anarchists’ good offices, against a level of taxation that’s consistent with that desideratum – and perhaps a little extra for other essential governmental needs.

Such is the theory. In practice, however, the British (or any other Western) government doesn’t use taxation for such useful purposes. Citizens’ safety is the least of their concern, as witnessed by our justice system.

Since 1950 violent crime rates have gone up 100-fold, making Britain one of the most violent European countries. In his book Licence to Kill, David Fraser cites stacks of data placing the blame for this outrage squarely on Whitehall.

The whole justice system we buy with our taxes favours the criminal over the victim. Most crimes go either uninvestigated or unpunished. And when some punishment is meted out, it’s typically derisory, putting violent recidivists back on the streets within months and leading to appalling reoffending rates.

The government doesn’t do any better protecting us from external threats. The defence budget is now lower than the cost of servicing the national debt, leaving Britain defenceless – or suicidally relying on her outdated nuclear arsenal.

The state is thus in default of its principal function. And yet it still insists on its moral right to extort half of our income or more.

Moreover, it’s the state that’s guilty of ‘poor tax behaviour’. Our national debt is rapidly moving towards two trillion pounds, with the government continuing to spend more than it extorts. In fact HMG sees it as a huge achievement when in some years it overspends by less than in most others.

In short, there’s no useful purpose for exorbitant taxation. There is, however, a pernicious one: increasing the state’s power over the individual by making people more dependent on the state. This is out-and-out tyranny.

One tell-tale sign is the state’s unquenchable thirst for looting our pension funds. The more financially independent older people are, and our population is aging, the less power does the state have over them.

Private pensions are thus the state’s terrifying bugbear. That’s why both Labour and Tory governments launch devastating raids on them. In fact, our – Conservative! – Chancellor Hammond has just announced another one.

All things considered, every pound the state collects in taxes is a bullet for the gun of tyranny. Conversely, every pound remaining in the individual’s wallet is armour against that bullet.

That’s why finding legal ways to diminish our tyrannical tax burden isn’t just our right, but our civic duty. Hence I’d propose a measure opposite to one favoured by HMRC and Miss Purves.

No candidate should be considered for honours, especially knighthood and peerage, unless he can prove that he has exhausted every legal possibility of paying less tax. People who strike a blow for liberty must be rewarded – even if they do so for selfish reasons.

Is Estonia a country to die for?

Tallinn, a suburb of Petersburg just 200 miles away

In May, 1939, a French socialist appeaser wrote an article arguing that Hitler’s claim to Danzig was just.

And even if it wasn’t, Danzig was so far outside France’s national interests that no sane Frenchman would want to die for it.

In fact Mourir pour Danzig? was the article’s title, and it soon became a popular slogan. Left Bank lefties led by Jean-Paul would mouth it sneeringly while sipping their kirs at Les Deux Magots.

Four months later they received a tangible proof that appeasement doesn’t work. On second thoughts, perhaps it would have been better for a couple of thousand soldiers to die for Danzig than for some 40 million to perish over the next six years.

The outbreak of history’s bloodiest war also illustrated the danger of interpreting national interests in a narrowly selfish way. If no man was an island to John Donne, surely no country is “entire of itself”, not in modern times.

Ours is an age of blocs and alliances, not two families jousting with the support of their retainers. When evil giants get bellicose, no single country can resist them on her own.

Or perhaps this general statement can be slightly modified. Conceivably, should China or Russia attack the West, the US could possibly resist either one (not both together) on her own – but shouldn’t have to.

For the US is a member, and the leader, of the Atlantic alliance. And Article 5 of the NATO Charter specifies that an attack on one member is tantamount to an attack on all.

One hopes that NATO’s commitment will never again be put to a test. But if it ever is, let’s remember that NATO, along with its Charter and its every article, has little other than symbolic value without America’s wholehearted commitment.

Only the United States has a nuclear arsenal to match that of Russia (China is a threat too, but a less immediate one). And only the United States can beef up NATO’s conventional capability to a point where it can stop any Russian aggression.

As Russia is about to launch a military exercise involving 300,000 men and 2,000 units of armour, now is a good time to contemplate the danger Putin’s junta presents to her former satellites and Europe in general.

Only an ignoramus, idiot or fanatic would ignore the demonstrable fact that Putin regards the West, the US in particular, as a deadly enemy. Yet no member of those three groups can be persuaded by either reason or facts, so I shan’t even bother.

If I did bother, I’d focus especially on the nuclear blackmail practised at every level of Russian government with monotonous regularity. Putin and his stooges like to brag about Russia’s ability to turn America to radioactive ash, wipe Florida off the map or even to create a North American Strait, meaning clear blue water between Canada and Mexico.

Throughout the Cold War, the West relied on the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine as a means of containing Russia. The terrified public was treated to calculations of how many times over the combined nuclear arsenals of the US and the USSR could destroy the globe.

Only a madman would ever consider using nuclear weapons at the risk of creating a global apocalypse, was the prevalent thinking in the West. That thinking was questionable then, and it’s criminally wrong now.

The Soviet military doctrine proceeded from the assumption that nuclear war was winnable. The current Russian thinking is similar, if more nuanced and perfidious.

Keeping the cosh of nuclear blackmail behind his back, Putin probes the West time after time, putting his toe in the waters of military conflict, going a bit deeper each time.

While one should be careful about comparing Putin to villains of yesteryear, a parallel with Hitler’s strategy in the late 1930s is obvious.

The Nazi führer also refrained from plunging into a full-blown war at once. He’d take a tentative step and watch the Allies’ reaction. Ruhr, Austria, Munich ultimatum, Czechoslovakia, Nazi-Soviet pact – no action on the part of the Allies. Attack on Poland – the Allies declared war, but only of the phoney variety.

Then and only then did Hitler launch a frontal assault on the West, after the Allies had ignored numerous opportunities to nip Nazi aggression in the bud.

That’s how evil dictators work: they pounce only when reasonably certain of impunity. Putin has to play evil dictator, for without a good performance in that role he wouldn’t be able to remain what he is: the chieftain of history’s first global mafia family.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, he adopts, mutatis mutandis, Hitler’s strategy of a step at a time.

Attack on Chechnya precipitated by Putin’s lads blowing up Moscow blocks of flats and blaming it on the Chechens – the West is silent (note the parallel with Hitler’s using the false flag raid on the Gleiwitz radio station as a pretext for the offensive against Poland).

Unprovoked attack on Georgia – hardly even noticed in the West.

Poisoning a British subject with polonium in London – feeble protests only.

Annexation of the Crimea – some token sanctions. Subsequent stealing of a chunk of Ukrainian territory – slightly stiffer sanctions, hitting mostly regular Russians, an insignificant group to the ruling mafia.

Murdering 298 people aboard Malaysian Flight MH17 – a slap on the wrist.

Indiscriminate bombing of Syrian civilians – nothing but thanks from the West.

Attempted murder of more British subjects in Britain, followed by lethal collateral damage – more sanctions.

Hybrid war on the West, including meddling in elections… well, you get the gist.

Putin’s aggression is on an upward escalator that’ll never end. No one knows where the next stop will be, but suppose for the sake of argument that it’ll be an attack on one of the Baltic republics, all NATO members.

This supposition isn’t a stab in the dark. Putin has pledged to restore Stalin’s empire to its past borders, and so far the Botox Boy has been true to his word.

So what about Article 5 then? Will NATO comply with it and defend the victim by force? Will anyone want to die for, say, Tallinn?

I doubt it – and would even if a different man occupied the White House. With Trump in residence, I’m sure today’s heir to Hitler and Stalin will get away with it.

For Putin’s nuclear blackmail is succeeding. Many indirect signs suggest that Western leaders believe that, if the Russian juggernaut is stopped by conventional means, Putin won’t hesitate to go nuclear.

Whether he will or won’t is a moot point. In such matters, perception is reality, and the West’s perception seems to be that Putin just may be mad enough to use nuclear weapons – while we aren’t mad enough to respond in kind.

Iron resolve on the part of NATO, especially the US, is the only possible deterrent, but, during this presidency, America’s resolve to comply with Article 5 is more cotton wool than iron.

A Fox News interviewer asked recently if Trump, whose admiration for Putin is only matched by his contempt for his NATO allies, would be prepared to defend Montenegro (a NATO ally since last year) should it be attacked by Russia.

In response, Trump seemed to discount the possibility that Russia would attack Montenegro (a country that had only barely survived a Putin-inspired coup), while seriously considering the possibility that Montenegro might attack Russia.

At least that’s what his gibberish meant, when he said: “No, by the way, they [Montenegrins] have very strong people – they have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III.”

But, Mr President, if those aggressive Montenegrins do launch an assault on Moscow, Article 5 doesn’t say we must jump in. NATO is a defensive compact, and that Article could only be invoked in the marginally likelier event of a Russian attack on Montenegro.

Now Trump has on numerous occasions refused to commit America to Article 5, or indeed to continued membership in NATO. He’d utter words to that effect, then reverse himself after a public outcry. But it’s clear where his heart is.

Of course the example of Montenegro was purely hypothetical. What Russia sees as an immediate target is the post-Soviet space, especially the Baltics.

Trump has a definite view on those countries too. “Estonia,” he once explained, “is in the suburbs of St Petersburg,” meaning that Putin’s claim to her is as valid as Hitler’s was to Danzig.

Considering that Tallinn is 200 miles from Petersburg, the same distance as between Paris and Brussels, the suburbs of Putin’s native city are rather sprawling. But the message wasn’t geographical. It was geopolitical.

Be sure that Putin got it in every tonal detail: while Trump is president, the risk of war over expansionist aggression towards Russia’s neighbours is minimal. Proceed with caution and all that, but do proceed.

However, those strong and aggressive Montenegrins should watch their step: they can’t count on NATO’s help if they drive their tanks 3,500 miles to Russia, violating en route the sovereignty of Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine.

They stand warned – and so are we. I don’t know if the Montenegrins will heed the warning. I doubt we shall.