Vlad keeps analysts guessing

The Russian constitutional game is really three-card Monte, and its latest round reminds us that Vlad plays it with consummate skill.

Tsar Vladimir II, anyone?

Even many Russians can’t really keep track of the ‘money card’. But Westerners labour under the additional handicap of their own constitutional experience, making them seek analogues where none exists.

The more knowledgeable among them realise that the Russian constitution isn’t quite like any in the West, the Russian Duma is largely a bogus parliament, and the meaning of political nomenclature (‘president’, ‘prime minister’ and so on) isn’t exactly the same as in the West.

But few commentators are ready to replace the adverbs ‘quite’, ‘largely’ and ‘exactly’ with ‘at all’, ‘totally’ and ‘remotely’. Their viscera go on strike when dangled before their eyes is the picture of a constitution that’s nothing but an elaborate charade designed to dupe the credulous in Russia and especially abroad.

If anyone ever had any illusions on that score, they should have been dispelled in 2008, when Vlad displayed his virtuosic sleight of hand by shifting Article 81 of the Russian Constitution.

Paragraph 3 of that Article says that no one can serve three consecutive presidential terms. I emphasised the word ‘consecutive’ because it’s the only one that matters.

Had that word not been there, Vlad would now be enjoying his purloined billions somewhere warm – that is, if allowed to get away with his money and his life, which, given the vagaries of Russian politics, wouldn’t have been a foregone conclusion).

As it was, he hung the presidential shield on his PM poodle Medvedev and continued to exercise dictatorial powers as prime minister. Come 2012, Vlad reclaimed the presidency and kicked Medvedev back into his old chair.

In parallel, he extended the presidential term from four years to six, effectively giving his dictatorship 12 more years of phony legitimacy. However, since that period expires in 2024, Vlad has had to run his nimble hands over the cards again.

Thus his poodle Medvedev yapped that he and the rest of the government were resigning, not to impinge on the presidential power required to enact sweeping constitutional changes. Anyone who has ever seen Medvedev as an impediment to the exercise of said power doesn’t really understand Russia.

The well-trained poodle got the bone of a newly created post, that of Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, chaired by Vlad himself. The latter then hinted that the post of president would become purely ceremonial, with the real authority vested in the office of prime minister, appointed directly by the Duma in its customary independent fashion.

Hypnotised by Vlad’s fleet fingers, Western commentators try to guess what it all means, without arriving at the right answer: nothing of any significance whatsoever. Their problem is that they approach the problem from the wrong end, inductively rather than deductively.

Induction is a trusted method of political analysis, but it’s useless in Russia. Deduction is more productive, proceeding in this case from an ironclad a priori premise: Putin will never relinquish power voluntarily. His tenure will expire only when his life comes to an end, natural or otherwise.

Once we’ve realised this, all those constitutional shenanigans become reduced to mildly amusing irrelevancies. Each of those has been amply covered in the press.

Putin may indeed transfer all power to the office of prime minister, which he will then occupy. Such a seemingly sideways move has a precedent in Russian history, provided by Vlad’s role model, Stalin.

On 6 May, 1941, he appointed himself prime minister, having before run the country as only Secretary General of the Communist Party. Many commentators think that seemingly meaningless step was taken as a prelude to a Soviet assault on Europe, for which Stalin wished to take full credit.

Be that as it may, it stands to reason that changing the dictator’s job description may indicate a shift in policy.

If, for the sake of argument, Putin is planning another act of blatant aggression, such as an attempt to occupy the rest of the Ukraine, he may wish to pull the wool over the observers’ eyes by being able to accept the credit for such a mission if it succeeds or pass the blame if it fails.

Another possibility is that he may vest de facto presidential powers into the office of Chairman of the Security Council, keeping his trusted poodle in the same place he always occupied. Or else he can appoint himself Chairman of the Duma, with the power of appointing Medvedev or another underling as figurehead president or prime minister.

Yet one possibility hasn’t yet been mooted: Vlad could restore monarchy, with himself on the throne as Tsar Vladimir II. This isn’t as preposterous as it sounds.

Putin has been trying to refashion the Russian ethos by fusing some elements of Romanov rule, Stalinism and Orthodoxy into a quasi-monarchic entity, the modern answer to Mother Russia with her imperial reach based on her enhanced spirituality.

Perhaps he finds that the time has arrived to get rid of the prefix ‘quasi-’ and add finishing touches to the picture drawn in the sand of mendacious propaganda. By appointing himself tsar, Putin might be able to present to the world the image of a squared circle, taking the credit for that mathematical feat.

Confused by his speedy hands, Western observers have trouble pinpointing the ‘money card’. Hence they don’t realise that the cards are marked. The money card isn’t the queen, king or any other denomination.

It’s a criminal and dangerous state uniquely formed by a homogeneous blend of secret police and organised crime. Its chieftain, Putin, can’t be second-guessed because his power is arbitrary and not structured in any way a Westerner may recognise.

So the president is dead, long live the tsar? I don’t know. No one really does.   

Manny Macron kindly proves my point

The other day I bemoaned yet again modernity’s ravenous appetite for vulgar vandalism. I doubt that Manny and his foster mother Brigitte read my scribbles, but their take on interior decoration justifies my lament with room to spare.

The Elysée Palace before and after

Far be it from me to aver that Manny has no taste or, for that matter, no brain or no morality. He may be richly endowed with all or some of those. Then again, he may not. One way or the other, that’s irrelevant.

For all such faculties are in him – as in most modern politicians – subjugated to, and therefore negated by, political Darwinism, a struggle for supremacy or at least survival. Therefore, what to you or me would be a barbarous lapse of taste is, to Manny, a political statement.

On purely aesthetic grounds, one may prefer modern art to the ornate excess flaunted by the Elysée Palace. In fact, my own taste can’t accommodate the French proclivity for over-ornamentation, which was especially manifest during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Neither Baroque nor Empire style is, to me, sacrosanct. Nor does my knee jerk in an a priori rejection of any modernism, although I do find much of it to be solipsistic, nihilistic and undisciplined. Yet I realise that the language of modern art may be as intelligible and eloquent to some people as Byzantine iconography or early Renaissance art is to me.

However, it’s inconceivable that anyone with a modicum of aesthetic discernment would be blind to the bracing vulgarity of lurid cubist paintings, electric-blue carpets and Miró lithographs punctuating the traditional décor of the Elysée Palace.

I happen to dislike both styles on offer, for different reasons. But even someone who’s passionate about them must be sensitive to the nihilistic clash of the two mixed together. This just isn’t an aesthetic statement that even a marginally civilised person could make.

But Manny wasn’t sending aesthetic messages by taking down Gobelin tapestries. He wished to communicate urbi et orbi that traditional certitudes, political, economic or aesthetic, have no place in a youthful and thrusting France ushered into modernity by her youthful and thrusting president.

If a different political message required a different aesthetic expression, Manny would oblige with alacrity. If the fortune cookie baked by France’s fickle electorate yielded a preference for communism, the Elysée Palace would be adorned with Che Guevara silkscreens. If Nazism offered a clearer path to political ascendancy, we’d be regaled with depictions of muscular lads brandishing swastikas.

This is a caricature, but that’s what caricatures do: they overemphasise reality, but they don’t create it. In any case, I sense that redecoration may be on its way.

Recent polls show that Manny’s support is shifting from left to right, which, in the French context, means from the extreme-left to centre-left. The shift is caused by Manny’s reformist zeal, as reflected in his aesthetics.

In general, his reforms make sense. However, politics lives or dies by particulars, not generalities – and by emotions, not reason.

The current labour unrest in France is caused by Manny’s attempt to reform the pension system in the direction of more fairness and sustainability. He isn’t proposing to go all the way to those destinations, but even a few tentative steps have caused an outburst of public rage, especially in the public sector.

The state-owned SNCF rail network has been on strike since early December, the longest such period ever. This has paralysed much of France, especially the gridlocked Paris area forced to operate without surface and underground trains.

Manny realised the insanity of a system wherein 500,000 SNCF employees have to support more than a million retirees, many of whom spend more time in retirement than they ever did in employment. Yet even his timid attempts at reform ran headlong into the stonewall of human nature.

Yesterday’s aspirations become today’s privileges and tomorrow’s entitlements. Once so entrenched, they can’t be displaced by gentle reformism. To communicate to the rail workers that retiring at 52 at others’ expense is morally shabby and economically ruinous, Manny would have to smash union power first.

Such Thatcherite activism would require Thatcherite convictions and Thatcherite willpower, neither of which Manny possesses. That’s why he has already stepped back from his original intentions, although not yet far enough back to mollify the unions.

Nevertheless, he has been largely abandoned by left-wing voters, with centrist ones moving in to fill the lacuna thus formed. More concessions on Manny’s part may disappoint his new fans enough to drive them away, but at least they are detecting – rightly or wrongly – some emotional kinship to Manny.

Hence he’d be well-advised to start putting those Gobelin tapestries back into the spaces currently occupied by Miró et al. New politics may demand old aesthetics, and Manny is lucky that the demand for communist or fascist institutional symbols seems to be tepid at the moment.  

Modernise (v.t.): vulgarise, vandalise, destroy

Modernity is supposed to sprinkle gold dust on whatever it touches. More often than not, however, it slaps on grime – and then swings a wrecking ball.

Is Tyburn Hill still there?

Certain material, transient things can indeed be modernised to great effect. For example, I have many reasons to be thankful for modern drugs. This, in the knowledge that generations to come will view today’s medicines as we view the ubiquitous panacea of blood-letting.

That’s how the world of things is: in with the new, out with the old. Joseph Schumpeter described that process as ‘creative destruction’, and much of modernisation fits that term.

However, when we leave the world of the transient for that of the transcendent, modernising destruction stops being creative and becomes very destructive indeed.

Painters can’t heed the call of modernity and paint over Mona Lisa’s vestments to dress her in Gap casuals or, if the spirit moves them, nothing at all. Stage directors can’t modernise Shakespeare’s language. Composers of liturgical music can’t give the Jesus part to a soprano.

Or perhaps ‘can’t’ is a wrong word – what I really mean is ‘shouldn’t’. For they very much can: sacrilege and vandalism have become artistic stock in trade, with invariably devastating results.

Still, I have it on good authority that those who detest such outrages have the option of boycotting exhibitions of vandalising art, performances of vandalising productions or churches featuring vandalising music.

However, none of us has the option of boycotting our country. There’s the rub: while the original Mona Lisa still hangs in the Louvre, the original Shakespeare texts adorn most bookshops, and some churches still play real music, vandalising a country’s institutions destroys the original – totally and irretrievably.

Look, for example, at the triad of British patriotism: God, king and country. Paraphrasing it as the church, monarchy and other ethos-forming institutions, we’ll find that they are all like poppies – to be enjoyed only as they are. Trying to modernise such institutions will eventually destroy them. They’ll wilt, like a poppy picked out of the field.

If our aspiring modernisers don’t realise this, they are stupid. If they do and still persist, they are evil. Some combination of the two is possible; in fact, most committed modernisers are so stupid that they become evil, if only unwittingly.

This leaves us to decide which category Harry and Meghan belong to, for they have explicitly stated their desire to modernise the monarchy. I for one find such intentions breathtakingly refreshing.

There we have a young couple of very modest, well-nigh non-existent, intellect and, certainly in Meghan’s case, the moral sense of an alley cat. Both of them are ignorant in general and of the essence of British statehood in particular, Meghan totally, Harry largely.

Yet they dare declare that they have the wherewithal to improve this ancient institution by modernising it. Neither of them has the mind to foresee the possible ramifications.

When another modernising vulgarian, Tony Blair, tried to modernise the constitution by eliminating the post of Lord Chancellor, he found out the sheer impossibility of that task: it was like chopping off one leg of a three-legged stool.

But the office of Lord Chancellor is secondary, not primary. It derives from an intricate constitutional settlement based on the monarch. Now imagine what would happen to the whole settlement if ham-fisted modernisers start taking swings at the monarchy. I’d rather not.

The House of Lords has already been vandalised and vulgarised beyond recognition, which deals a blow to the constitution. Now a candidate for Labour leadership, and therefore our potential PM, states her intention to get rid of the Lords altogether – all in the name of modernisation, no doubt. Given the chance, she will.

The church should be another modernisation-free zone. Like the monarchy, it’s either a traditional, conservative institution or it’s nothing. And nothing is what the Church of England is rapidly becoming under the tutelage of its modernising hierarchy.

Female bishops and priests at the altar, pop music blaring in the choir, liturgy conducted in street talk, homosexual unions blessed – all that was supposed to fill the Anglican churches. Instead it’s emptying them.

Both the monarchy and the established church are headed by the Queen, and one wonders if they’ll survive her. The Prince of Wales has already stated his intention to become defender of faith rather than the faith, which is a deplorable bow to the vulgarity of multi-culti modernity.

But at least Charles was brought up as heir to the throne, which makes it remotely possible that he is aware of both the significance of the monarchy and its growing fragility. One shudders to think what those inane Sussexes will do the monarchy with their modernising appetites.

They should be treated the way the Duke of Windsor was: not just deprived of royal privileges, titles and income, but thrown out of the country and only allowed to come back on special occasions.

But that isn’t going to happen, is it?  Modernising modernity is a juggernaut that keeps rolling on.

Russian SAMs seem to love airliners

Two airliners downed by Russian missiles within five years, with the Ukraine involved both times – those SAMs are definitely playing favourites.

Nice accidental shot, chaps. Vlad is proud of you

That the first missile was fired by the Russians themselves and the second by their Iranian stooges may be an important distinction. Then again, it may not.

Both crimes were followed by the perpetrators’ lying denials. The Russians were more creative with theirs.

Flight MH17, according to them, was downed by the Americans themselves. Or the fatal shot was fired by the Banderite Zionist fascists running the Ukraine. Or it was a bomb on board the aircraft. Or it might have been pilot’s error. Or it was spontaneous combustion.

I don’t recall any UFOs mentioned, but every other possibility was explored and put forth as realistic. Except what actually happened: a terrorist act committed by Russian troops in the process of invading a sovereign European country.

The Russians still persist with their lies, but they are doing so in autopilot, as it were. It’s as if they were saying: “Fair cop, we did it. We know it, you know it, the whole world knows it. But we’ll continue to deny it half-heartedly for decorum’s sake. Anyway, the sooner you forget about that incident, the better for all of us.”

The Iranians at first lied that the Ukrainian airliner had suffered an engine failure. However, when videos emerged of a SAM actually hitting the aircraft, they owned up to having fired the fatal missile, albeit accidentally.

Case closed? As far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t even been opened.

Too many coincidences have been ignored, too many questions left unanswered or indeed unasked. Far be it from me to claim a special investigative talent, but a few things bother even this rank amateur.

First, why did the ayatollahs lie in the first place? Doesn’t Allah proscribe perjury? And, having defied Allah, why didn’t they persist? After all, their Russian friends could have shown them how to deny obvious facts, including those about downed airliners.

Yet their resolve lasted only two days. Once the evidence came out, the ayatollahs immediately offered their profuse apologies: “Sorry, lads, deepest condolences and all that. We confused the 737 with an in-coming cruise missile. Accidents do happen.”

Yes, they do. But so do crimes their perpetrators try to pass for accidents.

Even assuming the ayatollahs had to admit their guilt, why couldn’t they hold on for a bit longer? What was the rush? Most likely, it wasn’t they who were in a hurry, but Messrs Trudeau and Trump.

Even before the ayatollahs made their clenched-teeth admission, the two leaders stated that the airliner had been accidentally hit by an Iranian Russian-made TOR missile. How did they know it was an accident before any investigation was even started?

Their underlying assumption seems to be that Iran wouldn’t have committed such a heinous act deliberately. If so, one wonders about the basis for such confidence. We are, after all, talking about one of the world’s most evil and deranged regimes.

Quite apart from sponsoring terrorism around the world, the ayatollahs are feverishly trying to acquire nuclear bombs and then use them. This, in the certain knowledge that the resulting retaliation would be apocalyptically devastating.

Do Messrs Trudeau and Trump believe that a regime prepared to kill millions, most of them in their own country, would balk at killing a paltry 176 passengers and crew? One hopes not, for otherwise the West is in even deeper trouble than I thought.

But do let’s assume that it indeed was an accident. After all, following the assassination of Gen Soleimani, the situation in the region was chaotic, and chaos encourages trigger-happy fingers.

However, that plausible assumption has to come packaged with several implausible ones. One of them is that a trained operator could have confused a Boeing 737 with a cruise missile.

Just like the BUK system of MH17 fame, TOR comes equipped with a modern radar. And I can’t help thinking that an airplane 138 feet long looks rather different on a radar screen from a cruise missile that’s almost seven times shorter. And surely a plane taking off is instantly distinguishable from a missile coming in?

Then again, Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport is a target-rich environment. Planes take off every 20-30 minutes, and only one a day belongs to the Ukrainian International Airlines.

However, the fateful Boeing was operated by a country that Iran’s biggest ally and sponsor, Putin’s junta, hates with unmitigated passion. A curious coincidence, isn’t it?

My objective is only to point out a certain incongruity, not to explain it. Yes, it’s reasonably clear that, considering the relationship between Iran and Russia, the ayatollahs would have been in no position to deny their friend Vlad a little favour should he have asked for it.

But why would he have asked for it? I don’t know. Yet neither do I know why Putin ordered the seemingly senseless murders of Litvinenko, the Skripals, at least a dozen others in the West and several dozen within Russia herself, including such internationally known figures as Politkovskaya and Nemtsov.

Putin runs a state formed by history’s unique fusion of secret police and organised crime. Both constituents operate according to their own code, which says that those they hate don’t deserve to live, and those who cross them must be punished.

This may be as simple as that. Or else, there may be more rational motives involved, such as an attempt to distract public attention from Flight MH17, which still comes up in international discussions, if with an attenuating frequency.

The opportunities for conjecture are many. However, no conjecture is necessary to explain the indecent haste with which Messrs Trudeau and Trump accepted the ayatollahs’ mea culpas, which they themselves had cued in.

Trump’s Iranian strategy, such as it is, is apparently to ignore the general beastliness of the Islamic Republic, while punishing specific crimes against US citizens on an ad hoc basis. The president must believe that Iran, for all its ostensible bellicosity, is so suffocated by Western sanctions that she’s ready to negotiate.

This must be Trump’s desire as well: after all, he thinks that all the world’s little problems can be solved by a handshake. Accusing Iran of yet another egregious crime against humanity simply doesn’t fit into that context.

I rather doubt the merits of this strategy: evil regimes don’t believe in deals. They only believe in using deals to their nefarious ends.

Thus the Russians violated every disarmament treaty they ever signed, including those SALT agreements they used as a screen for their massive military build-up in the 1970s. Iran used Obama’s awful Nuclear Treaty the same way, by coming close to developing a nuclear capability, with a little help from her friends.

However, Trump’s administration has a store of information to which I have no access. Hence it’s possible that their strategy may be the right one.

One just wishes they didn’t take us for fools. All those red herrings leave a nasty taste in our mouths, and the tooth fairy never does come around. Let’s hear the truth of Flight 752 – and truth, as we know, will make us free.      

Sheer piggery

Dogs are said to acquire the characteristics of their owners. If that’s true, then what about other domestic animals?

That question was answered the other day, when a sow and her two piglets escaped from a small farm and broke into a supermarket in the Siberian city of Tyumen.

Pigs can sometimes be oh-so swinish

Had they done so some 50 years ago, they would have found only a few tins on otherwise empty shelves. But today’s Russian supermarkets feature all sort of foods other than the ziggurats of tins I recall from my childhood.

The pigs must have been impressed by the cornucopia on offer, especially since, unlike cows, they are omnivorous. The happy family could have thus helped themselves to meat, fruit, vegetables, pastries – the selection was vast.

Yet the trio unerringly made their way to the alcohol aisle. There the mother used her snout to knock two bottles of brandy to the floor. The bottles smashed, and the pigs happily lapped up the boozy puddle.

The staff, who must have been deeply concerned about underage drinking, ejected the piglets and also, unfairly, their mother, who was demonstrably of age.

One should refrain from drawing far-reaching conclusions on the basis of that episode, but it’s conceivable that the Russians’ fondness for drink might have rubbed off on their animals.

For the sake of impartiality, it’s important to note that the Russians aren’t the only bibulous nation. Decades ago their supremacy in that area went unchallenged, but these days the British could give them a good run for their money – especially in the new Tory areas of the North.

In fact, personal observation shows that on a Saturday night one sees more drunks in, say, Liverpool or Hull than in Moscow. However, Tyumen isn’t Moscow any more than Hull is London and, compared to Siberians, our northerners would look positively abstemious.

In fact, I’m sure that, given the chance, our Berkshire or Saddleback pigs wouldn’t head straight for the booze aisle in a supermarket. Their taste would run more towards potatoes and apples, but, in the absence of empirical evidence, that’s only a guess.

While we are on the subject of comparing Russia and Britain, we ought to extrapolate from the porcine context and look at humans. Here I’m proud of my former countrymen’s ingenuity.

Having been exposed to the West en masse for only 30 years or even less, the Russians have proved to be remarkably quick studies. In fact, many of them have plumbed the depths the native populations left untapped throughout their history.

One ought to remark with some chagrin than most of those depths have to do with criminal behaviour, especially money laundering. Now in that area, if no longer in drunkenness, the Russians are leading the world by a wide margin.

Alas, the ground-breaking ingenuity of Russian ‘oligarchs’ seldom comes up to the surface. Yet, credit where it’s due, I for one am in awe.

Everyone knows that money can be laundered through financial institutions and estate markets. Though not blessed with much practical nous, even I can figure out how to do that.

Yet it would never have occurred to me that British courts could be used to that end too. So much more do I admire those Russians who expand my horizons.

‘Oligarchs’, which is the Russian for organised criminals, agree to sue one another in British courts, with the sums awarded for phony damages then emerging squeaky clean. Not only that, but they sometimes also sue themselves, through anonymous shell companies somewhere offshore.

Apparently, hundreds of millions have been processed through our legal system in this fashion, although no one can pinpoint the exact amount.

The Russians have thus demonstrated their ability to corrupt all our institutions, not just the financial and political ones. Goddess Themis is happy to turn a blind eye too.

Such creativity would of course be impossible without at least acquiescence, and more likely active complicity, on the part of our legal firms. They seem to be as happy to take the dirty rouble as their financial and political colleagues.

Those Russian criminals are toxic, but British institutions are avidly spreading that poison around. Now, that’s what I call piggery.

Middle East problems, sorted

A few years in prison must give one a clear perspective on power relationships.

Lord Black’s mug shot

An inmate can’t afford to choose his friends on the basis of moral, cultural or intellectual affinity. He’ll form an alliance with a murderer against a rapist, or with a rapist against a murderer, or with a Mafia don against either.

One can sympathise with the resultant worldview, but it can’t be readily applied to life on the out. In offering a blanket solution to all Middle East problems, Conrad Black seems to ignore this conundrum.

In his article How Trump Can Sort Out the Middle East, Lord Black argues that the US should form an alliance with Russia and Turkey.

This masterstroke would counteract the threat of Iran and, as a fringe benefit, keep Russia out of China’s clutches. Such is the strategy pursued by Lord Black’s friend Donald. However, his noble efforts are being frustrated by the enemies of everything good: the Democrats:

“The problem the administration has faced is that Russia as an issue has been so aggravated by Democratic myth-makers, with the (presumably) inadvertent cooperation of some congressional Republicans, that it has been very difficult for Trump to deal with Russia sensibly without exciting partisan hysteria and crowding the Democratic television news networks with the tiresome faces and voices of Obama’s now-discredited intelligence chiefs (James Clapper and John Brennan), beating the old tambourines about Russia determining U.S. elections.”

The underlying syllogism is simple: Trump gave Black a full pardon; the Democrats are after Trump; ergo, anything they say is malicious, self-serving and wrong. Yet, though my feelings about today’s Democratic Party are similar to Lord Black’s, that old saw says that even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day.

Even if Russia didn’t “determine US elections”, she certainly tried to skew them towards Trump – that has been established. What’s lacking is prima facie evidence of a collusion between Trump and Putin.

There exists, however, much evidence of Trump’s numerous hagiographic statements about the KGB colonel, versus not a single critical one. This is augmented by Trump’s manly resistance to sanctions on Russia.

These were pushed through by Congress, with Trump fighting to delay the sanctions or slow down their implementation. Considering his former ties with Russia’s Mafiosi ‘oligarchs’, Congress has every reason to be apprehensive about Trump’s overtures to Putin.

Lord Black’s judgement of Russia combines prison-like amorality with staggering ignorance:

“Russia is a great nation and civilization, but it is not now a great power like the U.S. and China; it is an economic paper tiger with a GDP smaller than Canada’s… It is an overwhelmingly corrupt country…, wallowing in the frustrations of having gambled everything built up in 300 years from Peter the Great to Stalin in a relatively bloodless world struggle with the United States and its allies (when the U.S. had useful allies because of their self-interest), and of having lost. The danger Russia presents now is that if the United States adds to Russia’s humiliations, it could drive Russia into the arms of China, and millions of people from China’s surplus manpower could exploit the untapped resources of Siberia on a royalty basis.”

What exactly used to make Russia a great power, a status she has now lost? One has to infer from Lord Black’s turgid prose that, while Russia’s economy is now a paper tiger, it used to merit a simile with a rampaging elephant.

If that’s what he thinks, he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. When the USSR’s superpower status was unquestioned, her economy was worse off than it is today.

To name just one category, the USSR was then the world’s biggest importer of grain, whereas today’s Russia is one of the biggest exporters. Yet one way or the other, her population lived from hand to mouth, at best, as it does now.

Russia’s exalted position was owed not to the grain silos, but to the missile variety. Her strength didn’t come from the overall economy, and it still doesn’t. It has always been based on Russia’s ability to blackmail the West with nuclear annihilation.

That was the culmination and just about sum total of “everything built up in 300 years from Peter the Great to Stalin”, and a Western commentator ought to shudder in revulsion. Instead, Lord Black repeats verbatim Putin’s propaganda stance on Russian history reaching its apex under Stalin.

Black’s line of thought betokens prison mentality. Putin glorifies Stalin; Trump is Putin’s friend; Trump exonerated Black; ergo, both Stalin and Putin are great builders of an empire now humiliatingly lost.

Thus Russia’s brittle sensibilities must be protected against further humiliation by inviting her to dominate the Middle East through her Turkish proxy. As to “driving Russia into the arms of China”, I wouldn’t worry about that.

It has already happened, with China effectively colonising Russia’s Far East and turning the country into a vassalage. This includes military cooperation, as shown by various joint exercises, such as the latest naval ones, also involving Iran.

Lord Black’s assessment of Turkey is equally inane: “The European Union’s rejection of Turkey (completely unlike the relatively generous treatment in trade and political matters accorded by the United States and Canada to Mexico) pushed Turkey back toward the Arab world, from which it had been expelled in World War I.”

That “rejection” is perhaps the only good thing the EU has ever done. And the relative generosity Black talks about didn’t involve an automatic right of all Turks to settle in the US or Canada.

However, admitting Turkey to the EU would have meant just that to Europe. Somehow, the EU decided that the 19 million Muslims living there is a high enough number already, without an influx of 80 million Turks.

It’s not the EU’s rejection but Islam that pushes Turkey towards the Arabs. But Lord Black doesn’t think in such terms. The word ‘Islam’ doesn’t feature in his article, distorting as it might have done the picture of a Quixotic Trump charging the windmills of the Democrats.

As far as Lord Black is concerned, Islam is an irrelevance. Hence, while accusing the Democrats of myth-making, he makes a few myths of his own:

“Pressure from Iran and Turkey and the disintegration of Iraq and Syria (thanks largely to the United States, though its policymakers had not sought that objective) have effectively caused the leading Arab powers to abandon their hostility to Israel, which was always essentially just a distraction of the Arab masses from the misgovernment their rulers were inflicting on them.”

Someone has forgotten to tell the Israelis that the Arabs are no longer hostile to them, as a result of pressure applied by Iran. One wonders how the ayatollahs reconcile such pressure with their daily screams about wiping Israel off the map. As to the diversionary tactic of distracting “the Arab masses”, this is kindergarten stuff.

Muslim hostility to Jews and Christians predates the founding of Israel in 1948. This animus is an essential part of Muslim doctrine, with at least 300 Koran verses explicitly calling for killing infidels.

For 1,400 years, Muslim emirs, caliphs and sultans have been doing their level best to practise what Mohammed preached. But Lord Black lacks an historical perspective: he thinks strictly in realpolitik terms.

There’s nothing wrong with some pragmatism and even amorality in geopolitical thinking. This Lord Black proves by correctly decrying “the stark bankruptcy of George W. Bush’s Iraq War”.

But what he proposes instead is cloud cuckoo land. If Lord Black’s friend Donald acts on his prescriptions, Russia will dominate the Middle East, playing the ends of Sunni Turkey and Shiite Iran against the middle.

In addition to assuaging Putin’s wounded pride, this will establish his evil kleptofascist regime as the powerbroker in the region, with the US merely bringing up the rear.

Some realpolitik, yes, by all means. At times alliances with evil powers are necessary, as Britain proved in the Second World War by siding with Stalin. But that was designed to prevent capitulation. Lord Black’s prescriptions, on the other hand, are tantamount to it.

Bring out a sick bag

“Whatever happened to the enchanting Prince Harry and Meghan Markle we all fell in love with?” asks Sarah Vine. Speak for yourself, dear.

Miss Vine, aka Mrs Michael Gove, writes about the announcement of the Sussexes’ abnegation of royal duties with the sadness of someone let down by a love object. One way of avoiding such disappointments is to choose such objects more carefully.

My feelings are more akin to a mixture of emesis and hubris. The former is self-explanatory, while the latter comes from my having predicted this predictable outrage from the start.

So, in the name of responsible recycling, here’s what I wrote about this in November, 2017, when the news of the couple’s engagement was first announced.

“It’s wonderful that this worthy young man and his pretty bride are passionately in love. The world is a better place whenever any man and any woman feel so deeply about each other.

“There is, however, a minor point. Meghan may be ‘any woman’, but Harry isn’t really ‘any man’. Prince Henry of Wales is fifth in the line of succession to the British throne.

“That’s why the comment made by Meghan’s sister is so wide of the mark. ‘This isn’t about royalty,’ she said. ‘It’s about love.’ Royalty, not love, is precisely what this should be about, but one doesn’t expect an American to understand this.

“For Meghan will be called upon to stop being just any woman and assume the responsibilities, along with the whole ethos, of a member of the royal family.

“That’s no easy matter. I won’t bother you with a long rota of royal duties, but they all fall under one umbrella: submitting one’s own good to the good of the dynasty and therefore the realm.

“The requisite skills can’t be picked up easily: they take serious training, ideally from a young age or, better still, birth. That’s why royals have traditionally married other royals, or at least members of high nobility: their spouses didn’t have to do an inordinate amount of training on the job.

“Whenever our princes have ventured outside their own circle, the results have been rather mixed. For example, the experience of British royals marrying American divorcées of a certain age and uncertain past wasn’t an unqualified success. At least, unlike Wallis, Meghan is blessed with good looks, sunny personality and a smile that evokes nicer animals than snakes.

“However, hacks singing hosannas to her don’t even realise how worried they make people who, like me, take our monarchy seriously. Thus, for example, the BBC:

“ ‘She is a campaigner with a variety of humanitarian interests and won’t want her marriage to limit her ability to speak out and support various causes – particularly those of gender equality.’

“I’m afraid she’ll have to – of her own accord or under the express orders of older royals. I doubt they’ll want a member of their family to enlarge publicly on a raft of half-arsed progressivist causes, however strongly said member may feel about them privately.

“I certainly don’t want to know what Meghan thinks about ‘gender equality’ even in her present capacity, never mind as the Duchess of Sussex. And I especially fear that, by expressing herself with a distinctly American lack of inhibitions, she’ll do even more damage to the dynasty than Harry’s sainted mother did.

“Richard Kay, who knew Diana well, put it in a nutshell: ‘Diana would have been thrilled – Meghan’s just the kind of woman she wanted to be,’ he wrote in the spirit of jubilation.

“Quite. That’s exactly the problem. For Diana was, and always wanted to be, an utterly modern, and therefore brainless, woman, who was both unable and unwilling to make the ultimate sacrifice of self-denial I mentioned earlier.

“Rather than conforming to the traditional standards of British royalty, she wanted the royal family to go along with every modern perversion she espoused, solipsism being the principal one. When they wouldn’t, she consciously set out to do as much harm to the monarchy as she possibly could, using every weapon at her disposal, mostly of a sexual nature.

“That deprived the dynasty of much of its dignity, dragging it into the mire inhabited by sleazy tabloids and their readers. And dignity is the most prized asset of the royals, now they’ve been regrettably deprived of any executive power.

“Fair enough, Lady Diana Spencer wasn’t a commoner. But she was common, which is why she couldn’t understand the key constitutional role she was supposed to play in British polity.

“This role precludes fixation on the present and its fads. The monarchy’s job is to provide the axis around which the entire history of the country revolves. It links the past with the present and the future, establishing the nation’s organic continuity.

“This is a solemn and vital mission, which becomes much more difficult when royals begin to star in gossip columns. Photographs of Diana with her numerous lovers or of a topless Fergie having her toes sucked by athletic Americans jeopardised that mission no end.

“According to Dominic Sandbrook, ‘we ought to remember that monarchy is nothing if not a spectacle.’ This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a hare-brained one at that.

“Implied there is a circuitous argument: if monarchy is but a show, a professional actress should do the job famously. However, one may harbour doubts precisely because monarchy, for all its pomp and circumstance, isn’t a spectacle. Mr Sandbrook should really take the trouble of pondering our constitution.

“Sorry to be a spoilsport, but a massive outburst of public enthusiasm is always suspect, especially when its cause is far from being unambiguous. The term ‘Dianification’ isn’t particularly mellifluous, but it describes the phenomenon quite accurately.”

Aussie bushfires may be caused by climate change

No, not that. The climate in question is intellectual and cultural, not meteorological.

‘Bloody Sunday’, 1905. Greta’s typological precursors must have been rubbing their hands with glee

It’s the climate of cultish hysteria whipped up by rent-a-mob fanatics in search of a cause. Their current craze is the urgent desire to save ‘the planet’, presumably ours, from the devastating effects of aerosol sprays.

These, along with SUVs, central heating and carnivorism are seen as factors in creating anthropogenic global warming that threatens life on Earth (or perhaps Earth itself, I’m never quite sure which). As proof of that impending tragedy, Greta and her fans are citing Australian bushfires, which have killed 24 people and destroyed 1,400 houses.

Now it turns out that the fires are anthropogenic all right, but not in the way the zealots mean. To wit, almost 200 people have been arrested in Australia for offences related to the bushfires.

Most of them are guilty of nothing worse than negligence or failure to comply with fire regulations. But 24 of those arrested have been charged with setting the fires intentionally.

One has to wonder what the intent was. Alas, no details have so far been released, leaving the field wide-open for conjecture. So here’s mine, and, to me at least, it rings true.

Some, if not all, of the 24 must have set the fires to draw attention to their cause: mankind reverting to a pre-industrial, and ideally pre-agricultural, state as a way of thumbing a nose at Western civilisation. This is a time-proven tactic of revolutionary agents provocateurs, using false-flag sabotage to achieve their nefarious ends.

Wicked causes are promoted by wicked means, and if you doubt that climate-change fanatics are capable of such evil acts, look no further than the history of all modern revolutionary movements. The umbrella principle was formulated by that unrivalled expert on such things, Lenin.

His terse adage was “the worse, the better”, which was a perfect complement to Ovid’s earlier phrase “the end justifies the means” (exitus acta probat). Anyone working towards a specific goal will subscribe to that thought, but only to varying degrees.

An ordinary, sane achiever will never utter that line in an unqualified fashion. He’d be likely to tag on the phrase “…within reason”. Yet no such qualifications exist for an evil fanatic.

In his eyes, his end justifies any means whatsoever, including millions of deaths, never mind a paltry 24. After all, numbers shouldn’t affect the principle.

Lenin developed that noble sentiment by declaring: “I don’t care if 90 per cent of the Russians perish, as long as the remaining 10 per cent live under socialism.”

When in power, he went a long way towards acting on that statement, at least its first part, but Lenin’s earlier harangues against tsarism needed vivid illustrations.

If those already provided by the existing regime weren’t vivid enough, help was on the way. Hence, to name just one example out of many, the Bolsheviks and other leftists staged a demonstration on 9 January, 1905, when thousands of workers marched on the Winter Palace.

The instigators of the action knew that the troops guarding the palace would fire on the crowd if sufficiently provoked, killing hundreds. And that was exactly the outcome for which their revolutionary loins ached.

And in case the tsar’s guards were slow on the trigger, socialist terrorists were prepared to fire a few shots at them to set off a massacre. Some reports I’ve read say this is exactly what happened.

Paralysing industry with strikes, ruining the country’s economy and then blaming it on the usual bogeymen are all sharp arrows in the quiver of revolutionaries – including some considerably less fanatical than the wild-eyed, spittle-sputtering saviours of ‘the planet’.

They have to feel that attributing any cataclysmic event to climate change would advance their cause, and anyone who doesn’t think they’d hesitate to create such an event themselves has little experience of anomic zealots.

I for one will be keeping an eye on the upcoming trials of the 24 firebugs. Everyone likes to see his conjecture confirmed, and I’m no exception.

Respect for international law, as taught by Russia

I’ll say one thing for Poo-tin and his government: they never cease to amaze me, thereby discouraging complacency.

Sergey Lavrov, soon to become Oxford professor emeritus

Just when I settle into the comfy chair of supposedly knowing all there is to know about Russia, a bolt strikes out of the blue.

The latest one came courtesy of Sergey Lavrov, minister in charge of Poo-tin’s foreign policy. Mr Lavrov has kindly taken it upon himself to teach the US State Department the fine points of international law.

In his response to the assassination of Gen Soleimani, Mr Lavrov said that: “deliberate actions by one UN member aimed at eliminating an official of another UN member on the territory of a third sovereign country without prior notification flagrantly violate the principles of international law and are therefore to be condemned.”

Though clumsily expressed, this is a valid point invalidated by its provenance. Or, putting it in the language of a Russian classic with which Mr Lavrov is doubtless familiar, “And who are the judges?”

For the preacher’s identity affects the credibility of the sermon, unless of course we’re talking about a priest who’s supposed to be merely a conduit for divine revelation. In the lay world, however, we tend to consider the source.

For example, we may welcome lessons in democracy, but not from Kim Jong-un. An argument against theocracy would lose some of its poignancy if delivered by Ayatollah Khamenei. And, on balance, we’d rather hear an appeal to fiscal responsibility from someone other than President Maduro.

In the same spirit, when the subject of international law comes up, the best thing Minister Lavrov could do is shut up. On his watch, Russia’s foreign policy has shown as much respect for international law as Stalin and Hitler showed for Poland’s territorial integrity.

In 2014, Russia claimed the distinction of becoming the first country since 1945 to steal the territory of a sovereign European nation. More than 13,000 Ukrainians have since been killed defending their country from this champion of global legality.

In the same year, the Russians shot down in cold blood the airliner MH 17 flying passengers from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people on board were killed.

This propensity for wholesale murder in no way cramps Russia’s style in piecemeal action. Her hitmen rummage through Europe, murdering “without prior notification” anyone who crosses Poo-tin in one way or another.

In the process, they parade Russia’s technological advances by using nuclear and bacteriological weapons, albeit so far of small yields. That doesn’t mean they forswear the more traditional expedients of bullet, garrotte or defenestration – with nary a prior notification anywhere in evidence.

That fusion of the old with the new is by itself sufficient for anyone to gasp at the latest display of Lavrov’s cynicism. But let’s also not forget the less sanguinary violations of international law also favoured by Poo-tin’s Russia.

Such as blatant interference in the electoral politics of countries that, unlike Russia, still take democracy seriously. This is done by the electronic, disinformation and propaganda arms of hybrid war, a concept pioneered by Gen Gerasimov, head of Russia’s General Staff.

All in all, I’d suggest that Russia with her KGB government is ill-qualified to teach civilised countries how to conduct their affairs. Yet Poo-tin and his henchmen simply can’t contain their didactic urge. This is displayed not only in jurisprudence, but also in history.

Poo-tin himself recently provoked Poland’s PM Mateusz Morawiecki into a rare undiplomatic gesture: accusing the head of a major country of lying, in this case about Stalin’s crimes against Poland and Poles.

Poo-tin denies them all, including these days the murder of over 22,000 Polish officers in Katyn and elsewhere – this, although the two previous presidents of Russia acknowledged the crime. Yet that was far from being the worst offence Stalin committed against the Poles.

In the 1930s the Soviets pioneered genocide, beating the Nazis to it. The targets were all Soviet people of Polish and Finnish descent, especially the former. More than 111,000 Poles were killed by the NKVD, and thousands more perished during and after their deportation.

Mr Morawiecki was rightly incensed about Poo-tin’s lying denials, as he was about the claim that the Soviet Union didn’t attack Poland on 17 December, 1939, and if it did, Poland had only herself to blame.

As proof of Poland’s culpability, Poo-tin cited her record of anti-Semitism that indeed was far from spotless. However, if mistreatment of Jews were sufficient grounds for military intervention, few countries would have escaped that fate in the 30s.

In any case, Poo-tin chose a curious focus for his anti-Polish invective, in the person of Józef Lipski, Poland’s pre-war ambassador to Nazi Germany. Mr Lipski apparently agreed with Hitler in welcoming the plan to deport all Jews to Madagascar.

With the benefit of hindsight, one could say that such an action, hideous as it was in abstract terms, could have saved millions of Polish Jews from the alternative solution. As it was, half of the six million Holocaust victims were murdered in Poland.

Yet Poo-tin sports blinkers on his hindsight. Using the kind of language that naturally rolls off his lips, he called the late Mr Lipski “scum and anti-Semitic swine”, explaining why he felt so strongly:   

“Honestly, I should tell you I was stunned about the manner in which Hitler and Polish officials discussed the so-called ‘Jewish question’. Imagine, expelling Jews to Africa in 1938! They would’ve been doomed to extermination!” As opposed to what actually happened, one assumes.

Perhaps, when their tenures come to an end, Messrs Poo-tin and Lavrov could have profitable academic careers in Western universities. The former could teach history and the latter international law. Our intellectual life would be so much the better for it.

Pope spouts anti-Semitism

Before my Catholic friends disown me, the Pope in question isn’t the pontiff who lives in the Vatican. It’s Tom Pope, who lives in Port Vale and plays for its Second Division football team.

Thanks, Tom. Now we know what’s coming

His tweet caused quite some resonance the other day, which breaks a firmly established pattern. Traditionally, only Premiership players hold views of national, and especially international, interest.

A creatively tattooed Arsenal or Chelsea player is guaranteed a wide forum and a nationwide discussion whenever he airs his geopolitical wisdom, along the lines of “we shouldn’t of went into Iraq”. People may or may not agree, but they’ll listen.

Celebrity confers on its possessor that special status of presumed sagacity that in the past used to be harder to acquire. Now it’s easy: sign a £100,000-a-week contract and let your mouth run wild.

But a lowly Second Division striker? This is something new and therefore worthy of a comment.

One of Pope’s fans asked him to “predict the World War III result”. He must have expected the striker to give him the current betting odds on various possible outcomes, but Pope instead gave him the benefit of his geopolitical analysis:

“We invade Iran then Cuba then North Korea then the Rothschilds are crowned champions of every bank on the planet.”

Mr Pope clearly sees a war as a sporting contest, in which the top prize isn’t a cup but “every bank on the planet”. In such a competition there can be only one winner: the Jews in general and the Rothschilds in particular.

Moreover, the implication is strong that it’s those Jews from hell who would actually provoke the invasion of “Iran, Cuba then North Korea” for the purpose of becoming world banking champions as a result.

Portraying the Rothschilds in this way has to give a warm feeling of recognition to all students of history, of whom Mr Pope is clearly one. For conspiracy theories about that family go back to at least 1815, when they were falsely accused of having learned the result of the Battle of Waterloo before everyone else and parlayed that discovery into huge profits.

Since then the Rothschilds have never left the pages of anti-Semitic tracts, such as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion concocted by the tsar’s secret police in 1903. The Rothschilds have been portrayed as the secret rulers of the world, ordering millions to their death to fill their coffers with filthy lucre.

Now that canard has flown as far as Port Vale, landing in the garden of its celebrated denizen. Tom knows nothing about the Rothschilds except that they are Jews who own, well, everything, with the possible exception of Port Vale FC. But it’s the feeling that counts.

When accused of anti-Semitism, the attacker went on the defence: “They own the bloody banks! There’s no racial malice whatsoever and anyone would say the bloody same! I didn’t choose a side. I merely stated they own the banks and that’s it!”

Now, I doubt Tom could name a single bank owned by the Rothschilds. He has probably heard of none of them. And those he knows aren’t owned by that diabolical family. Barclays? No. HSBC? No. Lloyds? No. RBS? No.

Further afield, JPMorgan Chase? No. BNP Paribas? No. (For Mr Pope’s information, BNP stands for Banque Nationale de Paris, not the British National Party.)

But that’s hardly the point, is it? Facts shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the story, especially one as seductive as this – and one that can elevate a player no one has ever heard of to the status of national celebrity.

At 34, Tom must be nearing the end of his playing career. But not to worry: a bright future in political analysis beckons. Breitbart News is always looking for fresh blood.