It’s not Yalta. It’s worse

Even Stalin didn’t talk to the West in the language of ultimatums, not in so many words at any rate. That’s why comparisons of the current situation with Yalta are spurious.

The good old days?

Peruse any document issued there, and you won’t find a single word spelling out Soviet control over Eastern Europe, nor about dividing Europe into spheres of influence. No doubt Roosevelt and Stalin privately came to an agreement that amounted to the same thing – but Stalin didn’t threaten to invade had FDR proved recalcitrant.

The Soviet monster had to choose his words carefully: facing his exhausted troops in Europe was a powerful, well-equipped, relatively fresh allied force. One, moreover, that could soon count on a few atom bombs, which the Soviets hadn’t yet managed to produce.

Things are different now. That is, Russia’s inherently aggressive stance towards the West hasn’t changed. But the West’s resolve to resist it has.

That’s why the jumped-up KGB colonel in the Kremlin saw fit to demand that the West for all intents and purposes destroy its NATO-based system of collective security. Such terms have only ever been imposed on, or even proposed to, countries routed in a war.

Specifically, the West, as represented by NATO, is being ordered to withdraw all military personnel and bases to the pre-1997 borders – that is, to the positions they held before seven Eastern European countries joined NATO. To wit:

“Nato and the US must not station any additional military personnel or weapons outside the countries where they were stationed as of May 1997 (prior to the accession to the alliance of Eastern European countries) except in exceptional cases with the consent of Russia.” [My emphasis]

NATO must stop and roll back its eastward expansion, undertaking “not to deploy weapons and forces” where it “would be perceived by the other side as a threat to national security”. And Russia insists on having veto power on all military deployments in Europe.

In other words, NATO must not only refuse to admit the Ukraine, a victim of historical and current Russian brutality, but abandon to Putin’s mercy the seven Eastern European countries that are already members. That would effectively turn them into Russia’s vassals at best, colonies at worst.

Even more important, such betrayal would put paid to NATO as a guarantor of European security – with potentially dire consequences for Western Europe as well. Hence the draft treaties proposed by Russia amount to the dictated terms of surrender.

I could cite any number of Russian goebbelses trying to justify this outrage by ostensibly legitimate concerns, but there’s no need. Their steadfast stooge Peter Hitchens yet again acts as their mouthpiece:

“There is no doubt that Nato’s eastward expansion is an aggressive revival of a century-old German desire to push deeply into the old Russian Empire. There was never any other political or military need for it, though it greatly suited the USA’s military industries, which lost a lot of business when the Cold War ended.”

No doubt, fancy that. The doubtless premise peddled here is that Germany is the key player in NATO, with the alliance faithfully serving her dastardly interests. This is deranged nonsense, or rather a sycophantic troll.

As to the “political or military need for it”, it exists, it’s real, and it’s urgent. The need is to offer protection to countries that had suffered untold misery at the hands of the Soviets. It’s also to contain Russian expansionism aimed at reconstituting the Soviet Union – a goal regularly stated by Russian propagandists and chieftains, including Putin.

The Russian line or rather lie, which Hitchens regurgitates as faithfully as ever, is that NATO harbours aggressive designs on Russian territory and somehow threatens Russia’s security. The only thing threatened here is Putin’s kleptofascist regime that needs to pounce on weaker countries in order to survive.

Not even today’s Western governments, with appeasement and ‘pragmatism’ coursing through their veins, can accept such terms. I know it, you know it, Putin himself knows it. So why the counterproductive ultimatum?

It may represent an opening bid, with some leeway built in for future manoeuvres. This is a well-trodden path, and not just in politics. A businessman who wants to sell his company for £10 million may demand £15 million to give the other party a sense of victory when he finally agrees to accept what he wanted in the first place.

The West has already more or less left the Ukraine to her own devices, and it may well agree not to admit her to NATO now or ever. In return, Putin will graciously allow some NATO presence in Europe and then gobble up the Ukraine.

That may or may not be accomplished by a full-scale military invasion. There will be no need: left without NATO support, the Ukraine will have to do Putin’s bidding anyway.

No doubt another local conflict will happen, just to reassure the Russians that there’s still muscle left in that famously bare torso. But a full-blown war would result in tens of thousands of coffins flying back to Russia.

Putin’s goebbelses scream through every available channel that the Russians and Ukrainians are “the same people”, sort of like the 1939 Germans living in Germany proper and in Sudetenland. However, Ukrainians, even the Russophone ones, don’t share that view widely.

By and large they hate the Russians, and not without reason. Under the Soviets they were oppressed both physically and culturally.

In the early thirties millions of them were deliberately and didactically starved to death by the empire whose demise Putin sees as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”. And their own language and culture were stamped into the dirt even more than in some other Soviet republics.

Ukrainians will fight – they are already fighting. They know they can’t beat Putin’s troops in pitched battle, but they also know they can kill a lot of Russians in guerrilla warfare.

They did just that throughout the fifties, when UPA partisans, inspired by Stepan Bandera and organised by Roman Shukhevych, took to the forests and killed thousands of Russians and their local quislings. Today they are better equipped to inflict a much heavier damage, and the Russians know this.

However, Russian leaders have never been overburdened with concerns about Russian casualties. It’s conceivable that Putin will use NATO’s predictable refusal to surrender as a pretext for an escalating invasion – even if that means severing all links with the West.

I’d be curious to know what’s happening to the trillions in Russian assets held in the West. If they are staying put, it’s unlikely that the kleptofascists will push all their chips in, risking the impounding of their purloined wealth. However, if the money is being rapidly routed into assorted havens beyond NATO’s reach, the countdown for war is ticking away.

One way or another, now is the time the West must deliver a show of resolve and strength. This should be informed by comparisons not with Yalta, but with Munich, and with “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”.

If we are ever able to learn any lessons from even recent history (which I doubt), then we should know that appeasement only whets the appetite of evil regimes. And Putin’s is as evil as they come.

Normal life, as seen today

Sometimes the best thing about a book or an article is the title.

Now let’s see some tattoos and pole dancing

Just look at Thomas Wolfe’s forgettable novels bearing unforgettable titles: Look Homeward, Angel, You Can’t Go Home Again, From Death to Morning – don’t bother reading Page 2.

Today’s Mail serves a similar dichotomy in an article. Its title is so replete with implications that even a long book wouldn’t be able to explore them exhaustively:

‘I’m not a little girl’: 22-year-old who is ‘stuck’ in the body of an eight-year-old struggles to live a normal adult life in new reality series that shows her pole dancing, drinking, and getting a tattoo

The story is about a new reality series I Am Shauna Rae. Its eponymous heroine suffered a rare form of brain cancer when she was six months old. Subsequent chemotherapy damaged her pituitary gland, stunting her growth and leaving her with the body of an eight-year-old for life.

Apparently, the documentary covers Shauna’s epic efforts to “live a normal adult life” while being everywhere taken for a child. Her love life, in particular, suffers greatly.

“My relationship status is single,” she says. “I attract creeps, assholes, and idiots. It is scary to put myself out there, but you have to put some risk in to get happiness.”

A tragic story indeed. However, at the risk of coming across even more insensitive than usual, I’d suggest its implications are more tragic by half.

Shauna’s idea of normal life is evidently shared by The Mail – otherwise its editors would have worded the headline differently. Hence our most conservative paper believes that pole dancing, drunkenness and getting tattooed are perfectly normal activities for a 22-year-old girl.

I know I’m being repetitive, but I have to rephrase to make sure I grasp the idea. A normal young woman is a drunken, tattooed slut performing in strip joints. Yes, that has to be what the headline is saying.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in Georgian England anymore. Jane Austen certainly describes very different rituals of coming out for young girls reaching adulthood.

Fine, I understand, tempus bloody well fugit. You can’t go home again, according to Thomas Wolfe, and neither can you step in the same river twice, according to Heraclitus.

We can’t expect today’s young ladies to have either pride or prejudice, nor either sense or sensibility. They are taught the timeless significance of condoms when still in kindergarten and the ballistic advantages of various sexual positions in elementary school.

Thus enlightened, today’s Elinors, Elizabeths and Emmas can’t be expected to resemble their Jane Austen namesakes in appearance, dress and demeanour. Look at any gaggle of young girls in King’s Road and you won’t see any crinolines, blushes or demurely lowered eyelashes.

That’s fair enough. But I believe, nay hope, that there is a vast middle ground between such attributes and the normal young woman The Mail sees in its mind’s eye. And somewhere in that expanse one ought to be able to find untattooed, relatively sober young women who don’t twirl around poles naked.

Yes, I’m sure they exist, and they may even be in the majority. But that majority has to be dwindling under peer pressure and especially under the pressure applied by the mass media and the Internet. Political despotism is easier to resist than the tyranny of the zeitgeist.

Society has a way of communicating and enforcing its ideals, and most people aspire to cutting themselves down to the promoted stencil. If the whole tenor of modern life forced The Mail to say “No, Shauna, normal life isn’t about drinking, pole dancing and getting a tattoo”, then the civilisational ideal would be different, falling somewhere between crinolines and puking on the pavement.

We can talk about politics till the MPs come home or the red rosette turns blue (or, more likely, the other way around). But when all is said and done, the real catastrophe of modernity isn’t political. It’s aesthetic.

When ugliness becomes the new beauty, and deviance the new normality, you know it’s the end of the world. Every telltale sign has been posted.

And Shauna? I’m really sorry about her ordeal. But not only hers.

Russia convicted of another murder

Actually convicted for the murder of the political émigré Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin was a professional FSB hitman, Col. Vadim Krasikov. But everyone knows who sent him out.

What does a young girl understand that old politicians don’t?

The victim had the audacity of having fought against the Russians in the same Chechen war that brought Putin to power in 2000. He then sought asylum in Germany, which lengthy process was interrupted by Krasikov in 2019.

The good colonel cycled in behind Khangoshvili in the Tiergarten park and shot him three times with a silenced Glock 26. The park sits smack in the centre of Berlin, and it was crowded on that sunny day.

The episode makes one wonder how good our cyclist was at his job. He managed to get the first part right, fulfilling his murderous mission. But the second part, not getting caught, was an abject failure. Many strollers saw the colonel removing his wig and then trying to drown his weapon and bicycle in the pond.

Krasikov was arrested soon thereafter, and the Russians tried to claim he was a lone operator who simply disliked the exile. However, his access to silenced weapons and false documents was a dead giveaway.

The judges had no hesitation putting the blame at the Kremlin’s doorstep. “The crime was meticulously prepared by agents stationed in Berlin,” said the presiding judge, sentencing the murderer to life without parole. Foreign minister Annalena Baerbock agreed, adding that the murder constituted a “grave violation of Germany’s sovereignty.”

She then announced the expulsion of two Russian diplomats, on top of the two expelled for the same reason earlier. Russia described the gesture as “unfriendly”, while Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, found Miss Baerbock’s statement “unfeminine”.

Undeterred by that accusation, Miss Baerbock continued to act in a decidedly butch manner. “It’s very clear that actions such as the Tiergarten murder seriously strain our relationship,” she said. “The German government will do everything that is necessary to defend people’s safety in our country and respect for our legal order.”

No seat on the Gazprom board for her then. She should take her cue from Schroeder – even when he was chancellor, he never forgot which side his bread was buttered. And now he is monetising that dairy product to the tune of millions of dollars (or billions of roubles, if you’d rather).

The upshot is that Putin is making it increasingly harder for Western officials to love him, much as they desperately want to do so.

Just when they ‘push the reset button’, ‘understand Russia’s concerns’, ‘seek a meaningful dialogue’ or call for ‘pragmatism’ (all euphemisms for appeasement), he has somebody else whacked in the West.

Give credit to Vlad: he keeps his promises. On his inauguration, he promised to pursue his enemies to the ends of the earth and “whack them” wherever they hide, even “in the shithouse”. Tiergarten is a much less malodorous venue for such fun and games, and I’m sure this memory will warm Col. Krasikov’s cockles in prison.

Western leaders, on the other hand, will continue to bewail Col. Putin’s tendency of throwing an uncooperative monkey wrench into the works of appeasement. Their friend Vlad doesn’t seem to be able to get his head around their problem.

The problem is dire: unlike Vlad and his ministers, Western politicians are actually elected. Since stuffing ballot boxes isn’t a popular option in their countries, they have to be liked by the people. If they aren’t, they won’t be re-elected, and there go their chances for lucrative post-political sinecures.

And people don’t like it when agents of a foreign power sneak into their countries and whack Putin’s enemies or blow up ammunition depots, as the Russians did in the Czech Republic in 2014. Czech president Zeman is Putin’s man root and branch, but even he had to respond with some anti-Kremlin measures.

Whacking people in Britain, the Russians often rely on more exotic weapons than Glocks or dynamite. Just look at Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned in the middle of London with polonium. Tony Blair, PM at the time, was trying to be Putin’s friend – and look what happened. There went some of the publicly expressed empathy (although not for long, it has to be said).

Then a few years later a British court passed a verdict directly inculpating the Kremlin, much to the chagrin of PM Mrs May. She did try to hush up the investigation, but that cat refused to stay in the bag.

And speaking of exotic weapons, another Russian exile, Alexander Perepelichny, was poisoned with gelsemium, an extract of a plant the Chinese have been using to that end for millennia. That happened in 2012, on Dave Cameron’s watch.

Despite his best efforts, and even though some housetrained doctors hastily declared suicide, doubts soon appeared – which was bound to undermine HMG’s efforts to mandate empathy and pragmatism. Subsequently those CIA spoilsports informed MI6 that the businessman was “probably killed on direct orders from Putin or those close to him.”

Suicide was also the hasty verdict when another businessman, Boris Berezovsky, was found garrotted in his Weybridge bathroom in 2013. In 2015, after his former partner Nikolai Glushkov was strangled with a dog lead in New Malden, most experts realised that perhaps Berezovsky too had received similar help along the way.

In 2015 the Russians field-tested a new poison, appropriately called novichok (newcomer), in Sofia. On the receiving end was the arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, who was supplying weapons to the Ukraine. Gebrev survived, but novichok showed promise.

In 2018 it was used to poison the Skripals in Salisbury, who also survived, miraculously. One local resident wasn’t so lucky: Dawn Sturgess became collateral damage. That was another nail in Mrs May’s political coffin, and just to think she was so good to Vlad.

You might say that Western politicians act out of pragmatic considerations, not their love of the KGB colonel in the Kremlin. That line was exposed yesterday by Daria Navalny (photo above), the daughter of Alexei, himself a novichok patient.

Yesterday she accepted the EU’s top human rights prize on his behalf. The prize is named after Andrey Sakharov, and Daria minced no words: “Andrey Sakharov was one of the least pragmatic people,” she said.

“I don’t understand why those who in his name clamour for pragmatic relations with dictators can’t open history books. That would be a most pragmatic step.

“And then they’d find that appeasing dictators and tyrants has never worked even once.

“God knows how many people have tried to convince themselves that a madman hanging on to power with all his might will behave honourably in response to overtures. That will never happen.

“The very nature of authoritarian power demands upping the stakes, aggression and a search for new enemies.”

Hear, hear.

Between civic duty and snitching

If you found out that someone you know is hatching up a terrorist plot, would you inform the police? Of course you would. Any decent person would consider it his civic duty to do so.

Yet in late 1880 Dostoyevsky asked his publisher Suvorin the same question, only to receive a different reply. Both men were conservative monarchists, and that was the height of People’s Will terrorism.

An open season on government officials had been declared; many had been murdered. The ‘Liberator’ tsar Alexander II had been targeted for several assassination attempts. In a couple of months the last one would succeed.

Nevertheless, two conservative Christians, one of whom had nailed just such criminals to the wall in his prophetic novel The Possessed, said they’d be unable to denounce the evildoers. For one thing, they agreed that the liberal intelligentsia, which was to say intelligentsia, would unleash such a storm of abuse that they wouldn’t be able even to stay in Russia, never mind in their professions.

And then they both felt that denouncing people to the police for any reason was morally wrong. Somehow… Yes, they knew that feeling was irrational, but still… informing wasn’t quite the done thing.

The writing was on the wall. If even people like Dostoyevsky and Suvorin were for all intents and purposes ready to act as passive accomplices to crazed bomb-throwers, society in Russia was thoroughly corrupt and irreversibly doomed. Civic virtues had disintegrated, and society no longer lived according to any traditional morality. Leftie hatred had ousted Christian love.

Some 40 years later the Russians, including the intelligentsia, no longer had any compunctions against denouncing tens of millions of people to the CheKa for any reason or none. It took the Bolsheviks just a couple of years to corrupt society into extinction, and the Russians were busily snitching on one another.

Telling a political joke, not standing up when Stalin’s name was mentioned, praising anything Western – any such indiscretion painted a target on the perpetrator’s back. And even regular everyday squabbles were resolved in a similar fashion.

Comrade Ivanov would find out that his wife was sleeping with Comrade Petrov. Out would come pen and paper, and Comrade Ivanov would write: “As a loyal communist, I consider it my duty to report that Comrade Petrov has said…” Two days after the letter was posted, Comrade Petrov would disappear, never to be seen again. Job done.

This newly found appetite for denunciations was never sated. The other day I saw an interview with a former KGB officer who was asked how he and his colleagues recruited informers.

“Recruited? Are you joking?” He was genuinely surprised. “We’d recruit the few people who regularly travelled abroad. Other than that, people came to us. We didn’t have enough manpower to wade through the millions of voluntary denunciations inundating Lubyanka. Why on earth would we have to recruit?”

He was slightly disingenuous – they did recruit –  but you get the general point. Millions of Soviet citizens were murdering one another with pen and paper.

There we have it: two extremes in the same country half a century apart. At one end is a society with warped morality; at the other, a society with no morality at all.

First, there were good people who wouldn’t denounce even terrorists. Then, they were replaced by scum who would denounce their own families (google Pavlik Morozov when you get the chance).

Now, using Russia as a trampoline, let’s vault into Britain, circa 2021. We’ve already agreed that we’d have no problem reporting potential terrorists, the kind of chaps who blow up buses, shoot up public gatherings or drive SUVs through crowds. In that sense, our society is more morally robust than Russia, circa 1880.

However, it’s my conviction that we are being pushed towards another extreme, with the ‘liberal establishment’, which is to say the powers that be, pushing our society towards the abyss of mass denunciations.

People are encouraged, tacitly or explicitly, to snitch not only on drug dealers, but also on lockdown breakers (in 2020 the police received 195,000 such denunciations), tax evaders (or even avoiders), mask objectors, global warming deniers, anyone uttering what’s coyly called ‘the n-word’ or some such – and so on, ad nauseam.

Students report on their professors, pupils on their teachers, employees on employers, neighbours on neighbours, and they all feel self-righteously vindictive. They pat themselves on the back like contortionists for responding to the clarion call of zeitgeist, so loud that it drowns out all moral sense.

So far the harm done to those denounced isn’t comparable to Russia’s Gulag and mass executions. At worst the victims lose their jobs, not their lives. A judge may give them a stern warning, but not a tenner in prison. But the moral harm done to society is frighteningly similar.

Any good society encourages the good side of human nature; any bad one, the rotten side. And when the rot reaches a certain critical mass, society explodes into a mass of anomic, deracinated individuals whose moral compass has gone haywire.

Take this from someone who has experienced such a society: you won’t like it. But at least I had somewhere to escape to. If the West turns into a Soviet Union, no haven will exist. It’ll be like Lord of the Flies: savage children run the roost, a pig’s head on a totem pole, and there are no moral rules.

Now comes the quintessential British question: What are we going to do about it? In this case, there are things we can do — or die trying.

We must fight modern perversions every step of the way. There are no small things, for many small things can come together to create a huge disaster. For a start, we should all refuse to submit to perverse diktats of modernity, starting with those on woke vocabulary and grammar.

We must join forces to resist any new morality because there is no such thing. New morality is old evil, to be rejected out of hand. And real morality is as unequivocal on denouncing terrorists as on refusing to denounce someone who insists that only two sexes exist.

Active resistance is a must: we should respond to PC hectoring with strong words and even threats of violence. And we should never report, say, a chap trying to keep more of his money out of the state’s sticky palms. Now, reporting a terrorist is a whole different story.

We must keep our marbles

Unlike George Clooney, who also wants to see the Elgin Marbles back at the Pantheon, his colleague Stephen Fry correctly identifies their original site as the Parthenon, not the Pantheon.

That’s what expensive British education provides. Go through a good public school followed by Cambridge, and you’ll never confuse Parthenon with Pantheon, nor either of them with the Pink Panther.

Yet Stephen echoes George in insisting that the Marbles should be repatriated. “It would be a classy thing,” he says, “and Britain hasn’t done a classy thing internationally for some time.”

And there I was, singing the praises of British private education. “Classy” isn’t classy, Stephen. Like ‘posh’, ‘toilet’ and ‘serviette’, it’s not a word that ever crosses the lips of cultured Britons.

Still, I’m glad that after all those nervous breakdowns, bouts of manic depression (so self-described) and suicide attempts, Stephen is still lucid enough to offer a solution to the problem that really doesn’t exist.

The Elgin Marbles should return to Athens, “where they belong”. That much is clear, at least to Stephen and George.

But the six million visitors who enjoy the sculptures at the British Museum every year needn’t be deprived. They could be treated to a computer-generated virtual reality show featuring the Marbles.

That, to Stephen, would be a more than sufficient substitute. Athenians, meanwhile, will be enjoying the sight of those sculptures in situ.

Stephen has a warm spot for Greece in general. In fact, it’s because of his “fundamentally Hellenic outlook” that he is an atheist who “can’t believe in God”. One detects a gap in his education there.

For the “Hellenic outlook” certainly wasn’t atheistic. I shan’t detain either you or Stephen by providing a treatise on the religiosity of, say, Plato and Aristotle, other than saying that it was profound, devout and even proto-monotheistic.

Perhaps what formed Stephen’s outlook is the more frivolous, if oft-exaggerated, aspect of the Hellenic civilisation. Be that as it may, the Marbles belong in Athens, not London, as far as he is concerned. But don’t fret: London will be treated to a virtual “Parthenon experience”.

Stephen graciously acknowledges that “we’ve looked after” the Marbles, but that’s a misleading understatement. But for Lord Elgin, they wouldn’t exist.

That British envoy to the Ottoman Empire, to which Greece then belonged, noticed some of the sculptures were missing. The Turks, who didn’t share Stephen Fry’s Hellenic outlook, were burning them to obtain lime for construction purposes.

Lord Elgin immediately bought the Marbles and, between 1801 and 1812, had them moved to London. That cost him £70,000, a huge sum at a time when £500 a year was a solid upper-middle-class income. That outlay was only partly offset when Elgin sold the Marbles to the British Museum, having refused, for patriotic reasons, to sell them to Napoleon for a larger amount.  

Hence our ownership of the Marbles is indisputable on any grounds, legal, moral and historical. The Greeks’ desire to get them back is understandable, but then so is my desire to go out with every Bond girl of recent vintage or, in the case of Halle Berry, not so recent.

However, my futile yearnings aren’t encouraged, but the Greeks’ craving for that particular baklava in the sky is. It so happens that most encouragers tend to fall on the left of the political divide, where Britain is seen as an historical villain and Greece as a victim.

The gesture that Stephen Fry demands Britain make would be not so much “classy” as culturally self-destructive. And Britain is expected to be more self-abnegating than any other country.

Many of them own works of art to which their title is a great deal less ironclad than Britain’s to the Elgin Marbles. Russia, for example, plundered 2.5 million art objects from Germany at the end of the Second World War.

Only a small part of them have ever been returned. The rest are either on display or in the reserve collections of Russia’s top museums. And, unlike Lord Elgin, they never paid for them. Nor, incidentally, do they take an equally good care of those masterpieces, but that’s a subject for another day.

Napoleon too looted art on an epic scale. As a result, many museums in Europe display art whose provenance wouldn’t pass muster in any court of law. The Royal Museum in Brussels, for example, would be almost stripped bare if the likes of George and Stephen demanded restitution with the same thunderous vigour.

Also, many great museums of Europe and America have large collections of African art. How many of those works were actually bought, as opposed to looted? In round numbers, not a hell of a lot.

Historical, especially cultural, revisionism is an entertaining game to play, but it shouldn’t be played with the Elgin Marbles. We paid for them, we saved them – they are ours. Repatriating them would be insane.

Let’s not vaxx indignant

The debt this article owes to the anti-vaxxers is hereby gratefully acknowledged. I’m talking about all those anarchists whose knees jerk before their minds engage.

No one minded then

Here the difference between conservatives and anarchists is worth mentioning. A conservative resents the state claiming inordinate power. An anarchist resents the state claiming any power.

For an anarchist any state is evil by definition. A conservative, on the other hand, recognises that, though some states are evil and all can perpetrate the odd wicked deed, the state isn’t evil in itself.

Compared to the chaotic existence Hobbes described as homo homine lupus est, something that would inevitably result from anarchism if it were allowed to triumph, the state – almost any state – is, relatively speaking, a force for good. For example, the excesses of even the ghastly state of Saddam Hussein weren’t as bad as the carnage that followed its demise.

But how much state power is too much? At what point does the state overstep the line separating its legitimate remit from tyranny? An exhaustive answer to that question, if it’s at all possible, would require more space than this format allows.

However, most people would identify providing protection as a legitimate function of a legitimate state (nothing I say applies to illegitimate ones, whose name is legion). Yes, but what kind of protection?

Against enemies, foreign and domestic? Definitely. Against crime? Of course. Not only is such protection essential, but it’s the kind that only the state can, or rather should, provide.

Private armies, buccaneering navies or people’s militias might have had a role to play in times olden, but today they would be counterproductive in any other than a strictly auxiliary capacity. At best. At worst they could turn into murderous, marauding bands.

In other words, the state is there to protect its people in areas where they can’t protect themselves. But there is an important proviso.

When the state protects people from others, it stays on brief. When the state tries to protect people from themselves, it’s teetering on the edge of tyranny.

That’s why I resent state diktats on how much I should weigh, what I should eat, how much I should drink or what safety devices I should have in my car. “What makes this your business, minister?” are the words that always cross my mind whenever yet another official issues yet another edict.

I’m not buying the argument ab NHS, to the effect that my getting hurt in an accident by not wearing a seatbelt would put a heavier burden on the shoulder of that colossus, thereby harming society. That, to me, is an argument not for seatbelts but against socialised medicine.

With some reservations, it’s not the state’s remit to prevent individuals from harming themselves. When they harm others, that’s a different matter. That’s where the state’s bossiness ends and its legitimate duty of providing protection begins.

Now the Covid pandemic exists, and it kills people. Compared with what we’d expect in a non-pandemic period, there were 97,981 excess deaths in England and Wales between January 2020 and July 2021.

That the rate of spread is inversely proportional to the rate of vaccination is observable throughout the world. The most cautious study I’ve seen estimates that vaccinated people are 63 per cent less likely to infect others.

At the same time, the incidence of adverse reactions to vaccines is negligible, if not nonexistent. So on what grounds can someone refuse to be vaccinated?

There exists a hard core of superstitious haters of vaccines in general, not just anti-Covid ones. This group is small in Britain, but it’s quite large in France and especially in Germany. Parents there routinely refuse to have their children vaccinated against anything.

Those naysayers ought to spend five minutes looking at the rates of infant mortality and, say, polio, before and after vaccines were invented. If they still remain anti-vaxxers after that effort, one wonders which organ in their body they use for thinking.

When it comes to Covid specifically, many people feel the government has overreacted and curtailed our freedom excessively and unnecessarily. They may well be right to some extent, although I’d hate to see the death rate double as a bow towards libertarian rectitude.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with the government claiming emergency powers at a cost to some liberties when an emergency does exist. For example, ordering a blackout in wartime infringes on liberty, but during the Blitz not many Britons argued against that measure on those grounds.

They understood that one person refusing to comply with the blackout order could expose his whole building to a Luftwaffe blockbuster. By being a stickler for individual liberty he could effectively kill many people collectively.

My problems start when the state doesn’t relinquish such powers after the emergency no longer exists. If it doesn’t, which is often the case, then all decent people, which is to say conservatives, should rise in revolt – but that’s a separate subject.

If the cited study is to be believed, then an anti-vaxxer is a typological equivalent of an anti-blackouter of 80 years ago. He endangers not only himself, which would be his privilege, but also others, which shouldn’t be allowed.

If he still persists, I see no problem with the government stepping in and forcing him to comply. In doing so, the state isn’t being tyrannical but responsible.

And its principal, some will say only, responsibility is protecting its citizens from others: Luftwaffe bombers, suicide murderers, criminals of any kind – and idiots who don’t mind exposing others to mortal danger for the sake of upholding their misconstrued rights.

Ignorance of the law

Please help me with something I can’t understand. Did we actually have Brexit?

Don’t answer, I know we did. I’m just unsure why.

I thought the whole idea was to regain full sovereignty, to be governed by the laws passed by our own ancient parliament, not by some foreign body with no historical claim to legitimacy. Are you with me so far?

Then pray explain what on earth Justice Secretary Dominic Raab means by saying that he wants to overhaul the Human Rights Act, preventing our institutions from being “dictated to” by Strasbourg judges. You mean they can still do that, two years after Brexit ‘got done’?

Having made that audacious statement, Mr Raab hastened to settle the public’s jangling nerves. Don’t think for a second we’ll derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights, he quelled our fears. God forbid.

“You couldn’t overturn a Strasbourg ruling,” a ‘source’ explained, “but you could decide how we interpret it.” Though unsure of who exactly the ‘you’ and ‘we’ were, I read on.

“We decide how best to change the law based on UK traditions and laws. We would decide how to comply with Strasbourg case law.”

By all means, do decide. But I can’t decide whether some of the leeway Mr Raab is seeking was something we already had even before Brexit. Surely we had some free hand in deciding “how to comply with the Strasbourg case law”? Provided we did comply?

Even if Brexit made our hand marginally freer, that mass wasn’t really worth the candle. The whole point of Brexit, as I understand (misunderstand?) it, was that we wouldn’t have to comply with European laws at all because they simply wouldn’t apply within the UK — the same way US or Indonesian laws don’t apply.

One can understand, at a stretch, the importance of a human rights act in the EU, some of whose members have a rather spotty legal history. Which spots were by no means erased during half a century of communist rule.

But England? What do Finns, Belgians and Bulgarians know about human rights that the English haven’t learned during a millennium of just governance?

I know I’m offering few solutions but asking many questions. But the next question actually contains a solution. Why is it so unthinkable that we should derogate from the ECHR? Yes, when operating on the continent, we should respect the laws of the land, such as they are.

Other than that, what part of the English Common Law doesn’t Mr Raab understand? And what part of Brexit? Obviously the most important part, some will say the only one.

And while we are on the subject of the English Common Law, a Telegraph article caught my eye. A judge found former Tory MP, Andrew Griffiths, guilty of raping Kate Griffiths, his former wife and his successor in the parliamentary seat.

The paper that used to be conservative but no longer is refers to Mrs Griffiths as ‘Ms’ throughout. Again, being in a conciliatory mood, I can begin to understand the warped feminist thinking behind using this ugly coinage to describe a woman whose marital status is unclear.

But, though Kate divorced Andrew, she still kept his surname. That’s why anyone with any ear for language, and certainly a conservative, should call her Mrs, not Ms, Griffiths. But that’s beside the point.

The point is that the judge found Mr Griffiths guilty “on the balance of probabilities”. Since Mrs Griffiths hadn’t filed criminal charges, this was a civil case involving custody. And in the English Common Law this level of proof is sufficient – as opposed to criminal cases where guilt has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

So the letter of the law was kept intact. But what about the spirit?

We are told that rape, marital or otherwise, is the worst crime a woman can suffer. Worse than a severe beating, mutilation or even murder. If so, then why didn’t Mrs Griffiths file criminal charges? Surely she owed it to all those millions of rape victims who allegedly roam the streets of England while trying to cope with the lifelong trauma.

And if she didn’t file those charges, could it be that she… I don’t know how to say this without lightning smiting me from the sky… actually wasn’t raped? Even on the balance of probabilities?

After all, she was in bed with her ex-husband, which in my experience isn’t a normal practice among divorcees. Was she half-raped then, enough to tip the balance of probabilities, but not enough to call the cops?

I wonder what scales His Honour used to measure that balance. Probably not the scales of justice.

“The law is a ass,” said Dickens’s Mr Bumble. Presciently, I think.

Will he or won’t he?

People keep asking me whether Putin will attack the Ukraine, and I never say anything of substance in reply. There’s no correct answer to a wrong question.

What do you mean by the future tense? Russia launched an attack on her neighbour in 2014, and the war has raged unabated since then, killing 14,000 Ukrainians – and God knows how many Russians. (Only the deity is privy to the precise number. The Russians are always either lackadaisical about keeping such data or secretive about revealing them.)

The right question is whether or not Russia will escalate her war against the Ukraine, and there I can rely on the authority of a German chancellor to provide an answer.

No, not Scholz or Merkel. The chancellor in question is Bethmann Hollweg, who led the German government during the First World War.

On 30 July, 1914, Russia became the first major power to declare general mobilisation. In response, Bethmann Hollweg declared war on 1 August. When the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, demanded an explanation, the chancellor quoted his Chief of the General Staff, Moltke the Younger: “Mobilisation means war.”

This aphorism makes the question in the title even more irrelevant. Not only has Russia been waging war against the Ukraine for seven years, but Putin has already escalated it by deploying an invasion force on the country’s border.

Whether or not he’ll push the button for further escalation is an interesting tactical question but a moot strategic one. The West must respond with equal vigour in either case.

I don’t know whether the Russians will drive deeper into the Ukraine’s territory, as the Ukrainian and US intelligence suggests they will. I’m not sure even Putin himself knows.

If he can get the result he wants without a full-scale onslaught, he’ll stay put for the time being. If not, he may well pounce, the way Russia has been pouncing on her neighbours ever since she coalesced in the 16th century.

Just as consistently the world has played truant whenever history taught its lessons. That’s why it’s pointless talking about Munich, Chamberlain and peace in our time. Western democracies never learned that a stern early response is the only chance of preventing carnage. They do nothing until nothing is no longer a possible thing to do.

Meanwhile Western governments, along with Putin’s fans among the faschisoid faux-conservatives, put on empathetic faces and beg Putin not to kill any more people. The overall tenor is, “we understand your problems, but bloodshed isn’t a way of solving them”.

Exactly what problems are those? The problem of the USSR, whose collapse Putin describes as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” (greater than the two world wars, in other words)? The difficulties Putin faces in trying to restore the Soviet Union to its past grandeur? His fear of NATO’s expansion? His dire necessity of staying the alpha male in the eyes of his impoverished subjects?

Throughout their history the Russians have been bleating about being encircled by hostile nations wishing them ill. That paranoia has been used as a justification for Russia’s own aggressive behaviour, which often included attempts to bait adversaries into preemptive strikes.

For example, Russian historiography describes Napoleon’s 1812 invasion as perfidious and unprovoked. In fact, Russia had fought France in three prior wars as a member of hostile coalitions Alexander I had put together.

Even under his father, Paul I, the Russian general Suvorov had fought against Napoleon’s troops in Italy. What ensued in 1812 was a preemptive strike by Napoleon who felt he had no other choice.

The same happened in 1941. Stalin had built the largest and best-equipped army in the world, outnumbering the Nazis in personnel and especially in planes, tanks and artillery pieces. Having entered the war as Hitler’s ally in 1939, Stalin then deployed his hordes in two unmistakably offensive salients, Lvov and Białystok.

Hitler’s generals, aware of Stalin’s intentions, knew their only hope lay in blitzkrieg, striking at the bases of the two salients, cutting off and routing them pre-emptively. Both Hitler and his General Staff knew the danger of fighting a two-front war. However, they felt they had no choice: if Stalin’s juggernaut had been allowed to roll first, it would have been impossible to stop.

Russia’s unprecedented military build-up in the 1930s turned the whole country into a combination of boot camp, concentration camp and armament factory. This was accompanied by a propaganda offensive depicting the Soviet Union as a peaceful weakling threatened from all sides by ‘bourgeois’ enemies.

For the two years preceding the Nazi strike, such enemies were identified as Britain and France, whose ‘capitalist’ rulers were planning to conquer Russia. The propaganda was mainly used to rally the country’s own starving and enslaved population, although the Comintern’s spies and ‘useful idiots’ spread those lies throughout the West.

The present situation is eerily similar. Putin and his assorted goebbelses feign deep concern about NATO’s eastward expansion. That, they whinge, puts Russia in grave danger.

Perhaps it does at that, but not in the way the Russians claim. NATO was created in 1949 as a defensive bloc against Soviet aggression. It was an attempt to hold the line that separated Europe’s part already raped by the Soviets from the part they wished to rape in a similar fashion.

Never was any offensive purpose part of the NATO doctrine. From its very inception the bloc identified its strategic goal as merely containment.

It was true then and it remains true now. Former slave nations of the Soviet Union, each drowned in blood and starved by its erstwhile masters, took advantage of the first opportunity to break away and declare their independence.

Yet unlike the West those countries attended class when history was taught. They knew that what Russia relinquished she could later reclaim at some propitious moment. Hence they sought the protection of the West by joining either NATO or the EU or both.

They hoped that, should the Russians decide to remedy “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, Article 5 of NATO’s charter would keep them at bay. If any of them harboured any illusion that such protection was unnecessary, Russia disabused them of that notion by her aggression against Georgia in 2008 and the Ukraine in 2014.

NATO and the EU opened their doors, partly for ideological reasons but mainly for strategic ones. But, contrary to the lies spouted by Putin’s geobbelses, the strategy isn’t to use those countries as a beachhead from which the bloodthirsty West could attack Russia.

Anyone whose mind is in working order, and whose knee doesn’t jerk in Putin’s direction, should be able to appreciate the amount of brainwashing it takes for people to believe such malignant nonsense. Just paint a mental picture of Messrs Biden, Scholz, Johnson and Macron deciding to launch a massive offensive against Russia, which, as Putin never ceases to boast, is a nuclear power. The picture doesn’t quite add up, does it?

The danger NATO’s eastward expansion presents to Putin lies in making his expansionist plans harder to execute. Hence the rattling of Russia’s sabres at the border – indeed hence the non-stop war on the Ukraine Russia has been waging since 2014.

The present strategy may include further escalation or merely an attempt to blackmail the West into concessions first, submission second. My point is that it doesn’t really matter which. The response should be exactly the same in either case.

In his Skype chat with Putin, Biden stupidly ruled out any possibility of NATO’s military involvement. That option should have stayed on the table, even if everyone knew it was unrealistic. However, even a remote possibility of NATO’s direct action could have provided a sufficient deterrent.

Yet the stern economic response Biden threatened should come now, not when Putin’s armour drives at Kiev. The escalation is in the present tense, not the future. So should be the punishment.

Biden promised economic sanctions the likes of which Russia has never seen. The reports have been vague on specifics, making one suspect that the gaga president indeed talked in nebulous generalities. Yet specific measures that could make Putin see the error of his ways are essential.

Russia must be cut off from SWIFT, impoverishing her banks and making the ruble worthless outside the country. The assets that Russian officials, oligarchs and other gangsters keep in the West must be impounded and, if that fails to deter Putin, confiscated. A temporary embargo on Russian hydrocarbons must be introduced, with the threat of making it permanent.

All such sanctions are a whip dialectically linked with the carrot of future withdrawal if Russia’s behaviour improves. Yet I’m afraid the West’s response will amount to a slap on the wrist – at a time when only a bang on the head could possibly work.

Rue, Britannia

According to the newly appointed head of our armed forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the British military has a problem. Luckily, he knows exactly what it is.

Yes, but what about racial diversity, Sir Tony?

I thought I did too, but evidently I was wrong. As a rank amateur in matters martial, I focused on incidentals at the expense of the crux of the matter. For example, I noticed that HMG was treating the defence budget as a salami, to be sliced until nothing is left.

As a result, the numerical strength of our army currently stands at 75,000, compared to 250,000 in 1813. Yes, I know Britain was at war at the time, but then the country’s population was less than 30 per cent of what it is today.

Embarrassingly, the tests of our new battle tank had to be discontinued. Turns out it can’t travel safely at more than 20 mph, reverse over obstacles higher than eight inches or fire its cannon when moving. It also vibrates like a pneumatic drill, making it impossible for the crew to stay in for more than 90 minutes. Other than that, it’s just perfect.

In 2018, the army got the present of a new assault rifle, the SA80. Rather than being grateful, soldiers describe it as the worst rifle ever. The SA80 is like a weaponised civil servant, they say: “it doesn’t work, and it can’t be fired.”

Sir Tony’s previous bailiwick, the Royal Navy, can no longer fulfil its brief of ruling the waves. When it did, the rule of thumb was that it should outnumber the combined force of any two potential adversaries. Today it’s outnumbered even by the French navy, for the first time since Trafalgar, or Mers-el-Kébir if you’d rather.

After much hand-wringing we finally managed to commission our second aircraft carrier (the US has 11), only to find that, having failed to replace the Harrier, we had no planes to put on it. That rather defeats the purpose, this amateur would suggest.

So on and so forth, this story of woe can continue. Indeed, Sir Tony agrees that the state of our armed forces is “woeful”. But, being a high-ranking professional, my fellow Russian can put his finger right on the most salient issue. (Frankly, I don’t know if he is of Russian origin. His surname certainly is.)

In his first post-appointment speech, Sir Tony stated that the British military runs the “risk of looking ridiculous”. Why? Because of anything I’ve mentioned? No, don’t be silly.

Our military, explains Sir Tony, suffers from “the woefulness of too few women” – it doesn’t reflect “the diversity of our nation”. Actually this type of diversity, a more or less even split between men and women, isn’t unique to our nation, but no fighting force in the world reflects it faithfully. Still, “this [imbalance] affects our culture, our fighting power, our prowess.”

Anticipating likely sneers by the likes of me, Sir Tony denied he is woke. It’s not about “wokefulness” but “woefulness”, he explained. Or, put another way, the woefulness of wokefulness.

Now, an amateur in such matters I may be, but I have studied a small library of books on the theory and practice of warfare. And not a single one has ever suggested that a low number of female soldiers makes an army less powerful. In fact, many argued exactly the opposite.

This isn’t a debate I’m really qualified to join, although on general principle I can see how women can prove a distraction in the armed forces. They certainly distract me even in much less stressful situations and, unlike our soldiers, I’m not in the first, nor indeed second, flush of youth.

Studies have shown that male soldiers are more likely to slow their advance to help a wounded woman than a man. That’s partly because, if taken prisoner, a woman is practically guaranteed to suffer a fate worse than just the squalor of a POW camp.

Also, over a lifetime of intensive hands-on study, I’ve discovered that women are physiologically different from men, even though these findings now seem downright reactionary. Penelope, for example, needs my help to remove screw tops from bottles. She may be an exception, but surely women are much weaker than men on average.

Are they up to the rigours of service in modern armed forces? Israel, which arguably has the best army in the world, does conscript women, but then she is outnumbered more than 10 to one by those who publicly define their goal as “driving Israel into the sea”.

Yet even in that army, strapped for personnel though it is, 96 per cent of the women only serve in ‘combat-support’, not as frontline troops. But then I’m sure Sir Tony knows something about women’s hidden strengths that the Israeli generals don’t.

Sir Tony has correctly identified Russia as a “threat to our values and interests”. Yet to deter that threat Britain has so far been able to post fewer than 1,000 soldiers in Poland and the Baltics. They are supposed to act as a tripwire, except that it’s unclear what sort of action their certain death would trigger.

I don’t know how many of them are women, but in case of a Russian offensive their future looks gruesome. If you wonder how gruesome, read any book on the Soviet occupation of Germany, such as Antony Beevor’s Berlin: The Downfall 1945.

P.S. The Meteo Office believes the current storm may subside by Christmas. “So perhaps there is hope for a calmer end to the year.” Perhaps? Hope? One detects some uncertainty there. But then we know how hard it is to forecast weather a fortnight ahead. Centuries ahead is much easier.

Crime in the eye of the beholder

“Pestering women in street to be outlawed,” screamed a front-page headline in The Telegraph.

Criminals have always been with us

In response, my good friend, the Rev. Peter Mullen, wrote a witty letter to the editor, saying: “Quite right too. I’ve been too often the victim of these pestering women!”

Peter is right, unfortunately. Mordant laughter and fervent prayer are the only defences we have left against the massed offensive on our sanity. As Seneca put it presciently, “None of this can be helped, but all of it can be despised.”

Just to think that the great common law of England, the cornerstone of our civilisation, could produce such an ugly stillborn offspring. For this new law is not only subversive in content and intent, but also rotten as far as jurisprudence goes.

Those in the vanguard of modernity know that, if they want to conquer, they need to divide. The greatest fault they can turn into a fissure would split mankind right down the middle, by alienating the sexes.  

Some of those objectionable individuals may push in that direction with deliberate premeditation. Most don’t because they don’t have to: neither do dogs need to make a conscious decision to chase cats, nor cats to run away from dogs or else try to scratch their eyes out. Such actions are coded in their DNA.

That’s why I’ve stopped wondering if those pursuing such evil ends do so wittingly or unwittingly. It simply doesn’t matter. They’ve been doing rather well though.

It’s not just homosexuals, but also homosexuality that enjoys equal rights. The institution of marriage has been severely compromised by legalised homonuptials. A man can declare himself a woman and vice versa on a mere say-so (thus women’s dressing rooms, lavatories and prisons have been penetrated by burly males seeking to do the man thing). A husband raising even his voice, not his hand, against his wife may get a visit from the boys in blue. Complimenting a female colleague on her appearance may lead the offender to industrial tribunal; kissing a woman without explicit permission, to prison.

The definition of rape has been broadened to include any intercourse where a man fails to obtain an unequivocally stated prior consent, ideally in a notarised letter of intent. A woman undressing and indulging in inventive foreplay before actual intercourse can land a man in prison if he fails to stop in mid-stroke.

My friends who teach at universities know they can’t stay alone in the room with a female student without risking a spurious charge of rape. For the same reason, male doctors have to have a nurse present when examining a woman patient.

Put all such outrages together, add those I’ve left out, and the subversive intent begins to shine through. Rather than regarding themselves as complementary, the sexes increasingly look at each other with suspicion, often antipathy. All the normal interplay between them has been curtailed if not downright destroyed.

The new law dovetails with this general tendency nicely. But this law isn’t just subversive. It’s bad.

Good proscriptive laws define the proscribed offences tightly. Bad ones are open-ended, potentially to criminalise greater and greater swathes of humanity. The great legal minds of modernity, such as Lenin, understood this perfectly.

In that spirit, he contemplated the proposed new article prescribing the death penalty for anyone “complicit in any conspiracy to overthrow the Soviet republic”. Lenin knew in his bone marrow that something was missing.

He took his trusted blue pencil out and, after the word ‘complicit’, added “or capable of being complicit”. He looked at his handiwork and knew it was good. So edited, the new article could get every Soviet citizen shot.

This seems to be the model our jurists see as legal perfection. For it’s impossible to define precisely exactly what constitutes ‘pestering’. Obviously, grabbing the more jutting attractions of a strange woman on a bus would qualify. But such behaviour is already covered by existing laws, with no help necessary, thank you very much.

One suspects that pestering will be defined the same way as racial insults are: anything the putative victim sees as such.

Suppose for the sake of argument that a man tries to pick up a pretty girl in the street. This supposition is easy for me to make because I had committed that crime hundreds of times (with a lamentable lack of success) by the time I left my teens.

Let’s imagine he says: “Excuse me for bothering you, but I sense we have much in common. Would you like to have a drink with me one evening?” Is that pestering? Yes? No? Perhaps not yet.

But what if she says no and he rephrases his proposition, committing the well-known fallacy of doing the same thing, but expecting a different result. His new phrasing is as polite as the first time around, so is that pestering?

You see what I’m driving at? The only tight definition of pestering has to be in the eye of the beholder. Some girls say no the first time of asking, but yes after a repetition or two. Some will say no even after multiple repetitions, but still like having been asked. Others will be mortally insulted at ‘Excuse me’, still others at merely an appreciative glance.

The potential for abuse of justice is vast, as it is with every bad law, and it hurts me to think that the great English common law has had to come to this.

So yes, Peter, we can laugh. What the hell else can we do? After all, grown men don’t cry.