Russian President Vladimir Putin | MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / K

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What we have been seeing over the past few weeks on the borders of Ukraine has been the anger of the Russian bear.

It may or may not go down the terrible path of death and destruction of which it is clearly capable – but Vladimir Putin may feel he has to leave the stage with some military gain to show that he means what he says and wasn’t just bluffing. He may also feel that he has to do something to make the planning and cost of the long-drawn-out operation seem worthwhile to the Russian people.

The truth, however, is that he has already won without firing a shot, which is why I think a full-scale invasion is unlikely. He has shown clearly that he can take Ukraine at any time – destroying the country and causing thousands of deaths – and all the West could do is impose sanctions that wouldn’t worry him much and would certainly not deter him. That is the point he wanted to make.

When I say that he could easily “take” Ukraine, I mean that the number of troops, tanks, planes, mobile missile carriers and battleships already in place would ensure the success of an initial assault, probably even resulting in the capture of key ports like Odessa and quite possibly taking over the capital, Kyiv, and the seat of government.

But taking and holding the country are not the same thing. Putin must be aware that Ukraine, which in 2014 had an army of 5,000, now has 250,000 combat-ready troops, plus local militias. An invasion would be followed by a prolonged civil war, involving thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of deaths. He would be an international pariah, whereas now he sits in the Kremlin manipulating the situation and bringing world leaders to his door.

Russia has record foreign exchange reserves of $635bn, but funding a long war would still put strains on his economy and on the living standards of his people. It cost Russia a colossal amount of money to develop Crimea after its annexation. He would also risk great unpopularity if Russian blood was spilled in large quantities.

For once, Joe Biden made a well-judged speech, alluding to the historic family, cultural and political ties between Russia and Ukraine. These, too, would act as a restraint on Putin if he really believes, as he has written, that the two countries are really one. There would be no point in destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure, then having to start building it all up again.

This crisis has been on the cards ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the determination of Nato and the European Union to expand their reach as far east as possible. It was understandable that countries held in thrall for half a century by Moscow would seek protection from the West.

But Russia has a long historic memory of coming under attack and the closer the Nato-backed countries got to its borders the less secure it felt. Ukraine would be a step too far for Nato, the fear of which has aroused the anger of the Russian bear.

Ukraine should not be a member of Nato. So much seems obvious if Russia’s sense of insecurity is taken into account. Yet Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, his rather dim and self-regarding Foreign Minister, are going around the world repeating the line that Ukraine, as a sovereign and independent country, has every right to join Nato. This is dangerous nonsense.

Europe has been proudly declaring that it is united on this issue. It is united in wanting Putin to withdraw the threat of invasion, but it is far from united in its approach to Russia. The French and Germans support the Minsk Accords, which would allow the many Russian nationals living in Ukraine to be more directly involved in making Ukrainian policy, presumably under Putin’s direction. This is hugely unpopular with the Ukrainians and a dangerous path to follow.

Jaw-jaw is better than war-war, so let us hope that we can now move on to a diplomatic stage. But it would be foolish for the West to think that it can impose its will on Putin. The tensions of recent weeks have surely made that abundantly clear.

Death of a star writer

Sad to learn that P.J.O’Rourke, the funniest and shrewdest of commentators, has died at the age of 74 – though, as he said himself, it’s a miracle he lived that long on his habitual diet of wine, whisky and cigars.

Asked why he wrote, he said: “I was curious about the trouble man causes himself. I wanted to know why life, which ought to be an only moderately miserable thing, is such a frightful, disgusting, horrid thing for so many people in so many places.”

He hated being thought serious: “There are no earnest messages here. Earnestness is just stupidity sent to college. Half the world’s suffering is caused by earnest messages. No matter how serious the events I’ve witnessed, I’ve never noticed that being serious about them did anything to improve the fate of the people involved.”

But he was serious enough when he wrote this: “Wherever there’s injustice, oppression and suffering, America will turn up six months late and bomb the country next to where it is happening.”

I only met him once, in the bar of the Groucho Club in London, where he and Christopher Hitchens were engaged in a boozy debate which made me laugh so much I can’t remember what they were arguing about. Now the world has lost these talented scribes, both of whom had the rare gift of being witty and wise at the same time.

Hurricane over Sheffield

Strange that Dudley in the west Midlands should been hit by a freak storm in the week that saw the 60th anniversary of the great Sheffield hurricane, which left the city like a war zone and killed four people. I was woken up with a shock when it blew out the little attic window in my digs.

Winds in the Sheffield storm, like Dudley’s, reached close to 100mph, yet the neighbouring towns of Doncaster and Barnsley didn’t feel a thing.

I was a trainee journalist on the Sheffield Telegraph and when I turned up for work the next morning I was sent out into the storm-hit city with a photographer to write an essay which appeared under the headline “The Death of the Trees.” Thousands of them had been blown down.

In the same paper there were two little news stories. One was about a woman who said her roof had been blown off while she was in bed. The other, on another page, was about a woman who had been charged 40 shillings for being a prostitute. They had the same name and address.