A view shows destroyed Russian Army multiple rocket launchers in Kharkiv | MAKSIM LEVIN


As the bombs landed on Ukraine and the country came under fierce attack from all sides, one had to conclude that all the pre-war diplomacy – the solemn speeches of Joe Biden, the empty-sounding threats of Johnson and the ineffable Truss, the visits of Macron and Scholz and the US Secretary of State, were a waste of time. Putin had done what he always intended to do and, as I forecast, sanctions did not deter him at all.

Ukraine was not just a geographical embarrassment to Putin, even when attempts to place his next-door neighbour under a Nato flag brought out the anger of the Russian bear. What really irked him – and he ultimately couldn’t allow – was that Ukraine was a democratic country, with an elected leader, albeit a former comedian, on his doorstep.

Putin had built up a massive war chest through sales of gas and oil that made him immune to the pleas of Western leaders and to their threats of sanctions, which have so far emerged as even weaker than expected. The only credible threat is the suspension by Germany of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – and suspension is less than cancellation.

It is annoying that Donald Trump is hailing Putin as a genius, a cleverer operator than the allies, and implying that Putin would not have attacked Ukraine if he had still been US President. The saddest thing is that he may be right.

The West’s failures, culminating in the current war, go back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Instead of seeing this as a chance for closer détente with Russia, even thinking about a Marshall Plan, attempting to make Russia an ally and possibly even a friend, the West treated Russia as still the same old enemy and global threat.

Nato and the European Union lost no time in spreading east to protect the former Soviet satellites and to build up what looked to Russia like a military encirclement.

One is inclined to forget that the United States, even after withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, has 800 overseas military bases around the word, compared with about 30 from Russia and China. Viewed from Moscow and Beijing, the US does not look so benign.
I don’t believe Liz Truss when she says Putin’s mission is to recreate the old Soviet Union. What he cares about is Russia and what he wants is to strengthen Russia’s defences against Nato encroachment.

Where that could lead is anybody’s guess. But it is not a happy prospect.

Spies in open court

Praise to Mr Justice Chamberlain for denying the request from the Attorney-General, Suella Braverman, to have secret court proceedings over her attempt to ban a BBC programme about an overseas British spy.

She argues that revealing the spy’s name and activities would cause serious damage to national security. The BBC will argue that the information is of “of compelling importance” and the public are entitled to hear it. Next week, on March 1 and 2 the judge will hear the secret information without the presence of the BBC lawyers, but he is committed to ensuring that the “open” proceedings that follow are just that.

As I have said before, I am reminded of the Spycatcher case of the 1980s, when the Thatcher government spent million of pounds trying to stop the memoirs of an MI5 officer being published. I was heavily involved in that case, spending two days in the witness box in the High Court.

The MI5 officer, Peter Wright, had claimed, among other things, that the security services had tried to get rid of Harold Wilson, when he was Prime Minister, because he was a Russian spy. A Soviet defector had made that claim, but the security services absolved Wilson, saying he may have been approached by the KGB, but had turned them down.

My senior MI5 source told me they were not concerned about Wilson, but worried about some of the businessmen that Lady Falkender, his closest assistant, introduced to him to, since some of them had strong Russian connections.

In the course of the trial I learned that the word “wrongdoing” was very important. If someone was shown to have committed wrongdoing, then security protection fell away. I hope the BBC lawyers have noted that.

From rostrum to joy-stick

One can imagine that a busy, hard-travelling orchestral conductor might want a break sometimes from his peripatetic life. But becoming an airline, pilot, with full training and qualifications over six years, as Daniel Harding has done with Air France, seems quite amazing.

Aged 46, he has worked with Simon Rattle at the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and at La Scala. He plans to continue his work with the Swedish Radio Symphy Orchestra, whichhehas done for 15 years.
All one can say is:Happy Landings!

Eddie runs out of excuses

Finally, Eddie Jones, the England coach, can put out his strongest team against Wales on Saturday, The return of the beefy Manu Tuilagi in the centre, of his stand-by captain Courtney Lawes in the back row and the availability of Joe Launchbury as lock, give the squad a more substantial look.T hey are at full strength while Wales still have a casualty room of injured players.

England were unlucky to lose to Scotland. Cowan-Dickie’s brainless throw forward into touch deserved a yellow card, but not a penalty try. The loss deprived England of any chance of the Triple Crown or a Grand Slam.

All they can hope to do is escape last year’s humiliation of coming fifth in the Sixth Nations, just a year ahead of the Rugby World Cup. To do that they need to beat Wales and a resurgent Ireland, both at Twickenham, then face a powerful French team in Paris.

Let’s hope they have a better referee than the Frenchman they had in Cardiff last year, who awarded two first-half tries to Wales that the World Cup announced afterwards should not have been given.