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Whose gambit over Syria?

The shooting down of a Russian military aircraft, by Turkey, allegedly after it passed into a sliver of Turkish airspace during a mission over northern Syria might well be an isolated incident, like Gadaffi’s clashes with the US Navy over the Gulf of Sidra in the 1980s. For me, I hear an ironic but distorted echo of the shooting down of the Korean Air flight 007 by the Soviets in 1983, when it was 90 seconds from international airspace after passing briefly through Soviet airspace, but that was a civil flight and a clear case of Soviet mass murder.

Whatever happened may not become clear, but why it happened is for now, even murkier.

Was it a ‘gambit’, like a pawn sacrifice (the eternal lot of the military) in chess to gain a strategic advantage, a pretext to escalate the situation or to force others hands?
Was the shooting down a provocation by a resurgent Erdogan, confident in his election victory, expecting to shield from Russia behind NATO?
Was it Russian testing of Turkish resolve, or vice versa?
Did both sides hope for a crisis too good to waste?
Is Russia hoping to drive a wedge between Turkey and the rest of NATO, expecting the wetter elements to take fright and use the ‘Polish veto’ of NATO?
Is Russia hoping for a prolonged spike in the oil price to boost its economy, and distract the hard-pressed masses from their troubles and toils?
Or was it just a trigger-happy pilot?
And what would be the best outcome for the West from this tragedy?

The upshot of the Syrian refugee crisis, and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris almost seems as they were 1960s KGB/GRU operations designed to sow discord within Europe and to set countries against each other and élites against the people, with Putin having dusted down an old plan and re-worked it. But is that not over-complicating matters?

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47 comments to Whose gambit over Syria?

  • APL

    Turkey a moslem country may well be in NATO, but it would suit her that NATO and Russia squabble over the actions Turkey has taken. The sooner Turkey is expelled from NATO the better for all of us.

  • bobby b

    “Was it a ‘gambit’, like a pawn sacrifice . . . ?”

    Just an uninformed guess, but an SU-24 would be an awfully expensive pawn. It’s probably a $30,000,000 aircraft, and the Sovs have quite a few cheaper types they could have sacrificed just as easily.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Putin is a brutal thug – and has a deep hated of the West (as anyone who has seen “RT” would know).

    However, the Sultan of Turkey may well be one thing more – he may be mentally ill.

    After all he claims that there was a pre existing Islamic civilisation in the Americans before the coming of the Spanish – and all sorts of other mad (literally mad) stuff.

    It is like G. in Libya – but on a much larger scale.

    Well Mr Putin is allied with the “Hastener” regime in Iran – which is also insane (the “Hidden One” must be “hastened” by bringing fire and death to the world…..).

    The Sunni versus the Shia.

    The Ottoman Empire versus the Shia Persian Empire.

    With Mr Putin allying with the latter.

    And the West?

    The West is led by the Marxoid Barack Obama.

    I profoundly wish that I had found the strength to leave this world.

    Long ago.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Paul, no need to be so pessimistic! For a start, suiciders who have been brought back report that the other side is, for suiciders, a very bad experience! They seem to be stuck in the mental rut that induced suicide, as though there was a lesson that needed learning, and they wouldn’t leave class until they had learnt it!
    Secondly, if Putin pulls out in disgust, then we don’t need to include Russian objectives into our plans, whatever they are, in Syria!

  • AndrewZ

    For all the deep political calculations, let’s not forget the possibility of human error. It may well be that the Russians (politicians and pilots) didn’t think that the Turks would actually open fire over a brief and trivial border violation. It may be that the Turks didn’t realise that the Russians might think like this. It may simply be that the Russian pilots were so focussed on their targets that they momentarily lost track of which territory they were in. Grand strategy is all very diverting but it’s usually General Murphy who sends us over the top.

  • Pardone

    It looks to me like duplicitous Turkey aiding their ISIS/Saudi friends.

    Lest we forget that NATO cheerfully supports ISIS extremists.

  • Laird

    I don’t think this is some sort of a “pawn sacrifice” gambit by Putin (as Bobby B says, that’s an awfully expensive pawn for a Russian government suffering financial woes due to the low price of oil). My guess is something along the lines sketched out by AndrewZ: some combination of human error and simple miscalculation.

    But I would be surprised if Putin the master tactician doesn’t take advantage of the situation. This is an ideal opportunity for him to put NATO to a difficult test. Ukraine isn’t a NATO member, so Putin’s de facto annexation of its eastern end wasn’t strictly an attack on Europe. But Turkey is. If Russia takes a hard line on this and inflicts some damage on Turkey in reprisal for the loss of its jet (and pilots), would the rest of NATO come to the defense of its putative “ally”? I suspect not (who in his right mind would go to war with Russia over Turkey?), but this could lead to a fracturing of NATO. At a minimum it would cause great consternation throughout Europe, and there’s nothing Putin likes more than stirring the pot.

    This will be interesting to watch.

  • Pardone

    You are aware that the thugs who tortured and murdered the helicopter crew were US backed? Why are we arming these Islamist thugs?

    I’m hoping Putin does us all a favour by bombing the scumbag Turks.

    Turkey and Saudi Arabia should be bombed into the stone age. Problem solved.

  • Pardone

    Turkey is not part of Europe. Not in any cultural or credible way.

  • If Russia takes a hard line on this and inflicts some damage on Turkey in reprisal for the loss of its jet (and pilots), would the rest of NATO come to the defense of its putative “ally”? I suspect not (who in his right mind would go to war with Russia over Turkey?), but this could lead to a fracturing of NATO.

    If Russia attacks Turkey and Turkey invokes Article 5 and NATO does nothing, that’s the end of NATO. Game, set and match to Putin. It makes the situation in the ME immeasurably more complex with Turkey a free agents. God help the Baltic states, and much of eastern Europe.

    NATO must react to Russian aggression towards a member-state. Not to do so would instantaneously turn Russia’s relatively weak hand into a very strong one.

  • The collapse of NATO would be a strategic calamity of the magnitude of the collapse of the USSR.

  • Lee Moore

    It may have been pilot error, but I suspect more likely it’s just that the Russkies didn’t believe the Turks would ever actually fire on them. I expect they’ve violated Turkish airspace before (like they continually do elsewhere) and nothing bad has happened. So their rules of engagement probably allow them to make little incursions if it’s militarily convenient. And in that little corner of Syria, it probably is convenient from time to time. The Turkmen rebels probably criss cross the border themselves.

    As to why the Turks finally pressed the trigger now, my guess is that with Putin’s new delivery of air power to support Assad. and Assad’s offensive in that area, Turkey’s allies are losing. So the Turks don’t want the Russkies to go on assuming that they can have freedom of the skies, including nipping into Turkish airspace when it makes ground attack easier.

  • Lee Moore

    And Russia isn’t going to “inflict some damage” on Turkey.

    Any serious military operation against Turkey would require far more military power and logistics than Putin’s got available. And any mere demonstration punishment would be met by Turkey closing the Dardanelles to Russian shipping.

  • Barry Sheridan

    Turkish explanations of what happened do not seem credible. Depending on the speed of the aircraft and the its supposed track across a narrow sliver of Turkish airspace the order to fire must have been given in advance of the intrusion, otherwise the aircraft would have exited into Syria before the missile hit. Issuing repeated warnings, even if received, could have only added to the time the aircraft had to escape. I think Turkey wanted to make a point and has done so. I might be more sympathetic to the Russia if they had not proved trigger happy themselves in the past, either way it is a dangerous game the Islamist Turks are playing, and not just in this case.

  • James Waterton

    Russia too is playing a dangerous game against a coalition which is currently quite fickle, but the prospect of an existential threat is just the ticket for stiffening its resolve. Add to the mix that the conventional forces that NATO can bring to the table in that part of the world should prevent the Russians from any hot-headed retaliation.

  • Lee Moore

    Issuing repeated warnings, even if received, could have only added to the time the aircraft had to escape.

    I don’t believe Turkey is alleging that the warnings were all given while the Russian planes were in Turkish airspace. They claim to have given warnings not to encroach on Turkish airspace when the Russian planes got close. Hence I don’t think you can add “warning time” to your calculation. Having seen the map of the sliver of Turkey jutting into Syria, it seems to me perfectly plausible that the Russian planes would have cut across it….when making an attack.
    Weaving round the sliver would be very inconvenient. The odd thing is the allegation that they cut across the sliver after having made their attack. That seems either overconfidence (that the Turks wouldn’t shoot) or a deliberate middle finger.

  • This is looking more and more like Turkey being pissed off with Russia for supporting Assad and/or attacking Turkmen instead of ISIS, and simply waiting for an opportunity to strike. The Russian plane’s blundering into Turkish airspace provided them with a neat opportunity to do so: it is hard to believe that the Turks would have shot the plane down for such a minor infraction had the two countries’ interests in Syria been aligned.

  • Also, as I have mentioned elsewhere, Turkey has complained that Russia was attacking ethnic Turkmen. Russia did not set the precedent of intervening in another nation under the guise of protecting their ethnic brethren, but they applied this precedent in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. If Turkey follows suit, they will have every right to arm these Turkmen rebels to the teeth, including supplying them with sophisticated AA weaponry, in exactly the same manner Russia is doing in East Ukraine. Turkey could make Russia’s involvement along its borders very costly indeed if it has a mind to, and the Turks want to see the back of Assad and Russia is preventing that. For all Russia’s bluster, there is not much they can do to Turkey on their home patch in that part of the world. Plus, that coveted naval base in Sevastopol isn’t much use if Turkey isn’t your friend, is it?

    This is a difficult one for me, because I have absolutely no truck with Putin or Erdogan. They’re both assholes.

  • bob sykes

    The Turkish radar plot shows that the Russian jet was in Turkish airspace for mere seconds. It had to have been in Syrian airspace when it was fired on. So this was not a Russian ploy. This was a message from Turkey telling the Russians to stop attacking the
    Turkmen militia and ISIS, both proxies and allies of the Turks.

    The shootdown might have been ignored, but the murder of the Russian pilots and the destruction of the rescue helicopter require a response, most likely heavy attacks against the Turkmen.

  • Lee Moore

    most likely heavy attacks against the Turkmen

    Which is happening anyway. Putin has few options. He could play silly b*****s with Turkey’s gas supplies, but that’s about it. If he really wanted to do something that is (a) possible and (b) very irritating to Turkey, he could give lots of military help to the Kurds, I suppose.

  • AndrewZ

    The most effective way for the Russians to retaliate would be to start supplying weapons and “advisers” to the Kurdish groups fighting ISIS. It would be useful propaganda, as evidence that Russia really was fighting ISIS and not just trying to save Assad. It would enrage the Turks and make clear to them that they could not attack a Russian target without paying a price. Most importantly, it would provide a way to put pressure on Turkey to withdraw its support for rebel groups fighting against Assad. It would be a valuable bargaining chip.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Aircraft radios have a fixed ‘guard’ channel, which is always monitored even while the radio is set to transmit and receive on another frequency entirely. One question I’ve been trying to get answered, so far unsuccessfully, is whether Russian military aircraft radios monitor the same guard frequencies (121.5, 243.0 Mhz) that western aircraft radios do. Back during the Cold War they didn’t, and it may be that Turkey was broadcasting warnings on a frequency that the Russian aircraft wouldn’t hear.

  • Jacob

    All this talk about NATO seems ridiculous to me. You are talking about a dead horse. NATO is worthless, just a fiction. It’s military capabilities are null. [I wonder if the “Charles DE Gaul” (not a NATO ship) will manage to make the trip to the ME without sinking, they almost sunk on their maiden voyage)]

    The only NATO member that has any military capability at all is the US, and they will never go to war under the current President or the next. And their military capability, too, isn’t what it used to be.

    So, Turkey being a member of NATO or not (same for France) is totally irrelevant.

    Turkey was upset with the Ruskies because they were hitting the Turkmen, Turkey’s allies and cousins. They sent a message. As Russia has very limited military capabilities, too, they will be very cautious, despite the tough talk. They won’t seek a large scale confrontation with Turkey (forget about NATO).

  • Laird

    “This is a difficult one for me, because I have absolutely no truck with Putin or Erdogan. They’re both assholes.” Spot on.

    I find intriguing AndrewZ’s suggestion that Putin should arm and aid the Kurds. It’s what the US should have been doing all along, of course, but we’re terrified of angering our “ally” Erdogan. As if Turkey has ever been a friend to the US or the west generally. The best that can be said is that it is a sometime ally of convenience (when it’s “convenient” to Turkey, that is). It should never have been admitted into NATO in the first place.

    If militarily strengthened, the Kurds would pose the only serious threat to ISIS and could become a major stabilizing factor in the Mideast (especially if they succeeded in creating an independent Kurdistan). That’s the best possible outcome we could hope for in the region. If that were to occur it would be unfortunate if the credit (and allegance) went to Russia, not the US. We should be aiding and arming them now. But we won’t. Yet another illustration of Obama’s abject stupidity.

    But I wouldn’t be broken-hearted over the collapse of NATO; far from it. That organization has long outlived its usefulness and should have been disbanded when the Warsaw Pact was. And if it does remain in existence I want the US out of it; Europe can and should take care of its own security. So I’m rather hoping that Putin puts pressure on NATO by attacking Turkey. A fractured NATO would force a reassessment of its entire justification. That’s an outcome much to be desired.

  • Barry Sheridan

    Laird is right, Europe should shoulder its own defence, for too long it has taken advantage is the United States. This comment is not meant to suggest total abandonment of the various alliances, just a balancing of the burden. Suggestions that NATO is somehow irrelevant is a bit premature, although Turkey’s membership is no longer applicable given its ambition and terrorist sympathies.

  • Fred the Fourth

    Porlock: 121.5 always monitored? Not on the civilian Coms I used in the 90’s – you habitually but manually set to receive there whenever not deliberately using another freq.
    I would not be surprised to learn the tech has changed, especially for mil applicaitons.

  • Fred the Fourth

    What Laird said.
    The US treatment of the Kurds was and is both shameful and geostrategically stupid.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Fred the Fourth
    November 25, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    My experience – even farther back than yours – is with military radios only, which do have such a feature, as do the radios fitted to commercial aircraft. The point remains that Turkey may have been issuing warnings on the mistaken assumption the Russian plane would receive them, and acted on the assumption that the ‘ignored’ warnings proved hostile intent.

  • The Kurds of Erbil can and should be armed to the teeth by the West. I don’t think this would get too many noses out of joint in Ankara.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Yep, the US really needs NATO and Turkey

    In 1966, France withdrew from NATO and ordered Americans troops out of France.

    In 1986, France, Italy, and Spain refused to allow USAF to fly thru airspace to strike Libya after a terrorist attack on Berlin bar frequented by US service personnel.

    After the 1985 Achille Lauro hijacking, “The Egyptian airliner carrying the hijackers was intercepted by F-14 Tomcats from the VF-74 “BeDevilers” and the VF-103 “Sluggers” of Carrier Air Wing 17, based on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, and directed to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella (a NATO air base in Sicily) under the orders of U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger; there, the hijackers were arrested by the Italian Carabinieri after a disagreement between American and Italian authorities. The other passengers on the plane (including the hijackers’ leader, Muhammad Zaidan) were allowed to continue on to their destination, despite protests by the United States.” (Wikipedia)

    In 2003, “The Turkish Parliament today dealt a heavy blow to the Bush administration’s plans for a northern front against Iraq, narrowly rejecting a measure that would have allowed thousands of American combat troops to use the country as a base for an attack.” (New York Times)

    In 2014, “Turkey will not allow a US-led coalition to attack jihadists in neighboring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants, a government official told AFP Thursday.” (Arab News)

  • Fair points, VJ. But Turkey as a free agent is a lot more dangerous than if they’re constrained within the NATO framework. As for NATO itself, if you’re from the US isolationist school, then NATO’s continuing existence probably isn’t of great importance to you. However, for everyone else, NATO is critical less so for the power it can bring to bear against Russian forces, and more for the deterrence factor.

  • Vinegar Joe

    If NATO can’t/won’t fund and supply its military, why should the US?

    From 2011:

    “Less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/nato-runs-short-on-some-munitions-in-libya/2011/04/15/AF3O7ElD_story.html

  • Ljh

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-11-25/meet-man-who-funds-isis-bilal-erdogan-son-turkeys-president
    Turkey has used the war to attack its own Kurdish population.
    Isis is funded by oil sales through Turkey. Its finances and export routes have remained intact despite western blusterings until Russia became involved, bombing the oil tankers used.
    Erdogan is an Islamist whose son is making a fortune out of this illegal trade with his father’s help.
    Draw your own conclusions

  • Mary Contrary

    I can’t know what really happened here; none of us can. But we do know that Russia has been continually provoking a number of countries (including the UK) with incursions into their airspace and flights right up to the boundary (that could also accidentally stray over). The same thing has been going on at sea, with their submarine fleet.

    So the idea that Russia was testing Turkey’s resolve, and the Turkish military demonstrated their resolve, certainly seems to me to be a plausible possibility, absent clear evidence to the contrary.

  • Paul Marks

    There are millions of religiously tolerant people in Turkey – for example there is a variety of Shia there that exists (in large numbers) no where else, there are also tolerant Sufi Sunni Muslims and so on.

    However, the government of Turkey represents the mainstream (Western leaders please note – MAINSTREAM) forces of Islam.

    It is, therefore, fundamentally hostile to the West.

    It is a severe error of judgement to regard the government of Turkey as an ally.

    As for Russia.

    I hope the day comes when Mr Putin is long gone – and Russia takes its vital place as part of our civilisation.

    A vital and important part.

    For Russia is vastly larger land than this island.

    It is not some sort of junior part of Western civilisation.

    Russia, minus Putin and his KGB thugs, is equal in civilisation and culture to any other nation.

    Yes this puts me on the Gladstone side of the Gladstone versus Disraeli (Russia verses the Ottomans) debate of the late 19th century.

  • Ljh

    Since the Fall of Constantinople, Russia has seen itself as the Third Rome except for the brief Communist interregnum. Its armies freed the Balkans from Ottoman rule ( Bulgaria 1878) and the hated blood tax of Christian children taken from each village of both sexes for slavery. There is nothing original in the barbarisms of Isis, the Turks visited them upon their nonMuslim subjects. Erdogan has expressed support for a new caliphate under Turkish leadership. At least Putin takes these ambitions seriously while Obama is either delusional or sympathetic.

  • Jacob

    “NATO is critical less so for the power it can bring to bear against Russian forces, and more for the deterrence factor.”

    How can NATO be a “deterrence factor” when everybody knows that it is powerless, as you correctly stated in the first part of this sentence?
    NATO is a hollow and meaningless relic of the past.

    Seems Erdogan has miscalculated (as usual). He wanted to protest the bombing (by Russia) of his Turkmen kinsmen in Syria, and Putin, as retaliation, has (or will) totally annihilate those Turkmen people and force them to flee to Turkey. No need for Putin to attack Turkey itself.

  • bobby b

    Russia has announced that all Russians should leave Turkey forthwith.

    There are substantial numbers of Russians in Turkey.

    This may well become much more interesting within the next week.

  • “Less than a month into the Libyan conflict, NATO is running short of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries in sustaining even a relatively small military action over an extended period of time, according to senior NATO and U.S. officials.”

    IIRC, the US was running out of Tomahawks and other cruise missiles at a rate of knots in much the same manner during the Kosovo war.

    The calculus is very simple. If NATO wants to go on an adventure in Russia’s backyard, the outcome for NATO is unlikely to end well. Similarly, if the Russians want to mess with allied territory that’s been cultivated and highly prized by NATO for several decades, then NATO’s going to pull out all the stops to ensure that Russia comes to the conclusion that it can’t project hard power like it used to.

  • How can NATO be a “deterrence factor” when everybody knows that it is powerless, as you correctly stated in the first part of this sentence?

    Don’t verbal me. I never said it had no deterrence power. If you can’t see why a US isolationist wouldn’t be a great fan of NATO, then there’s not a lot I can do to help you.

  • By the way, a post-Cold War NATO is finally discovering a purpose for existence. No more silly missions in Afghanistan. Back to business. Taking care of the Baltics and other vulnerable European states. Holding their noses and helping the Turks. Yes, Erdogan’s a swine, but he won’t around for ever.

  • Jacob

    “If you can’t see why a US isolationist wouldn’t be a great fan of NATO…”
    It’s not a matter of being (or not being) a fan of the IDEA of NATO.
    It is a matter of assessing NATO’s REAL military capabilities. I estimate that they are close to null.
    NATO is, mostly, an empty shell.
    NATO isn’t able to take care of nothing. It didn’t do much good in Afghanistan, and the only ones that did some fighting there were the US troops. The rest of NATO force (beside US) is non-existent. The US capabilities exist, but they are limited, mostly by the lack of will to fight.

  • Jacob asserts:

    and the only ones that did some fighting [in Afghanistan] were the US troops. The rest of NATO force (beside US) is non-existent.

    In the Afghan War from 2001, Coalition deaths from hostile force causes are to date 2,807. This is made up of USA 2,356, UK 454, Canada 158, France 88, Germany 57, Italy 53, and others 321. Coalition wounded are 22,773. This is made up of United States 19,950, United Kingdom 2,188, and Canada 635.

    Deaths for USA, UK and Canadian forces look to me to follow, fairly closely, the ratios of national populations. It therefore seems extremely wrong to label the UK and Canadian forces as “not fighting”. It is just plain wrong to so label the contributions of French, German and Italian forces.

    Best regards

  • Laird

    James, I am not an isolationist; I’m a non-interventionist. There is a substantial difference, but if you can’t see that then there’s not a lot I can do to help you.

    With respect to NATO, as a military alliance it once had a real purpose. But that purpose has long since disappeared, and it is now (and has been for some time) in desperate search of a mission. If Europe perceives an existential threat (from Putin’s Russia, from ISIS or other radical Islamists, or from anywhere else), then by all means develop a military force to provide a credible deterrence. I wish you well. But don’t expect the US to pay the lion’s share of the costs, or to provide the majority of the personnel or materiel.

  • Vinegar Joe

    In the Sunday Mail:

    Julian Lewis, the Tory chairman of the influential Commons Defence Select Committee, said last night that Britain’s fleet of mission-ready Tornados was so small that it could only make a ‘marginal’ contribution to the war against Islamic State, should Parliament vote to approve air strikes on targets in Syria.

    And former Chief of Defence Intelligence, Air Vice Marshal Sir John Walker, said: ‘Can we sustain an effective bombing campaign against IS in Syria with the numbers of Tornado currently available?

    ‘I would say no, we can’t, and a lot of RAF people I speak to feel the same way. We’ve only got eight Tornados flying over Iraq and Syria. If you’re going to do this properly you need around 24.’

    Mr Lewis said: ‘The difference the UK can make by joining the bombing effort to the challenge of eliminating IS will be highly marginal. As the RAF has only a tiny number of strike squadrons, it is no surprise to hear that any additional reinforcements to this theatre will be very few.’

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3337931/Fiasco-Britain-s-missing-Tornados-No10-wants-send-jets-Syria-2-4-spare-defence-expert-MP-reveals-cuts-mothballing-makes-marginal-force.html

  • Laird

    This thread is getting a little stale, but the topic is still relevant.

    It’s been over a week since Turkey shot down that Russian fighter jet, and so far Putin has done nothing meaningful. So much for my theory about him using this event as an opportunity to rattle NATO’s cage. Someone has suggested to me that Putin has a more pragmatic agenda: he is planning ahead for his retirement in a few years. “Retirement” from high office in Russia being somewhat problematic (not all continue breathing thereafter), the theory is that he is preparing to retire to a place of relative safety, such as Switzerland. Accordingly, he is trying to play more nicely with Europe in order to mollify any objections to his eventual sanctuary in the west, and thus is treading lightly with Erdogan (imposing only a few economic sanctions of a relatively cosmetic nature). Thoughts, anyone?

    I see that Obama is (or claims to be) standing by his NATO ally.

  • Mr Ed

    Laird,

    The days of retirement not being an option in Moscow more or less ended with Stalin and his apparently hastened end, followed by Beria’s appointment with a firing squad.

    Khrushchev had a retirement of sorts in rather humbling circumstances, but thereafter it was feet first for Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko simply because they were pretty much all moribund on appointment or looked it, until Gorbachev, who was tipped out by the Soviet Union collapsing around him* and is now a statesman of sorts. Yeltsin had his last drink in the first-chance-he-could-get saloon and retired, handing over to Mr Putin, a gross error, but that was that.

    Mr Putin would not be safe in Switzerland from US lawsuits from disgruntled exiles, or ludicrous crimes-against-humanity charges so beloved of Spanish judges, so he would have to stay in Russia, and keep his political movement going somehow or other. He doesn’t appear to have much opposition.

    *One more reason to drink fizz on Boxing Day, 24 years gone this month, and Ceausesçu’s passing on Christmas Day 26 years ago this month another reason to pop a cork.