It’s time Britain stood up to the gangster Putin, the biggest threat to peace in my lifetime

There was a moment in Sky’s coverage of the pretend Russian election that sent a chill running down my spine.


Sky had footage, courtesy of Kremvision, of “President” Putin casting his own vote (and by extension, everyone else’s). He was sitting at his desk and voted electronically via his computer.


Afterwards, Mad Vlad turned to the camera and his Slavic features crinkled into an angelic smile. Then, in a moment as carefully choreographed as the entire poll, he raised a pudgy hand and waved shyly.


It was pure Bond villainy. Like watching Donald Pleasence playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld, stroking his white cat, oozing menace.


We’ve been expecting you to win, Mr Putin. And bless my soul, you have. Again.


Putin, 71, won with almost 88 per cent of the vote – uncannily close to his own prediction – on a turnout of 75 per cent of the electorate.


He wages war on Ukraine and threatens the West with dark hints of nuclear Armageddon. He is the most dangerous and deranged world leader since Hitler and it is time we stood up to him.


Since he first came to power in 1999, taking over from the courageous liberal and helpless drunk Boris Yeltsin, Putin has become more and more brazen about his corrupt and blood-soaked rule of Mother Russia.


What have the poor Russian people done to deserve their leaders? Peter the Great was a modernising Tsar. He built that pearl of a city, St Petersburg, on a mosquito-infested swamp at the mouth of the River Neva.


Peter introduced reforms that turned Russia’s face towards enlightened Europe and away from Asia. He also had women buried alive, men broken on the wheel and the heads of his enemies put on spikes and displayed in the centre of Moscow.


Stalin, by some estimates, killed 20 million of his own people. He brought in agricultural reforms that triggered devastating famine. He slaughtered ethnic groups such as Tatars and Chechens that he thought posed a threat to him.


In The Great Terror, from 1934-39, the paranoid monster purged “enemies of the people”, which could include artists, scientists and intellectuals, and sent them to the Gulag, where they died of cold, starvation or forced labour. Or he simply had them shot in the dank dungeons of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police.


Now Russia has Putin. Same paranoia, different motives. There is no ideology behind his lust for power. He is a gangster who runs the country as a criminal enterprise and no longer makes any secret of it.


Those who stand up to him, such as the opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, are killed with the casual ruthlessness of Don Corleone.


Navalny died in a prison camp in Siberia. One account suggests he might well have been murdered by a single, expert punch to the heart – a speciality of the old KGB – which combined with the cold and the prisoner’s weakened state, kills instantly.


In 2006, Putin, a former mid-ranking KGB officer, sent his hitmen to London to kill dissident former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko by poisoning him with radioactive Polonium-210. In 2018, they botched the attempted killing of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury with Novichok nerve agent.


Both Skripal and his daughter Yulia were seriously injured by the poison and an innocent British woman, Dawn Sturgess, who found the discarded perfume bottle the assassins carried it in, died.


In each case, Britain huffed and puffed. Police and intelligence services identified the culprits, Government Ministers condemned the outrages. And nothing happened.


The Kremlin laughed at our impotence, even putting the Salisbury killers on TV to claim they had only been there to view the magnificent spire of the city’s cathedral.


Putin’s latest target was Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who cut short a tour of Odessa, in Ukraine, last week after British intelligence warned that Russia might be planning to hit him with a missile strike.


A day earlier, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and the visiting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had to be hustled to safety as a Russian missile exploded just a few hundred yards away.


The threat to Shapps’s life came days after Russia was accused of blocking the GPS signal on an RAF jet carrying him back from a Nato training exercise in Poland. Now Shapps wants a sharp increase in defence spending to 2.5 per cent of GDP.


The US Defence Intelligence Agency reckons that Russia has lost up to 43,000 troops killed in Ukraine, with another 180,000 wounded. Putin regards Britain, which has given weapons, training and support to Ukraine, as his enemy and therefore a legitimate target.


It is time we saw him in the same light and got our Armed Forces in shape to defend our country. This swaggering little bully is the worst threat to peace in my lifetime.


To lunch with a couple of fellow codgers at Sicily, a fine Italian restaurant opposite Victoria coach station, though it insists it is in “the bustling heart of Belgravia”.


One of us had something to celebrate. It wasn’t a birthday (far too many of them have come and gone) but TWO substantial wins at the poker table.


So, wallet replete, he generously offered to pay for a very decent bottle of wine. We had a couple of beers first, then got stuck in. As Larry Lamb famously said: “Now we know we like it, we’ll ‘ave some.”


Did we overdo it? Probably. There were telltale signs, mishaps.


The last of these was described in a plaintive email: “I forgot to get off at Bromley South and ended up in Bickley… I blame that lovely creature Val Polly Cella.”


Yes, she’s a temptress, that one.

(Codgers, eh? See me after the edition — Ed)


I saw something in this week’s Sunday Times that I have never seen in a newspaper before – a trigger warning.


It was at the start of a magazine piece about sexual abuse victims who were assaulted by their brothers and sisters. The standfirst said: “A special report into a hidden crime. By Decca Aitkenhead. Contains graphic descriptions.”


Well, I certainly hope so. I’m not a voyeur and I don’t want to come away from reading the piece feeling soiled. But that’s what good reporters do: they provide graphic descriptions.


We’re in the disclosure business, not the cover-up business. It’s the reporter’s job to tell us truthfully what happened; the editor’s job to decide what’s fit for publication.


The very subject matter should be enough to alert readers to the likelihood of a disturbing read. Turn the page if you’re that upset.


Trigger warnings are a cop-out. They pander to those poor lambs with modern sensibilities, just aching to be offended.


 My council tax bill for 2024-25 has arrived. The borough has managed to restrict the rise to a pretty reasonable five per cent.


However, my payment to the Greater London Authority, fiefdom of Sadiq Khan, has gone up by 8.6 per cent.


Why is my city, one of the world’s greatest, still electing this bloodsucking nobody? The day after the demand came through, someone stuck a leaflet through my letterbox urging me to vote Labour in the mayoral election in May because “Sadiq is delivering for London.”


This is the man who gave us hated Low Traffic Neighbourhoods; extended the Ultra Low Emissions Zone so that tradesmen and delivery vehicles cannot afford to drive even into the outer boroughs; clogged our roads by giving them up to bike lanes; and wants to charge drivers £2 a day to help hit climate change targets.


Khan is in charge of Transport for London, where more than 400 workers earn £100,000 a year.


The dodo has more chance of coming back from extinction than Khan has of getting my vote.


 You can keep the beautiful game’s World Cup. And stick the Olympics where the sun don’t shine.


The Six Nations Rugby championship ended in a thrilling climax on Saturday and proved once again that it is the world’s best sporting competition.


Ireland deservedly won it. England showed that they are about to be a force in the game once again. But Wales played without pride, passion or hope.


If the great winger Gerald Davies, one of the last remaining members of the wonderful Seventies team, was watching their performance against Italy, he must have despaired.


19 March 2024