My piece for Telegraph Blogs this morning:

Days ago Washington was gearing up to hit hard at the Assad regime because of its crimes against humanity in using chemical weapons. An almost impossible political case to sell (why will it make anything any better?) but at least it drew on some points of decent principle. Now we see the ghastly spectacle of Sergei Lavrov carving John Kerry down to size slice by slice, as the Americans grasp at the hopeless task of removing chemical weapons from Syria as proposed by Moscow. A new UN resolution? In our new spirit of partnership, why not? But only if it does not insult Mr Assad, or contain nasty threats or war crimes allegations against him. New peace talks? Of course. As long as they are not aimed at Mr Assad leaving office.

It’s obvious to even the dullest pundit that no new international process can bring about the safe collection and destruction of Syria’s sizeable CW stocks over any timescale that matters. Moscow is not interested in this. Rather it means to re-legitimise the Assad regime by making it a prime interlocutor in the whole phoney process. The exercise soon will be bogged down in footling exchanges of diplomatic notes and labyrinths of internationalised technical bickering that ensure that any “progress” occurs only on Moscow/Assad terms. Meanwhile the civil war in Syria will drag on, with Assad emboldened. In due course Washington will have so much credibility invested in Syria’s CW non-disarmament that it will start to need Assad to stay in power to guarantee some crumbs of success.

This outcome shows what happens when you enter a brutal neighbourhood proclaiming your unwillingness to fight: those who are prepared to fight crush you. The Obama administration knows that it is experiencing unprecedented humiliation. So it proclaims victory. John Kerry emits faux toughness to pretend that Washington is really driving things along. “Words are not enough.” “This is not a game.” “There ought (sic) to be consequences” if Assad does not dismantle its CW arsenal. “We do believe there is a way to get this done.” Such empty mock-heroic phrases are the sort of thing a cartoon character might say as he walks off the edge of the cliff, striding purposefully out into thin air before plummeting to his doom.

And so on.

I had quite forgotten that I wrote this magnificent one back in February last year. If I say so myself, it stands up well:

Moscow fully accepts that Syria has serious internal problems, but takes the view that those problems are for Syrians themselves to sort out. Maybe the opposition forces lined up against Assad are tough enough to do what it takes – including incurring casualties on a massive scale, tens of thousands of casualties more than anything seen so far – to overthrow him without sneaky Western direct military support as was given in Libya. If so, they’ll be worthy winners. But then again, maybe they’re not. Why not wait and see who’s really tough down there?

Various pundits have made play of the fact that South Africa and India this time voted for the resolution. Surely this goes to show the Russians have made a strategic blunder, ending up almost isolated as the UK is in the European Union?

Not really. It’s easy to vote for a resolution when you have good reason to suspect that it will be vetoed anyway. The Russians know that in a few days’ time another resolution will come along condemning Israel, and everyone will fall back into line. And the fact that Russia was isolated but still blocked the resolution just goes to show how damn good and powerful the veto is, and why using it now and again to synthetic global derision is a vivid expression of Russia’s own power.

Even Putin in his most optimistic frame of mind could not have predicted the dazzling success of this policy that is now unfolding.