You used to be able to rely on the Russians. Nyet meant no. Nowadays it might mean da, or mozhet byt (maybe). A few days ago Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s new president, signed a G8 statement on Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe pledging “financial and other measures against those individuals responsible for the violence”. Then, late on Friday, Russia, with China at its side, vetoed a United Nations’ security council resolution proposing exactly those measures. According to the country’s UN ambassador, this was because it would have interfered in the internal affairs of a member state.

Either Mr Medvedev was out of his depth when he signed up at the G8 and was put right by the real power behind the throne, Vladimir Putin, or the snub was more deliberate. Relations between the United States and Russia are at rock bottom.

Last week the Czech Republic agreed to site an American radar station on its soil as part of a missile defence shield which would see interceptor missiles deployed in Poland on Russia’s border. In return, according to Times Online, Russia is considering targeting its missiles towards western Europe for the first time since the cold war.

Britain is in no position to act as honest broker. The dispute between BP and Russia’s TNK is escalating and accusations are flying about spying. The new certainty is that, emboldened by energy riches, Russia will play hard-ball, whether over Zimbabwe or gas supplies. The West is going to have to live with it.

Times Online