So Britain is responsible for staging the Syrian gas attack? According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov:

“We have evidence that proves Britain was directly involved in organizing this provocation.”

Evidence, shmevidence. Next thing you know Moscow will be offering to assist Yulia Skripal. Oh, wait. It already did.

Vladimir Putin cannot conceal that his regime is complicit in some very odious deeds—and that it’s feeling increasingly confident about taunting the West. The Russian claim is deliberately preposterous. The new report from UK national security adviser Mark Sedwill says there is “no plausible explanation” for the attack on the Skripals other than by Russia and indicates that Putin’s janissaries have been testing the efficacy of the nerve agent on door handles. Putin may think that the more that comes out about the attack, the tougher he looks. Meanwhile, he gets to flaunt his contempt for his western counterparts.

For President Trump, the Russian manoeuvre is likely to heighten pressure on him to act. For several days, Trump’s tergiversations on Syria have been quite palpable. One day he announces smart missiles are about to be launched. Another he says that it could be very soon or not soon at all. It’s clear that Trump’s generals are queasy about the notion of using force in Syria. On Thursday, Defense Secretary James Mattis observed:

“We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people, but on a strategic level it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that?”

For its part, Russia is now mocking Trump’s havering on Syria. “We cannot depend on the mood of someone on the other side of the ocean when he wakes up, on what a specific person takes into his head in the morning,” deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich announced today. He has a point. Already some are calling Trump the Neville Chamberlain of our time.

If Trump does not act, it will be game, set, match for Putin. Maybe it already is.