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Andy McSmith's Diary: Let us hope Vladimir Putin was simply joshing about an invasion of Alaska

  • @andymcsmith

Russian humour may take some getting used to. We saw how Andrew Marr was taken aback interviewing the Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov. For those who missed it, Chizkov was asked to comment on whether other countries besides Ukraine might be under threat from Russia, and suggested, po-faced, that the US should “watch Alaska. It used to be Russian”.

This is true. The Russians discovered Alaska in 1732, and sold it to the US in 1867, for $7.2m. It appears that the descendants of Russian settlers think that was a bad mistake by the Tsar. There is a petition on the White House website calling for Alaska to secede and rejoin Russia. It has attracted more than 16,000 signatures. Ambassador Chizhov did at least add: “I’m joking, of course.” Were 16,000 signatories all joking too? Who knows?

Sir Alex was spot on

The Sun reports that in Iran there is a roaring trade in an illicit Farsi translation of Sir Alex Ferguson’s book, My Autobiography. There was at least one occasion when the Labour-supporting Sir Alex showed sound judgement in regard to that part of the world, as revealed in the entry in Alastair Campbell’s diary for 10 September 2002: “Alex F called really worried about Iraq, said he thought it was a very dangerous situation for TB.”

It’s all alien to Mr Parkes

It is two years since Simon Parkes, a Labour councillor in Whitby, in North Yorkshire, revealed to local journalists that in his infancy he was visited by a 9ft tall green alien with stick like hands, huge eyes, two holes for a nose, and dressed in a purple cloak.

I see that last month he delivered a two-hour lecture to a roomful of people who believe in that sort of thing, in which he described himself as an “experiencer” – a rather unusual sub category of people who have had contact with aliens, in that at the age of 11 he entered into a “soul agreement” with a Mantid. He also announced, in passing, that Tony Blair is one of the Illuminati, and a Satanist.

If this man were in Ukip, rather than the Labour, we might think he was barking mad.

Bordering disbelief

There was a peculiar statistic buried in Hansard last week. Each year, customs officials seize hundreds of reptiles that smugglers are trying to bring into the UK. It is a lucrative business: a tortoise can sell for £300, some of the very rare ones for much more. A python can be worth £800.

These are endangered species. The illegal trade is a threat to their existence, and a threat to public health. In 2008-09, more than 1,000 turtles, tortoises and spiny tailed lizards and other reptiles were confiscated at the border. In 2010-11, more than 500 royal pythons were seized. But two years later, in 2012-13, the total haul was just 17 tortoises.

The Border Force claims a success story. “Our specialist officers are world renowned. Thanks to their work, fewer illicit traders are trying to illegally import reptiles,” their spokesman said. But it is noticeable that 2012-13 was a time when the Border Force was in virtual meltdown after being ordered by the Government to introduce 100 per cent passenger checks. It had five chiefs in 18 months. A scathing report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee found that the Force “neglected to examine freight for illicit goods… potentially letting billionaire gangsters off the hook”.

This leaves me wondering if the figures are down because smugglers have been untroubled by overworked officers hunting for illegal immigrants. “If the figures are accurate, they must say something about the enforcement,” David Bowles, the RSPCA Head of Public Affairs, said.