SCANDALOUS though the assassination of a former Russian spy was, it's probably not the principal issue in the minds of western diplomats at this time and it will certainly not be the principal diplomatic issue in the minds of their Russian counterparts.

This week Nato will declare that it is meeting to consider how the alliance will face future challenges, notably terrorism. Moscow, however, will fear that the real agenda will be about future moves to surround it with potentially hostile neighbours.

Today the 26 members of Nato will meet in the Latvian capital of Riga. On the table will be proposals to make Nato larger still - having already absorbed bits of the preSoviet Russian empire such as the Baltic republics and ex-Warsaw Pact countries like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and, crucially, Poland. Other bits of pre-Soviet Russia are to be added, this time Georgia and the Ukraine.

Some West Point strategist may have already started to start to draw parallels between the plight of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, and the position Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation, currently finds himself in.

The Union plan to defeat the Confederacy went by the title of the Anaconda Plan. It was a strategy that was in its essentials applied and adhered to until Lee surrendered. Great chunks of the Confederacy were sliced off, encircled and slowly strangled into submission. Is it entirely unreasonable of Putin and some close to his administration to draw some parallels? If so, is it not at least understandable (which is not the same as excusable) if they get nervous from time to time and do rash things?

Bill Ramsay, 84 Albert Avenue, Glasgow.