In a recent magazine interview in which she floated the possibility that her husband might run for a third term as French president next year, Bernadette Chirac said enticingly – “Have you seen what good shape he’s in. My husband’s not senile.”
Yet even this modest claim must be thrown into doubt by Mr Chirac’s efforts to celebrate his 74th birthday, by holding an intimate dinner with Vladimir Putin on the margins of a Nato summit in Latvia.
Where does one start? To invite any Russian president to dinner in one of the Baltic states is tactless. To invite this particular president at this particular moment is crass. To do so at a Nato summit, while pointedly not inviting the American president and the British prime minister, is extraordinary.
While the Americans and the British are clearly increasingly concerned about the direction of Putin’s Russia, Mr Chirac’s admiration for the Russian president only seems to grow. In September he awarded Mr Putin the Grand Cross of the Legion d’Honneur, the highest honour that France can bestow on a foreigner. Previous recipients have included Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.