Russia has a long history of “using the cold to defeat Europe”, says Wolfgang Münchau in The Spectator. The winter of 1812 did to Napoleon’s invading army what the biting December of 1941 did to Hitler’s. Now, Vladimir Putin could turn off the gas to Europe – and Germany, in particular, can’t do much about it. German economy minister Robert Habeck says if Putin cut gas supplies, “companies would have to stop production, lay off their workers, supply chains would collapse, people would go into debt to pay their heating bills”. The country’s papers make bleak reading: “The 1973 oil crisis, with its four car-free Sundays, seems like a dry run compared to what is now in store for German industry and consumers,” says Die Welt.
The EU, US and UK have all officially sanctioned Russian fossil fuels. The big question is “whether Germany’s solidarity with Ukraine can survive a cold winter”. Sanctions are roiling the Russian economy, but Putin can afford a gas embargo – the windfall from surging fuel prices means Russia’s current account surplus could reach $250bn this year, around double that of last year. He also knows that “Germany is the weak spot of the Western alliance”. Blocking off its gas supply would be risky, but he holds a strong hand. “He may choose to play it.”