The suspected sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines could be a page ripped straight from Vladimir Putin’s playbook of panic, escalation and misdirection
The former KGB agent’s illegal war on Ukraine resulted in unprecedented Western sanctions against Moscow.
But the Russian president is confident that his people can endure economic pain longer and better than Europeans.
His calculation is that soaring gas prices and the cost of living crisis in a continent hopelessly addicted to Russian energy will turn the situation to his advantage.
European Gas prices have been dropping for the last four days. On Tuesday, after news of the suspected attack, they rose by 20 per cent. The British price was up 33 per cent.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was filled with 117 million cubic metres of natural gas worth €213 million at current prices.
But Putin has shown he is willing to sacrifice valuable gas and use it as a weapon before. Russia was burning £8.4 million of gas a day at a plant near its border with Finland, rather than exporting it to Europe in August.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has never been operational, and the chances of it being so in the near future are extremely remote. Germany decided not to approve the huge project just before Putin launched his invasion.
Nord Stream 1, which had for so long fed Europe’s gas addiction, is not what it once was. Russia hasn’t turned the taps back on since closing it, ostensibly for maintenance, in August.
Why, though, might Moscow have chosen to strike at this moment, if it is indeed revealed to be behind the attack?
The EU has begun work drawing up new sanctions against Moscow. Viktor Orban in Hungary is already calling for them to be ditched and existing measures removed, while the new government in Italy looks certain to be less hawkish than the last.
It suits Putin to try to break morale so European governments are under pressure from angry voters fearful of the temperatures plummeting this Winter.
Warsaw is moving to cut itself entirely off from Russian gas by the end of the year.
The new Baltic Pipe is part of wider moves across Europe to find alternate suppliers to Moscow and build up gas reserves before winter bites.
Norway's new role
Since the war in Ukraine, Norway has supplanted Russia as the EU's main supplier of natural gas.
These underwater explosions could be a warning of what Russia could do to pipelines from Norway if backed into a corner.
The leak on Nord Stream 2 is close to the new Baltic pipe.
Norwegian regulators have urged heightened vigilance after warnings from oil and gas companies that unidentified drones have been flying close to their offshore facilities.
While ramping up threats of a nuclear war, the Kremlin may be signalling that it can indeed escalate in ways that were once considered unthinkable.
Lose the Norwegian gas and this winter is certain to be long, cold, hard and expensive.
Russia is relying once again on “General Winter” - responsible for the defeat of so many of its enemies in the past - to secure victory in its energy war with the West.