Putin will never have another chance like this to overthrow the European strategic order

This article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for the Telegraph dated 23.01.22 begins with these words "German hunger for gas, Biden's insouciance and a toothless Nato leave Ukraine utterly exposed to a Russian invasion".

Markets seem not to believe that Europe is close to the largest military conflict since 1945, even though the US president tells us that such a breakdown of the international system is more likely than not, and could happen as soon as the ground freezes hard enough for an armoured invasion of Ukraine.

The strangely calm mood belies intelligence gathered by Britain’s eavesdropping – and confirmed by US officials – that Vladimir Putin plans to install a puppet government in Kiev. The putative leaders come from the inner circle of the pre-Maidan Yanukovich regime.

The benchmark TTF gas price in Europe has halved since the panic spike just before Christmas. It is back to €79.50 (£66.47) per MWh for the February contract, roughly where it was four months ago.

Stock markets have slipped – due to fears of central bank tightening, and peak tech earnings – but they remain stretched by any historic measure.

Either investors are not paying attention to Ukraine, or they think that Mr Putin is engaged in a theatrical bluff to extract concessions, noisily deploying over 125,000 men at last count near the Ukrainian border, along with attack helicopters and the dispatch of Baltic amphibious assault ships to the Black Sea.

They may calculate that the Kremlin will settle for what Joe Biden terms a “minor incursion”, below the threshold of response from a divided Europe that is strongly disinclined to respond.

Such insouciance is to disregard the military force posture in the field and the Kremlin’s unusual, but fleeting, moment of strategic advantage. It is now or never for Mr Putin. The stars are unusually well-aligned for the overthrow of the post-Cold War settlement.

Mr Putin has been playing a cat and mouse game with Europe over gas stocks since July, first withholding top-up flows on the grounds that Gazprom needed to refill storage at home, then trickling out just enough supply to nourish wishful thinking.

This method of boiling-the-crab-alive has worked up to a point: stocks are today at 43pc capacity, roughly 12 percentage points below where they should be at this stage of January.

But the gas shortage falls short of a total coercive lockhold. Mild weather and deliveries of liquefied natural gas have to some degree rescued Europe from its own misjudgments.

The Kremlin enjoys the same partial advantage on the politico-military front. European Nato disarmed through the austerity years and is now near rock bottom, while Russia has been rearming for a decade.

The White House is perceived to be a pushover after waiving its objections to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline last July in a shabby deal with Germany, which undercut Ukraine’s vital interest in what may be viewed by historians as a latter day Munich.

China’s sabre-rattling over Taiwan leaves Mr Biden facing the risk of two continental crises at the same time.

Mr Putin does not have to worry about serious economic retaliation.

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Article by Ambrose Evans Pritchard for the Telegraph - Putin will never have another chanc
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Russian gas supplies - Nord Stream 2 pipeline

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